The Inclusive Workplace Guide supports and aids the implementation of the Department of Education and Training’s (the Department’s) Equal Opportunity and Anti-discrimination Policy, bringing together available resources to assist principals/managers and employees to create inclusive and respectful workplaces.
Equal opportunity is an integral part of the employment life cycle applicable to recruitment, retention, performance management, promotion, remuneration, professional development and end of employment stages.
Equal opportunity is about giving and getting a fair go. It does not assume everyone is the same and it does not mean treating everyone the same. In some circumstances, treating everyone the same is unfair due to differences in personal circumstance -such as disadvantage or needs. This then prevents them from accessing government services or receiving fair and equitable outcomes from those services. Substantive equality involves achieving equitable outcomes as well as equal opportunity by accounting for different circumstances. It means that in order to treat people equally we may have to treat them differently.
This guide aligns with the Department’s VPS Workforce Diversity and Inclusion Strategy (the Strategy). A key focus of the Strategy is to foster inclusion in the workplace by addressing broad issues that underpin and support change whilst concurrently addressing specific barriers that exist for some members of the workforce. The Strategy outlines the Department’s commitment to building a workforce and workplaces that are grounded in respect, foster inclusion, promote diversity and embrace the unique skills and qualities of all employees. The Strategy also supports work underway to implement the Department’s Investing in our People Strategy.
This is consistent with the Department Values — Responsiveness, Integrity, Accountability, Impartiality, Respect, Leadership and Human Rights. The Department Values are the foundations for respectful and inclusive workplaces that underpin equal employment opportunities. Managers, principals and employees are expected to model these behaviours in the workplace.
The Department is committed to diversity and inclusion, both in terms of providing the highest level of service to the Victorian community and in reflecting the diversity of the community in our workforce.
How to use this guide
This guide has been developed to assist everyone at Department workplaces to support employees with diverse and intersecting identities. It gives practical tips to implement best practice in diversity and inclusion across teams, and to support staff to bring their whole selves to work.
The guide is designed so that you can read it as a whole to make your work environment more inclusive or, once reading this introductory section on equal opportunity and general discrimination, focus in on particular areas. Each area of the guide goes into depth about what discrimination looks like and easy actions we can take to foster inclusion. There are also links to further resources and department policies.
This guide does not include information on inclusive recruitment, flexible work arrangements, workplace adjustments or gender affirmation. For information on these topics refer to the A-Z topic list on the .
Legislative and policy framework
The Department is committed to eliminating unlawful discrimination, workplace bullying, sexual harassment and vilification or victimisation through modelling inclusive leadership, and promoting an inclusive and respectful workplace culture
Everyone in the workplace has rights and responsibilities under equal opportunity and anti-discrimination legislation to prevent discrimination, sexual harassment, vilification or victimisation.
Each section of this guide references the legislation and related policies for each diversity focus area. The overarching legislation and policy is the , and the and the Department’s . This guide supports the Department in implementing this policy. These acts and policies ensure that allegations of discrimination and vilification against any Victorian are taken very seriously, and those responsible are held to account according to the law.
The also provides a framework for employees to understand their obligations to behave in accordance with the high standards the community expects. It describes the behaviours that promote the values contained in the , and it provides employees with guidance if they are faced with an ethical dilemma or a conflict of interest in their work.
Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) (the Act), the Department has a positive duty to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation as far as possible.1 This means that positive action should be taken to prevent these behaviours — regardless of whether someone has made a complaint.
In determining whether measures are ‘reasonable and proportionate’, factors such as the size of the organisation, its resources and the practicability and cost of the measures will be considered.2
The positive duty is about addressing the systemic causes of , and . The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has identified that all organisations must meet to comply with their positive duty under the Act. The standards are: ‘Knowledge’, ‘Prevention Plan’, ‘Organisational Capability’, ‘Risk Management’, ‘Reporting and Response’ and ‘Monitoring and Evaluation’.
The standards require actions to be taken to both prevent and respond to discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation.
Discrimination is treating someone unfavourably in an area of public life due to one of their personal characteristics.
The Act covers discrimination in employment, education, accommodation, clubs, sport, goods and services, land sales and transfers, and local government.
Types of unlawful discrimination
The Act lists two types of unlawful discrimination: direct discrimination and indirect discrimination.
Direct discrimination happens when a person or group of people treats (or proposes to treat) a person with a personal characteristic unfavourably, because of that characteristic. The characteristic (or presumed) characteristic must be a substantial reason for the unfavourable treatment, it does not have to be the dominant reason.
Direct discrimination often occurs because people make unfair assumptions about what people with certain personal characteristics can and cannot do. For example, refusing to employ someone on the basis of their age because the hiring manager believes they are too old to learn new skills.
Indirect discrimination happens when an unreasonable requirement, condition or practice is imposed that disadvantages a person or group due to the personal characteristic. This often occurs when a workplace policy, practice or behaviour seems to treat all workers the same way, but it actually unfairly disadvantages someone because of a personal characteristic protected by law. Examples include:
- advertising a job with strength or height requirements may indirectly discriminate against women, unless setting requirements in relation to strength and height is reasonable given the inherent requirements of the job.
- not providing a means for any employee to update the gender identify in their employee records. This indirectly discriminates against an employee undergoing gender transition.
Under the Act, it is against the law to discriminate against a person on the basis of:
- carer and parental status
- employment activity
- gender identity (which includes gender expression)
- industrial activity
- lawful sexual activity
- marital or relationship status
- physical features
- political belief or activity
- race (including colour, nationality, ethnicity and ethnic origin)
- religious belief or activity
- sexual orientation
- expunged homosexual conviction
- personal association with someone who has, or is assumed to have, any of these personal characteristics
It is also against the law to sexually harass someone.
These personal characteristics are based on a legal framework which supports diverse and inclusive workplaces which are free form discrimination and harassment.
No protected personal characteristics? It may still be against the Department’s policies to treat someone unfavourably, even if it is not discrimination under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010. The Department internal complaint process allows staff and others to raise concerns about the implementation of policies, decisions or actions.
If such treatment is repeated, unreasonable and creates a risk to health and safety (including emotional or psychological health) it may be bullying under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004.
Human Rights are protected by the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006, which contains 20 rights reflecting four basic principles of Freedom, Respect, Equality and Dignity.
Human Rights is one of the Department Values and provides the foundation for the Department’s Workforce Diversity and Inclusion and Investing in Our People strategies.
Intersectionality refers to the ways in which different aspects of a person’s identity can expose them to overlapping forms of discrimination and marginalisation. Aspects of a person's identity can include all social characteristics listed as personal characteristics above and more. Attitudes, systems and structures in society and organisations can interact to create inequality and result in exclusion.
Employers should be encouraged to be aware of their actions, statements, tones and body language that may be regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle and unintentional discrimination against members of marginalised groups, including trans and gender diverse people.
Microaggressions are difficult to define, and therefore it is difficult to create awareness about them. Please see these examples:
- Beth, a ciswoman and Alice, a trans woman, step into an elevator, with John already in it. When they arrive to the ground floor John gives way to Beth, and then moves to step out, hitting Alice accidentally. Alice knows that John habitually gives way to women and interprets John’s behaviour to mean that John does not view Alice as a woman. John may or may not be aware of his behaviour in this instance
- Michael, Sandra, Janine and Bowie, a trans man, are in the office working on their projects. When James walks into the office Michael gets excited and states ‘James, yay you are here, I was left all alone waiting for another guy!’. In this instance Michael may indeed be feeling alone, yet his statement translates to Bowie that Michael is not regarding him as a man.
- Sonia, a guest speaker at an event opens the panel by addressing the crowd by saying ‘Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, brothers and sisters, grandmothers and grandfathers, we welcome you all to the first ever ...’ This statement in a heavily binary language clearly leaves out non-binary, agender and gender fluid people. It translates to them that their identities do not exist and/or does not matter to the panellists.
- ‘We welcome transgender people to our women’s working group’. This statement has likely been made with an intention of inclusivity; however, it positions transgender women in a place of ’other’, while creating a power dynamic that is not equal. If there is a need to make a trans inclusive statement in this subject, a safer sentence would sound like; ‘We welcome all women; cisgender and transgender’.
The Department is committed to providing safe, inclusive and respectful workplaces, which are free from sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) and the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic). The Department’s Sexual Harassment Policy sets out the rights and responsibilities of employees and our organisation in relation to sexual harassment. The Department has a zero-tolerance policy in regard to sexual harassment. All employees are required to comply with the legislation and the Department’s Sexual Harassment Policy.
Victimisation is subjecting, or threatening to subject, someone to something detrimental because they have asserted their rights under equal opportunity law, made a complaint, helped someone else to make a complaint, or refused to do something because it would be discrimination, sexual harassment or victimisation.
Victimisation is against the law under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010.
The Department is committed to providing a safe, inclusive and respectful workplaces. The Department does not tolerate any form of victimisation in any of its workplaces.
While the Department encourages its employees to use the internal complaints processes to resolve any complaints, employees may also lodge a complaints with external bodies such as the Merit Protection Boards and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
Department employees seeking advice or assistance can and follow the prompts for corporate or school-based employees. For further enquiries about any of the focus areas, contact the Workforce Diversity and Inclusion team at
Employee Assistance Program
Free, confidential over-the-phone counselling is available through EAP 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for all Department employees and their immediate family members (18 years of age and over) for any personal or work- related issues. Contact the EAP on to make a booking or use the live chat function by visiting the (formerly Lifeworks) website and clicking on the ‘chat’ button at the bottom right of the screen.
This service also provides the Manager Assist program for management support and coaching.
Facilitate ongoing learning opportunities for other employees
While most employees want to create a culture of respect, they often fail to achieve this due to not knowing how to articulate language and behaviour in areas they are not familiar with. Diversity focused communication and training should be ongoing and engaging, to assist senior employees not falling into old habits and to help new starters feel included in the culture of change.
The workforce of the future will be ever more adaptive to cultural and technological change. Therefore, continuous social and interpersonal development will not only help you create a positive culture, but an agile and connected one that is resilient to an ever-evolving world.
There are a range of Diversity and Inclusion learning resources on LearnED. Search for each of the diversity topic names to find the latest opportunities or see the diversity and inclusion calendar on the collaboration home page on the intranet (login required).
Workplace Contact Officers
The WCO network is a group of trained, regional and central Department employees who have volunteered to be a point of contact for colleagues experiencing harassment, discrimination, bullying, victimisation and family violence. A WCO can provide information, guidance and support on options to resolve or prevent issues or refer employees to other Department support services. WCOs do not manage or investigate complaints.
1 Section 15 of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic)
2 Section 15(6) of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic)
Reviewed 17 January 2024