International approaches to advance equality: insights from six countries

International research publication including insight from six countries on ways to advance equality.

Section 3: Emerging Themes

In this section we have set out a thematic overview of our findings, pulling together insights drawn from each of the six countries. We have identified five themes:

  • Pay Gap Reporting
  • Inclusive Communications
  • Intersectionality and Data Use
  • Mainstreaming
  • Progress Reporting and Scrutiny

Theme 1 Pay Gap Reporting

The Equality Act (2010) compels employers with 250 or more employees to conduct regular pay audits to identify and address any gender pay gaps. Further, Regulation 7 of the Scottish Specific Duties mandates that listed authorities with 20 or more employees publish a gender pay gap report biennially. The purpose of the Scottish Specific Duty on pay gap reporting is to deliver transparency and accountability and to encourage listed authorities to make evidence-based decisions based on the pay gap information that they have published. Further, Government policy[9] augments the requirements of the SSDs by providing increased focus on actions to address under employment because of sex, disability and race, and promotes the development of fair and inclusive workplaces across Scotland.

Belgium and Sweden actively promote gender equality, and despite being gender-focused, they provide frameworks to assist employers in addressing wage inequalities. Belgium considers various data points that influence salary outcomes, such as employment level, job function, working age, qualifications, and education. Sweden requires individuals to develop and implement action plans that are supported by resources and to conduct annual reviews to assess progress. Welsh authorities must prepare a Strategic Equality Plan and publish pay gaps. This requirement promotes adaptability and facilitates easier adoption.

Informed by our review of the literature and interviews we found that transparency and clear guidance in pay gap reporting improve transparency and scrutiny. A standardised approach can direct strategic interventions and focus on ‘sticky’ areas. We suggest that in their analysis, listed authorities should prioritise identifying and collecting pay disparities between protected groups with a focus on intersectionality. The recent guidance published by Audit Scotland[10] provides helpful clarity on the scope and methodology of pay gap reporting.

We found that clear guidance to support pay gap reporting improves transparency and scrutiny.

The implementation and overall effectiveness of pay gap reporting in South Africa, New Zealand, and Canada rely heavily on crucial legal frameworks in these countries. These frameworks emphasise the significance of pay gap reporting initiatives in fostering gender equality in the workforce. The initiatives offer guidance on the requirements, scope, enforcement, and focus of addressing and reducing gender pay gaps, enabling organisations to effectively tackle this issue.

We have conducted interviews that shed light on the current pay gap reporting arrangements in South Africa. These arrangements involve implementing enhanced reporting and scrutiny. Employers are required to report to the Employment Equity Commission (EEC) and implement proactive measures to address disproportionate income differentials or unfair discrimination. However, the EEC does not permit the disclosure of identifiable information in income differential statements. Organisational leadership must then take intentional action to close the pay gap and report on the gender pay gap. However, South Africa is making efforts to advance pay equity. The Social Transformation Unit of the National Business Initiative is developing the Gender Pay Gap Platform. Its purpose is to assist companies in submitting anonymous data and facilitating internal reporting mechanisms.

The Gender Pay Gap Platform aims to actively enhance the gender pay gap by enabling the submission of anonymous data and providing assistance for internal reporting mechanisms. Companies can use this platform to submit anonymous data, conduct benchmarking and analysis, visualise and report gender pay gap data, support internal reporting mechanisms, share best practices and strategies, and promote transparency and accountability. The platform can enable public sector bodies to track and monitor their own gender pay gap data, identify disparities, set targets, and take proactive measures to address the gender pay gap. The platform can promote transparency and accountability, urging organisations to actively take concrete actions to close the gender pay gap.

There is room for the development of intersectional pay disparity reporting in Scotland via guidelines, standardised templates, and training in intersectional analysis.

Pay Gap Calculations

Regarding pay gap calculations, while our interviews did not cast any additional light on preferred routes, we have reviewed academic articles that provide insights. In New Zealand, the Ministry for Women indicates that ‘to avoid sample error within the survey data of the Household Labour Force Survey’[11] it uses the mean and points other organisations to Statistics New Zealand’s guidance[12] on measuring the pay gap. This clarity is reported to deliver enhanced pay gap calculations within organisations and uniformity across organisations.

The decision regarding whether to use the mean or median wage depends on the context, objectives, and variables under consideration. Both approaches have reported advantages and disadvantages, and we provide more information about the use of mean and median at page 3 of Annex G[13].

Nuanced Analysis

In the National Business Initiative's Gender Pay Gap Pilot 2021 Report, the need for nuanced analysis of gender pay gap data is emphasised. The report emphasises that not all employees are the same and that analysis of the gender pay gap must move beyond the mean or median wages earned by male and female employees to allow a closer look at any relevant differences within these groups.


Pay gap reporting is essential for promoting gender equality and reducing pay gaps in the workplace. By implementing transparent methodologies, enforcing penalties, and implementing strong enforcement measures, organisations can effectively address and reduce gender pay gaps. Intersectionality in legislative frameworks is crucial to address pay gaps and discrimination, as they often stem from different aspects of an individual's identity. This highlights the importance of considering multiple dimensions of identity when developing policies and laws to ensure fair treatment and equal opportunities for all individuals. Pay gap reporting becomes more inclusive and equitable when we consider the unique challenges faced by marginalised groups, such as women of colour, indigenous women, and individuals with disabilities.

Intersectionality in legislative frameworks is crucial to address pay gaps and discrimination, as they often stem from different aspects of an individual's identity.

Legislation in all the countries included in our research aims to promote transparency and fairness in remuneration practices. However, it is important to note that the coverage of legislation may vary. Some frameworks go beyond reporting requirements to include positive action measures and set targets for reducing pay gaps. This highlights the importance of not just reporting on pay gaps, but also taking proactive steps to address and reduce them. These proactive measures highlight the importance of increasing women's representation in leadership positions, addressing pay discrepancies, and promoting diversity and inclusion. In Belgium, Positive Action practices are allowed under anti-discrimination laws. However, it is important to note that certain conditions must be met. These conditions include the presence of an obvious inequality, acceptance of the removal as a worthwhile goal, ensuring the rights of others are not unnecessarily affected, and setting a limited timeframe for the measures to be abolished once the goal is achieved.

It is crucial to not just report on pay gaps, but also take proactive steps to address and reduce them. These proactive measures highlight the importance of increasing women's representation in leadership positions, addressing pay discrepancies, and promoting diversity and inclusion.

Theme 2 Inclusive Communications

Inclusive communication practices are essential for ensuring equal access to information, opportunities, and participation in public discourse for all individuals, regardless of their background or identity. Accessibility is a fundamental principle that underpins inclusive communications within equality legislation. The New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act 2000 requires federal agencies and organizations to provide accessible information upon request, while the Accessible Canada Act mandates the creation of accessibility plans.

Cultural sensitivity is noted as being crucial in fostering inclusive communications.

Cultural sensitivity is also crucial in fostering inclusive communications within equality legislation in Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand. Like the position of Gaelic in Scotland and Welsh in Wales, in Canada, indigenous languages are promoted in official communications, empowering indigenous communities to engage actively in public life while preserving their unique cultural heritage. In New Zealand, Te Reo Māori[14] is used in government communications and educational settings, ensuring that representatives from different cultural backgrounds are considered. By promoting cultural sensitivity in inclusive communications, these countries build bridges of understanding and respect among citizens, fostering social cohesion and national belonging.

Sweden and Belgium have EU-approved regulations for accessibility of websites and mobile applications, aiming to make them more accessible. In Wales, no specific rules exist for inclusivity or gender-neutral language, but listed bodies must ensure accessible documents and reports for people sharing protected characteristics, in line with the current requirements in Scotland.

Expanding the Definition of Inclusive Communication

Current guidance about inclusive communication focuses on accessibility. However, recent research expands the definition of inclusive communication. Cultural sensitivity, inclusive and respectful language, equal representation, visual and nonverbal communication, and linguistic diversity are now essential components of inclusive communication. In Scotland, specific provisions for Gaelic inclusion address these principles.

Inclusive communication should be accessible, clear, respectful, and empathetic, and it should avoid stereotypes and discrimination. It should take diverse identities, cultures, and experiences into account and foster empathy and comprehension. Visuals and non-verbal signals can be used to improve communication, while engagement and participation, particularly the use of case studies of real-world experiences, can be transformative, particularly in guidance. It is essential to tailor communication to individual requirements. Consideration should be given to cultural and linguistic diversity, and translation services, interpretation, and cultural sensitivity are essential. Transparency and accountability are essential, as is the pursuit of continuous improvement.

Interviews we conducted in New Zealand and Canada shed light on beneficial inclusive communication practices that could be adopted for Scotland. The incorporation of terminology related to He ira ke ano (Another gender), which supports and encourages an inclusive approach to policymaking and service delivery, is an example of good practice in the New Zealand Public Service. Our interviews reveal, for instance, that the Public Service Commission, known as ‘Te Kawa Mataaho’ collaborated with the Cross-Agency Rainbow Network to develop a Rainbow Inclusive Language Guide for use within the New Zealand Public Service.

Enhance Guidance on Inclusive Language for Policy Development

In Canada the inclusion of terminology related to visible minorities and immigrants supports and promotes an inclusive approach to policy and service development. This is because different groups and communities are confronted with unique obstacles and inequities, highlighting the importance of inclusive terminology in policy formulation. Through our interviews, we found that the Canadian Privy Council Office emphasises the significance of inclusive language in policy formulation by highlighting the unique experiences of black and indigenous employees. This strategy is also evident in the provision of services, where modifications to official languages, training, and development programmes facilitate the career advancement of people belonging to minoritised groups.

Our literature review highlighted that enhanced forms of communication that are more inclusive of all perspectives can facilitate the integration of marginalised groups. As an example, research by Agyekuma et al. (2021), suggests that immigrants who belong to minority racial groups have a higher likelihood of successfully integrating into their new communities when they have access to information about legal rights, social services, employment opportunities, and cultural norms. Listed authorities in Scotland provide essential services that people will interact with and that are different from the countries in which they were born. Because of this, listed authorities should take steps to present and disseminate information in a way that is understandable to individuals who do not have any prior knowledge of prevailing social structures, noting that accessibility goes beyond format of delivery but extends to ensuring that the channels of delivery and messages conveyed meet the needs of the recipient.


The reviewed practices provide an opportunity to recognise the nuance required to meet the needs of minority groups in communication from and with listed authorities. Our research highlights that inclusive communication practices should be a continuous process of learning and improvement, not only ensuring that everyone can effectively communicate and engage with one another but also improving policy design.

Theme 3 Intersectionality and Data Use

Intersectionality, as coined and developed by Kimberlé Crenshaw, refers to the complex and interconnected nature of social categorisations, such as race, gender, and class, and their combined impact on individuals' lived experiences. Crenshaw describes intersectionality as a framework that recognises and examines how different forms of oppression and discrimination intersect and interact with each other, leading to unique experiences of disadvantage for individuals who hold multiple marginalised identities. Furthermore, Crenshaw clarifies that intersectionality is not simply a practice of summarising or adding up different forms of oppression. Instead, it is a framework that acknowledges the intertwined, interactive, and mutually constitutive nature of intersecting categories of identity and their impact on individuals' experiences of inequality. It seeks to analyse the ways in which multiple forms of discrimination intersect and manifest in unique and incremental ways, shaping individuals' experiences and needs (Crenshaw, 1989).

Intersectionality provides a framework that acknowledges the intertwined, interactive, and mutually constitutive nature of intersecting categories of identity and their impact on individuals' experiences of inequality.

We discovered that the laws of South Africa, Canada, and New Zealand contained inclusive definitions of discrimination that accounted for overlapping forms of prejudice. This inclusive approach is reflected in the prohibition of discrimination based on multiple grounds, which simultaneously addresses multiple protected characteristics. Section 3.1 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, for instance, contains a provision for multiple grounds of discrimination, indicating that, for greater clarity, a discriminatory practice includes a practice based on one or more prohibited grounds of discrimination or on the effect of a combination of prohibited grounds.

Sweden and Belgium collect very little protected characteristic information about their employees other than their sex. Therefore, the majority of responsibilities are concentrated on this aspect, with little legislation encouraging an intersectional approach. However, there are efforts in both nations to increase awareness and comprehension of intersectional issues.

Belgium has separate pieces of legislation, action plans, and authorities responsible for gender equality and all other forms of discrimination, which may result in lost opportunities to combine knowledge and address intersectional issues. In the effort to address gender inequalities, the notion of intersectionality is gradually becoming better known.

Both Sweden and Wales have the benefit of having a single act that establishes duties related to equality legislation and agencies that concentrate on all protected characteristics simultaneously. Wales also makes some efforts to further encourage intersectional approaches in policymaking.

Intersectionality through Equality Impact Assessments

In Scotland, there is a growing awareness of the significance of incorporating an intersectional lens into equality impact assessments (EQIAs) to ensure that policies and practices consider the unique experiences and needs of marginalised groups. While there is limited evidence on the application of intersectionality in EQIAs in Scotland, there are broader indications of its adoption and potential impact.

We found that Scottish Government's approach to equality demonstrates a commitment to intersectionality. The Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012, which set out the requirements for EQIAs, state clearly that assessments must consider how different groups may experience discrimination differently due to overlapping characteristics. This acknowledges the significance of intersectional analysis in recognising and confronting inequalities. There is, however, room for improvement in ways that equality impact is considered, and the approach in South Africa provides some inspiration.

We found that Scottish Government's approach to equality demonstrates a commitment to intersectionality.

The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA) in South Africa recognises that individuals may experience discrimination or disadvantage based on multiple grounds or characteristics, such as race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, sexual orientation, disability, religion, conscience, belief, language, and place of birth. By including these multiple protected grounds, PEPUDA acknowledges the possibility of discrimination based on intersecting factors and facilitates legal reparations based on intersecting discrimination. It recognises the concept of intersectionality by explicitly listing multiple protected characteristics and addressing the intersecting nature of discrimination. The Act emphasises the importance of addressing discrimination and inequality experienced by individuals who belong to multiple disadvantaged groups.

Reporting Templates

In Scotland, the process of conducting equality impact assessments provides an opportunity to consider intersectionality. Our review and analysis of guidance documents suggests that the reporting templates used in South Africa create the conditions to consider quantitative data in a way that could inform intersectional analysis. These reports typically contain information regarding the representation and advancement of designated groups, such as Black people, women, individuals with disabilities, and others, across various occupational levels and sectors. In addition, they may contain information on initiatives and strategies implemented to combat barriers and promote diversity and inclusion. Samples of three different report templates are included in Annex F.

The first template, EEA2, gathers information for intersectional workplace demographic analysis. The second template, EEA4, gathers information for intersectional pay differential analysis. Importantly, the third template, EEA12, gathers information on affirmative measures that have been taken to measure progress. Scottish Government might benefit from using similar tools to ensure equal representation and fair compensation across the public sector.

To include intersectionality in employment equality progress reports, Scottish Government may request that public authorities analyse disaggregated data for intersecting identities. Analysis of such data could inform policy and practice to meet the needs of individuals and groups with multiple marginalised identities.

Our interviews reveal that the newly amended Employment Equity Act in South Africa intends to set sectoral targets for gender representation to ensure equitable representation of historically disadvantaged groups on the basis of race, gender, and disability. The amendment grants the Minister of Employment and Labour the authority to identify national economic sectors and establish numerical targets for each sector. This allows for a deeper examination of the gender pay disparity per industry and aligns with the minister's numerical goals.


Intersectional analysis requires more than collection and publication of detailed quantitative data. However, by having robust, consistent approaches to data collection and appropriate guidance to inform analysis, improved data collection and use is an important starting point. Enhanced data sets will allow listed authorities to identify areas of interest, and concern, so that further exploration can take place to address inequalities or replicate positive approaches that are addressing inequalities in employment outcomes and experience. The templates used in South Africa provide a potential framework to be adapted for use in Scotland, noting however the need for a proportionate approach that reflects the size and scale of varying listed authorities.

Theme 4 Mainstreaming

Scottish Government could benefit from paying attention to mainstreaming through a proactive and unified approach, with focus / targets communicated to listed authorities. Below, we highlight three focus points: setting national equality outcomes, providing practical guides to support mainstreaming, and mainstream positive action. In our research we found a range of different approaches to mainstreaming and impact assessment. Due to legal constraints in mainland Europe, including Scandinavia, the focus on employee equality is underpinned by data collected about age, sex, and employment type.

As we have highlighted in our review of Belgium, while there is an administrative focus on improving the policy-making process by using Regulatory Impact Assessments that include a focus on gender, there is a view that this process is seen as an add-on and is not contributing what it could because of a lack of compulsion in relation to quality control of assessments. Belgian legislation puts the responsibility of monitoring and advancing gender mainstreaming efforts on Ministers, with clear obligations to set objectives with measurable indicators, report on progress, and take gender into account during the policy-making process.[15]

In Sweden, impact assessments are only made from the perspective of gender as part of the gender mainstreaming strategy and are not a requirement set out in legislation. Rather, the Swedish Government uses its powers to direct attention where it is observed to be required. As an example, in 2020, 54 government agencies received a government assignment in their letters of regulation to form strategic action plans for their work related to gender mainstreaming from 2022 to 2025. Additionally, 33 state-funded higher education institutions received government requests to form strategic action plans for their work with gender mainstreaming from 2023 to 2025 (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2023). This approach is similar in terms to the instructions issued by Scottish Ministers to Non-Departmental Government Bodies under Regulation 11 of the SSDS and provides a route to ensure listed authorities are providing focus to advancing equality on key issues.

Sweden’s success in its gender mainstreaming efforts can also be attributed to the formulation of clear objectives and monitoring through set indicators, which gives the movement a clear directive and overarching national strategy. Those efforts have achieved high scores on the Beijing Platform for Action, which are far above the EU average (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2023).

Set National Equality Outcomes

Phase 2 and phase 3 of our research highlight that it is crucial for countries to set national equality outcomes for key issues. Sweden and Belgium both require Equality Impact Assessments during policy-making processes, with Sweden's success attributable to guidance through its staff's knowledge and support tools. In Scotland, consideration could be given to creating a central source of support like the Impact Assessment Committee in Belgium or the mainstreaming programmes in Sweden that could support Scottish Government and Listed Authorities meet their General Duties under the Equality Act (2010) and support the oversight provided by the EHRC (in similar terms to the agreement between the Scottish Funding Council and the EHRC). Our research identified that reporting the results of impact assessments encourages policymakers to engage with them, thereby potentially enhancing EQIAs.

Our interviews with Canadian organisations emphasise the importance of establishing an overarching strategic equalities plan. We would note, however, that while Canada's 2018 Budget includes a Gender Results Framework that establishes specific goals, indicators, and targets to monitor progress towards gender equality across various policy areas, our review of the literature revealed that some academics argue that the implementation of its gender equality framework lacks a clear and coherent plan. They suggest that this lack of clarity can lead to fragmented and disjointed efforts, which may limit the effects of policy outcomes (Cadesky, 2020). As a result, it is likely to be advantageous to periodically establish national or sector specific equality outcomes that are focused and informed by robust evidence so that authorities can prioritise action and report on progress.

Good Practice

We found good practice in setting National Equality Outcomes within the Public Service Commission of New Zealand. Our interviews highlight their efforts to develop coherence in equality by consulting with key stakeholders. The Public Service Commission developed two key programmes of work to unify these efforts:

  • Papa Pounamu, established in 2017, aims to increase diversity and inclusion in the public service. It covers five priority areas and reports on progress against them since 2021. The information is based on agencies' annual reports, guidance from the New Zealand Treasury, Public Service Workforce Data, and the Te Taunaki Public Service Census. However, our interviews highlight that there is variability in reporting and information on all diversity and inclusion work across New Zealand’s public services.
  • For equity, the Kia Toipoto programme, launched by the Public Service Commission in November 2021, aims to close gender, Māori, Pacific, and ethnic pay gaps, accelerate progress for women from diverse communities, and create fairer workplaces for all. By implementing Kia Toipoto, agencies and Crown entities can meet the expectations set out in the Public Service Act 2020 and the Government Workforce Policy Statement 2021. The plan includes publishing pay gaps in action plans, ensuring bias doesn't influence starting salaries, improving gender and ethnic representation, developing equitable career pathways, protecting against bias and discrimination, building cultural competence, and normalising flexible working.

These efforts have yielded positive outcomes in New Zealand’s public service by fostering inclusive policies, strong governance, collaboration, data-driven decision-making, and employee support. To improve on their efforts, legislative changes requiring public service leaders to promote diversity and inclusiveness have been in effect for three years and are still being implemented in practice. They highlight that significant changes have been observed in the public service, and further changes may be necessary after a few more years. The functional co-leads for diversity and inclusion in the public service meet regularly to discuss system progress and enhance diversity and inclusion work.

We highlight that to improve equality mainstreaming, it is beneficial to adopt national or sector-specific equality outcomes to improve accountability and scrutiny, as our research identified that action in this area is required to drive change and tackle inequalities.

Provide Practical Guides to Support Mainstreaming

Cairney & McGarvey (2013) and Wilson and Campbell (2020) highlight issues such as inadequate staff training, limited resources, and lack of coordination as some of the challenges faced within equality mainstreaming efforts in Scotland. Our review of interviews from Canada found that improved overarching guidance would be helpful if it set out practical examples. Our initial research at the sifting stage pointed us to good practice in Australia, where the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector has on its website a gender impact assessment hub that highlights simple step-by-step guidance to gender impact assessment with case studies. While there are other key practices that could benefit from clarity and overarching guidance, we highlight Equality Impact Assessments (EQIAs) because mainstreaming EQIAs serves as a key tool for achieving equality outcomes. The proper use of EQIA ensures that policies, programmes, and decisions within listed authorities consider and address the potential impact on diverse groups of people who may face discrimination or disadvantage and contribute uniformly to set national equality outcomes.

These case studies of lived experience within enhanced guidance can also support intersectional analysis that considers individual experiences in several ways.

Overall, through case studies and enhanced guidance, intersectional analysis can move beyond the aggregate level and delve into the complexities of individual experiences, ensuring that the intersecting identities and unique challenges faced by marginalised groups are considered in policy development and implementation to guide policy and practice, resulting in improved awareness and understanding.

Mainstream Positive Action

Cairney et al. (2020) highlight the challenges of mainstreaming equality, including positive action, within public bodies in Scotland. Like Cairney & McGarvey (2013) and Wilson and Campbell (2020), they also highlight the need for clear policies and training, but further recommend improved monitoring systems to effectively implement positive action initiatives. The evidence we found within the legislative analysis of South Africa’s Employment Equity Act offers lessons on clarity in guidance and structured reporting and monitoring with regards to affirmative action that could inform the development of guidance that enhances the application of positive action by listed authorities subject to the SSDs.

We found that academics argue that affirmative action initiatives help promote diversity and representation (Portocarrero & Carter (2022), Sunam et al. (2022)). However, some highlight the challenges faced in implementing these measures effectively (Deo (2021), Heilig et al. (2019)). This reflects the experience of listed authorities in Scotland where there has been a reluctance to use positive action measures. Our interviews shed a greater light on this. We found that organisations subject to affirmative action duties in South Africa believe that the clarity, structure, and monitoring process ensure adequate policies are adopted, their impact documented, and shared publicly. We also identified good practice with regards to scrutiny: reporting measures to the Employment Equity Commission are well established, and companies deemed inefficient are identified and urged to comply.

While the Equality Act (2010) highlights Positive Action as a legal provision, it sits outside the legislative competence of Scottish Government. We do, however, highlight that there is scope for Scottish Government to employ the clarity, structure, and scrutiny found within South Africa’s EEA to the definition and implementation of positive action in Scotland within guidance. Chapter 3 of the EEA provides a good example because it clearly defines what organisations must do. Importantly, in our interviews we were advised that organisations subject to this structured affirmative action in South Africa reported employment equity being prioritised in workplaces with positive impacts on monitoring income differentials. This focus helped promote economic equality for people in minoritised and disadvantaged groups. Further learning on embedding positive action are discussed in the scrutiny section below.

We highlight that there is scope for Scottish Government to employ the clarity, structure, and scrutiny found within South Africa’s EEA to the definition and implementation of positive action in Scotland within guidance.


Clear guidance and illustrations about the use of positive action would support listed authorities take action to address persistent inequalities. There may be merit in taking a sectoral approach if, for example, there is a common issue related to representation in employment or governance positions.

Theme 5 Progress Reporting and Scrutiny

Equality Progress Reporting

A key purpose of equality progress reporting in Scotland is to hold public bodies accountable for promoting equality, eradicating discrimination, and furthering inclusion in all aspects of society. Listed authorities are compelled to meet the requirements of the PSED and SSD within a set time period. Equality outcomes are published every 4 years, with an update after 2 years to encourage accountability and transparency. More generally, listed authorities are expected to set out how they are mainstreaming equality in their functions and provide updates on progress in the same reporting cycle. Although not required, most, if not all listed authorities choose to demonstrate compliance by publishing standalone mainstreaming or ‘PSED’ reports that meet their reporting requirements. These reports also include information regarding workforce diversity.

The EHRC provides oversight of compliance with the Public Sector Equality Duty[16]. However, the onus for ensuring progress lies with regulators and ombudsmen[17].

Whilst there are many organisations that take an interest in aspects of PSED reporting, for example third sector equality groups, there is no regular review of the content of all PSED reports. Noting the balance between transparency, reporting, and scrutiny, we observe that there is room to consider how listed authorities with scrutiny responsibilities and the boards of listed authorities and Courts of Universities can play a more active role in monitoring progress and meeting their own requirements under the general duty of the PSED.

The establishment of sector-specific equality outcomes and/or national equality outcomes could assist designated authorities address the persistent inequalities relevant to their sector.

The analysis of the approaches in each country reveals disparities in the extent of public reporting on efforts to advance equality. In countries that have made significant progress in advancing gender equality, the emphasis has not been on public reporting, as is the case in Wales and Scotland, but rather on internal or external accountability by employees or commissioners. The implication is that active scrutiny is perhaps more valuable than public reporting in isolation.

Active scrutiny by employees, governance boards, ombudsman, or regulators is perhaps more valuable than public reporting in isolation.

Our research suggests that the combination of active scrutiny and transparent reporting is most likely to drive change.

Feedback from countries that do not have this level of scrutiny but are required to report, indicates that effective scrutiny would help drive progress and, in many cases, would not require a different legislative framework but could be achieved with a broader recognition of the need to advance equality through existing accountability frameworks, such as scrutiny functions of boards, performance review systems, and activity linked to public procurement.

Belgium has one authority responsible for Gender Equality and another one that is responsible for all issues related to other protected groups.

While Sweden also has a separate agency on Gender Equality, the main authority responsible for the duties set out in the Discrimination Act lies with the Equality Ombudsman and covers all protected characteristics. The Gender Equality Agency in Sweden is responsible for coordination, follow-up, and providing support and knowledge to reach the common goals towards gender equality, including gender mainstreaming efforts.

However, in both Sweden and Belgium, employee scrutiny of pay gap data is mandated in the relevant legislation. Employees are engaged in the development of action plans, active measures, and other activities associated with equality work. In addition to ensuring that employees can express their requirements, this strategy reduces the workload of monitoring bodies. In Wales, the Government considers reports on progress, while the Equality and Human Rights Commission is responsible for monitoring compliance.

Our review of the literature suggested that Canada does not have a robust monitoring and evaluation function within its equality scrutiny (Carducci et al. (2022), Lyons & Zhang, (2022)). Further, our interviews in Canada highlight the disadvantages of not having a robust equality monitoring system. They emphasise that progress is uneven due to an uncoordinated approach to reporting.

In our review of legislation and guidance, we found that a robust progress reporting system is in place in South Africa. The responsibilities of organisations and scrutiny duties in South Africa are highlighted below.

  • Section (19) Employers must analyse employment policies and procedures to identify barriers affecting designated groups, promote employment equity, and implement affirmative action practices.
  • Section (20) of Affirmative Action towards Employment Equity requires that the employer implement an employment equity plan, set goals, and measure progress.
  • Section (21) Employers must submit annual reports on employment equity plans.
  • Section (22) Public companies must publish employment equity plans in their annual financial reports.

The South African legislation requires public and private institutions to report on their progress towards achieving equity and diversity. This includes reporting on employment equity, representation at all levels, and measures taken to promote diversity and inclusion.

Under the Employment Equity Act (EEA), designated employers are required to report on their efforts to promote equitable representation in the workplace. This includes analysing workforce demographics, setting employment equity targets, and reporting on progress towards achieving these targets. Organisations in South Africa are required to submit their reports to regulatory bodies such as the Department of Employment and Labour and the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Commission. These reports provide transparency and accountability in achieving equity and diversity objectives, and most importantly, they give the commission the opportunity to urge and guide organisations falling short of expected equality outcomes to improve.

Further, our review highlighted that each of the countries had systems in place that supported regular review, noting varying timescales, but each with specific set cycles of internal or public reporting.


Our interviews highlighted a consistent focus on the need to act and address inequalities. Further, we are aware that an overly bureaucratic approach to reporting can hinder action. In Scotland an increased focus from governance bodies and boards, coupled with clear equality outcomes, is likely to create the conditions for listed authorities to mainstream reporting in existing annual reports, thereby cutting the resource dedicated to demonstrating compliance.



Back to top