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Equal Opportunity and Workplace Diversity — what does it mean?

Equal opportunity means that all people will be treated equally or similarly and not disadvantaged by prejudices or bias. This means that the best person for a job or a promotion is the person who earns that position based on qualifications, experience and knowledge.

Workplace diversity values everyone’s differences. Diversity is about learning from each other regardless of our cultural background and bringing those differences into the workplace to broaden experiences and knowledge. Diversity includes not only race but gender, ethnicity, personality, age, education and background.

Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace Accreditation (BFWA) assists organisations to meet their ‘Inclusivity and Diversity Agenda’ by ensuring that organisation does not lose diversity amongst female and male employees during the years of child-bearing and child-rearing. Many valuable skills are learnt through parenthood and workplaces are becoming aware of how these experiences can benefit their organisation. BFWA helps retain valued employees and attract new ones by assisting in the development of breastfeeding friendly practices and facilities.

Avoiding discrimination is not the same as embracing different needs of employees.

Employees or potential employees may face direct and indirect discrimination. Direct discrimination is where someone with a personal characteristic is treated unfairly because of that personal characteristic. This could include not giving a female a promotion because they are female, pregnant or breastfeeding. Indirect discrimination occurs when  a requirement or practice that purports to treat everyone the same becomes unreasonable due to the individual’s circumstances and ends up actually or potentially disadvantaging someone with a personal characteristic that is protected by the law. An example of this would be rule that states that all employees must work night shifts.

As all employees must work these shifts, it may seem a fair rule. However, this could be seen as indirect discrimination if there are other shifts available that would be more supportive of employees who are breastfeeding or who have family responsibilities. Employees who are breastfeeding may experience discrimination at work if employers do not provide reasonable measures to assist or support breastfeeding. By not providing breastfeeding and expressing facilities and flexible lactation breaks an organisation may be discriminating against breastfeeding women and may be breaking the law.

An employee working at an accredited Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace can be confident that she will be supported to combine breastfeeding whilst working. Accreditation ensures that the workplace supports breastfeeding employees and prevents discrimination through the implementation of policy and procedures that build a supportive workplace culture. There is national legislation to protect the rights of everyone and there is also legislation in each State and Territory. A good example is the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Victoria). An important aspect of this Victorian law is that it clearly sets out the positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation. It is important that organisations know about positive duty and understand how it works. Complying with positive duty will help stop discrimination before it happens.

More workplaces are seeking accreditation

The Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace program is finding that there are an increasing number of organisations seeking accreditation who do not have any current breastfeeding employees. They value their female employees and want to retain them in the future so they are prepared to set up strategies and processes to protect future breastfeeding employees. BFWA assists companies to stop discrimination before it happens. BFW consultants frequently work with Equal Opportunity Officers, Diversity and Inclusivity Coordinators. Employers are identifying BFW accreditation as being one part of their strategies in the antidiscrimination area.

If you are experiencing discrimination and would like to know more about your rights or the legislation, talk or visit your local Human Rights/Anti-Discrimination Commission or the Australian Human Rights Commission.




ACT Human Rights Commission

02 6205 2222

NSW Anti-Discrimination Board

1800 670 812

Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commission

1800 813 846

Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland

1300 130 670

Legal Services Commission ofSouth Australia

Tasmanian Office of the Anti-Discrimination   Commissioner

1300 305 062

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights   Commission

1300 891 848

Western Australian Equal Opportunity Commission

08 9216 3900

Australian Human Rights Commission

1300 656 419

If you would like further information regarding Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace Accreditation visit: Why not recommend Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace Accreditation to your workplace today?

Information in this article was sourced from:

Further information may be obtained from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission's publication: Pregnancy and work: Know your rights and obligations


breastfeeding at work

Breastfeeding: women and work booklet

Breastfeeding: Women and Work looks at how mothers manage breastfeeding and expressing milk for their babies when they need to be away from their baby for paid employment, volunteering or study.

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© Australian Breastfeeding Association November 2016


Last reviewed: 
Dec 2016