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Equal opportunity and workplace diversity — how does it help you?

Not sure about your rights when you go back to work? 

mum and baby at laptop

You may have heard that laws exist to protect breastfeeding women in the workplace but if you haven’t had to make use of them before, you may not understand how they work.

First, some definitions: 

Equal opportunity - The job or promotion goes to the person who earns it based on qualifications, experience and knowledge. 

Workplace diversity values everyone’s differences. Diversity includes not only race but gender, ethnicity, personality, age, education and background. 

How might you as a breastfeeding mum either in the workplace or planning on returning to work, face direct or indirect discrimination?  

  • Direct discrimination is where someone with a personal characteristic is treated unfairly because of that personal characteristic. This could include not giving you a promotion because you are female, pregnant or breastfeeding.  

  • Indirect discrimination occurs when a workplace requirement or practice that means to treat everyone the same, becomes unreasonable due to the individual’s circumstances or characteristics that are protected by law. An example would be a rule that all employees must work night shifts. If there are other shifts available, this could be seen as indirect discrimination of employees who are breastfeeding or have family responsibilities. 

As a breastfeeding employee, you may experience discrimination if you are not given reasonable measures to assist or support your breastfeeding. If your workplace doesn’t provide breastfeeding and expressing facilities and flexible lactation breaks, they may be discriminating against you as a breastfeeding woman and may be breaking the law.  


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. 

Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace (BFW) accreditation   

The Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace program is a not-for-profit initiative which aims to remove the workplace as a barrier to breastfeeding. Becoming BFW accredited can help your workplace:  

  • to meet their ‘Inclusivity and Diversity Agenda’ by ensuring that it doesn’t 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 

  • retain valued employees and attract new ones by helping in the development of breastfeeding friendly practices and facilities 

  • assist companies to stop discrimination before it happens. BFW consultants frequently work with Equal Opportunity Officers and Diversity and Inclusivity Coordinators. Employers are identifying BFW accreditation as being one part of their strategies in the antidiscrimination area. 

If you're working at an accredited Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace, you can be confident that you will be supported to combine breastfeeding and working. Your  workplace will support breastfeeding employees and prevent discrimination through implementing policies and procedures that build a supportive workplace culture.   

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.  

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

ACT: ACT Human Rights Commission 

New South Wales: Anti-Discrimination New South Wales 

Northern Territory: Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commission 

Queensland: Queensland Human Rights Commission 

South Australia: Office of the Commissioner of Equal Opportunity  

Tasmania: Equal Opportunity Tasmania 

Victoria: Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission

Western Australia: Western Australian Equal Opportunity Commission

National: Australian Human Rights Commission


© Australian Breastfeeding Association May 2022