Balancing the future: The Australian Public Service gender equality strategy 2016-19
Last updated: 28 Apr 2016
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Balancing the Future: Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy 2016–19 sets out actions for driving high performance and boosting productivity in the Australian Public Service (APS). It is a strategy for harnessing the best talent, changing cultures, and challenging assumptions that hold us back.
The APS must embrace diversity, drawing on the skills and potential of all employees. The APS benefits from people from all backgrounds.
This is a strategy to address gender imbalance across the APS—at all levels and in all agencies. To achieve this, all men and women need to step up together as leaders to foster equitable and highperforming workplaces.
The APS must change to secure the best talent and the best results.
This strategy focuses on changing culture through leadership, flexibility, and innovation. To do things differently an honest stocktake is required. The APS workforce must reflect contemporary reality— one in which men, as well as women, have both caring and work responsibilities, and where everyone is given the same opportunities to develop and to lead.
The APS must set the pace for a contemporary Australian workforce. APS leaders at all levels must be accountable for driving progress in their agencies, their divisions, their branches and their teams.
The APS will not achieve gender equality until both women and men are seen as capable and credible leaders; until both women and men can work flexibly without risking their career progression; and until outdated assumptions of 'women's work' and 'men's work' are identified and eradicated.
The principle of merit remains central to APS employment. The strategy aims to create an environment in which merit is applied properly and fairly. This will be achieved through reportable targets, the removal of barriers like hidden bias, and adopting work arrangements that balance choice with operational requirements.
This strategy is an opportunity to drive lasting change. It is time for the APS to be a leader once again in gender equality.
The case for change
A growing body of research shows that:
- organisations with the most gender equality outperform those with the least,
- increasing the proportion of women in leadership roles is associated with better financial performance, and
- gender equality in teams promotes an environment where innovation can flourish1.
As at 31 December 2015, women made up 58.7% of the APS, but only 41.8% of the Senior Executive Service.
Implicit bias remains a barrier to women being recruited into certain roles and promoted to senior positions2. Further, female employees are less likely to have informal networking opportunities extended to them than their male co-workers—missing out on the connections and confidence these offer3.
Flexible work arrangements are available in most APS agencies, but are accessed overwhelmingly by women and hardly at all by senior leaders4. Flexible work is seen largely as an accommodation for women, and as incompatible with working in a leadership role. Workplaces that take a flexible approach to how, where, and when work is done attract the highest-calibre employees—and keep them in the long term5.
The case for change is clear. Without recognising gender equality as a business imperative, agencies risk being left behind.
1 'The business case for gender equality', Workplace Gender Equality Agency (2013), www.wgea.gov.au, accessed 9 March 2016, 'Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review – Report' (Section 1.3(a)), Australian Human Rights Commission (2014), https://www.humanrights.gov.au/publications/supporting-working-parents-pregnancy-and-return-work-national-review-report/chapter-1, accessed 10 May 2016 'What is the impact of gender diversity on technology business performance', National Centre for Women and Information Technology (2014), https://www.ncwit.org/sites/default/files/resources/impactgenderdiversitytechbusinessperformance_print.pdf, accessed 10 May 2016, 'Is there a payoff from top-team diversity?', McKinsey and Company (2012), http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/is-there-a-payoff-from-top-team-diversity, accessed 10 May 2016, 'ASX 500 – Women Leaders, Research Notes' (page 12), Reibey Institute (2011) http://www.reibeyinstitute.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/ASX500_Women-Leaders-2011.pdf, accessed 10 May 2016, 'Building a Business Case for Diversity', Melbourne University Business School - Centre for Ethical Leadership (2012), http://genderequity.ahri.com.au/docs/GEP-Building_a_Business_case_for_Diversity.pdf, accessed 10 May 2016.
2 See, for example: Gender diversity: Why aren't we getting it right? Hays 2014, https://www.hays.com.au/cs/groups/hays_common/@au/@content/ documents/digitalasset/hays_227986.pdf, accessed 11 April 2016; What stops women from reaching the top? Confronting the tough issues, Bain & Company and Chief Executive Women, 2011, http://www.cew.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/2011-CEW-Bain-report.pdf, accessed 11 April 2016.
3 The Leadership Challenge: Women in Management, Department of Social Services, 2008, https://www.dss.gov.au/our-responsibilities/women/ publications-articles/economic-independence/the-leadership-challenge-women-in-management?HTML, accessed 11 April 2016.
4 For example, as at 31 December 2015, 82% of all part-time employees were women, and 3.8% of all SES employees worked part-time, Australian Public Service Employmant Database (APSED).
5 Workplace Flexibility Strategy, p. 4, Workplace Gender Equality Agency, https://www.wgea.gov.au/sites/default/files/Building_a_flexibility_strategy.pdf, accessed 29 March 2016.
Achieving gender equality in the APS will be driven by the following principles:
- Transformational change—public sector leaders, managers, and supervisors will be bold in creating inclusive workplace cultures
- Commitment—leaders will give priority to ensuring gender equality in their agencies and will allocate resources accordingly
- Accountability—leaders at all levels are accountable for driving gender equality in their agencies.
The APS will set the pace on gender equality by:
- Driving a supportive and enabling workplace culture
- Achieving gender equality in APS leadership
- Working innovatively to embed gender equality in employment practices
- Increasing take-up of flexible work arrangements by both men and women
- Measuring and evaluating actions.
To help you make this strategy successful in your agency, the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) has developed a practical online Implementation Guide: http://www.apsc.gov.au/gender-equality.
The guide comprises nine interactive modules that can be accessed in an order that suits you best:
Resources, factsheets, templates, training
Your role as leader
Lead change in your agency
Your role as a manager
Lead your team
Your role as an employee
How you can help
The case for change
Understand the business imperative
Evaluate and report
Connect across agencies
Interact and leverage the work of others
During its G20 presidency in 2014, Australia undertook to reduce the gender gap in workforce participation by 25 per cent by 2025. Achieving greater participation rates for women is a social imperative that will also assist Australia to position itself as economically competitive in the global market.
To support Australia's G20 commitment, the Government is taking action to boost women's workforce participation by:
- Delivering more affordable, accessible and flexible childcare;
- Supporting businesses to create more flexible and diverse workplaces;
- Examining the tax and transfer system and its impact on women and their families; and
- Supporting women in innovation as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda.
The APS Gender Equality Strategy focuses on strengthening workplace diversity and making better use of existing flexibility arrangements for women and men. Through the Strategy, the public service will be a pace-setter for industries in meeting the Government's G20 commitment in this area by modelling best practice for other sectors in the Australian economy.