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Chapter 2: Gender equality in APS leadership

To achieve gender equality in leadership, agencies must assess the gender balance of their leadership cohorts and tailor measures to address imbalances. Agencies should consider the barriers to women's career progression, and revisit the qualities they are looking for in leaders to ensure they do not favour one gender.

The Government is committed to a gender diversity target of women holding 50 per cent of Australian Government board positions overall, with at least 40 per cent representation of women and 40 per cent men on individual boards. This 50 per cent overall target will commence on 1 July 2016. It is the responsibility of individual departments and ministers to support achievement of this target within their own portfolios.

Agencies should also be mindful of the principle of gender balanced decision-making when appointing members of internal boards, committees and panels.


  1. Agencies must set tailored, but ambitious, gender equality stretch targets across all leadership levels and business areas. Agency heads are to be accountable through their performance agreements for meeting these targets over the life of the Strategy, towards an overarching goal of achieving 50-50 gender balance.
  2. Agencies will develop and publish individual action plans to reach their gender equality targets. These strategies are to be updated as needed, based on monitoring and evaluation of progress.
  3. Senior leaders will commit to the 'panel pledge', including by requesting confirmation of how gender balance will be achieved on a panel and making their participation conditional on meaningful participation by women.
  4. Agencies must develop or seek access to programs that support women's progression into senior leadership positions. Priority should be given to specialist functional areas affected by gender imbalance—such as information technology, science and finance.
  5. Agencies will introduce exchange programs for the Senior Executive Service between agencies or functional areas affected by gender imbalance in a way that is sensitive to individuals' needs.
  6. The APSC and agencies will work actively with all jurisdictions—Commonwealth, state and territory, and local government—to prioritise gender equality in public sector leadership across Australia. Agencies will seek out opportunities to promote the principles and practices of the Strategy across all levels of government.
  7. Agencies will work with the Office for Women to develop individual action plans for achievement of the Government's board representation target and apply the target when appointing to internal boards, committees and panels.

Peter Varghese AO

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

I decided to focus on barriers to women's progression to ensure DFAT was able to maximise its talent by ensuring that all staff enjoyed equal opportunity.

Unequal representation of women at our senior levels suggested that, despite equal recruitment since the mid-1980s, there were factors inhibiting many of our female colleagues achieving senior roles. DFAT's Women in Leadership strategy aims to build a more contemporary, flexible workplace reflecting the needs of modern Australia. Our measure of success will be an inclusive workplace that ensures all staff can reach their full potential, ensuring that DFAT will also perform at its best. It is about both equity and productivity.

Last reviewed: 
10 July 2019