Public sector weak, improving on female representation


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Many areas of Australia’s public sector are lagging when it comes to female representation, particularly at senior levels. But two laggards, Defence and Treasury, are making significant progress.

Thirty years after the appointment of the first female secretary of a Commonwealth department — on the eve of International Women’s Day — there are still twice as many men in Australian public sector leadership roles as women in some states.

While women outnumber men as a fraction of total public sector employees, the bulk of female staff tend to be found in lower and middle income jobs such as teaching and nursing.

The first female secretary to be appointed in the APS was Helen Williams AO, who in 1985 became the head of the Department of Education and Youth Affairs. The first woman in a statutory post was Marie Coleman, appointed to the Social Welfare Commission in 1972.

Four decades later, there’s still progress to be made. While accessible statistics between states are not always directly comparable, it’s clear there remains a gap between the number of men and women in senior public service positions across Australia.

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