Three Commonwealth diversity strategies took top priority at the Australian Public Service Secretaries Equality and Diversity Council meeting in July.
The council discussed future directions for strategies, drawing on experiences from efforts to promote inclusion and diversity in several departments.
“This presents an opportunity for the APS to define a strategic inclusion and diversity framework that supports and reflects an APS of the future,” the high-level body commented in a communique this week.
The council’s main priority is developing a new Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy. It resolved to set up a steering group made up of senior executives joined by Executive Level 1 and APS Level 6 officers, and that agencies would nominate “high potential staff” to join a project team based in the Australian Public Service Commission.
“The council noted the strategy will aim to consolidate best practice employment programs, improve retention rates and build equity in promotion opportunities for Indigenous employees, particularly into SES ranks.”
A disability employment strategy was also discussed, acknowledging the government’s election promise to increase the representation of people with disabilities in the APS to 7% by 2025.
Issues around the broad definition of disability and the potential stigma associated with disclosure were noted, as was the potential to draw from the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.
“It was acknowledged the APS does not offer a clear value proposition for people with disability to seek employment in the APS and, in many cases, to disclose the nature of their disability.”
The secretaries council simply says “progress has been made” towards implementing the current APS gender equality strategy, which expires at the end of 2019, and reports the next iteration “will need to consider out-dated cultural norms and higher uptake of flexible work by women than men”.
The group also heard a presentation from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, now led by secretary Liz Cosson, about its “cultural transformation program” and how it aimed to “build greater connection” between the much-maligned department and those it supports. “The presentation highlighted the importance of role modelling employment practices, building trust with community through people, processes and technology, and maintaining momentum through change.”
Kate Jenkins, Sex Discrimination Commissioner, spoke to the council on themes from the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces. She led a discussion on how the APS could address the inquiry’s outcomes in its role as both a major employer and a driver of key legislative and regulatory frameworks.
The council noted their “unequivocal censure of any form of sexual exploitation, abuse or harassment”, however, they decided to hold off discussing how “sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment in procurement” can be prevented until the findings of the national inquiry are handed down.
At the council’s last meeting in March, it decided to set up “EL2-level Project Steering Groups for departments to collaborate and progress inclusion initiatives out-of-session” and last month heard they were “making positive progress … to build inclusive work practices across APS departments”.