Adamson leaves DFAT on high note with focus on diverse workforce

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday June 24, 2021

Frances Adamson
Frances Adamson is three-and-a-half from right. (Hilary Wardhaugh/supplied)

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade must have a diverse and inclusive workforce in order to face global challenges, according to department secretary Frances Adamson.

“In any event, the scale of the complexity we face, whether in managing our relationship with China, or in positioning Australia to prosper in a more unstable world demands that we have our most dynamic, creative and talented people on the case,” she said in a National Press Club address on Wednesday.

“This means actively cultivating diverse and inclusive teams.”

Adamson will retire as Australia’s top diplomat tomorrow, before commencing as South Australia’s 36th governor in October. She used her final speech as secretary to acknowledge that embracing diversity is ‘fundamental to our national strength’.

“Over the 36 years of my public service career, we’ve seen slowly but steadily more women rise through the ranks of DFAT and the APS workforce, including me,” she said.

“It’s not just legislation and policies that affect cultural change, it’s also about visible and engaged leadership.”

READ MORE: Frances Adamson: trust, cooperation and inclusion are fundamental to policy and delivery

Adamson is DFAT’s first female secretary, and its inaugural diversity and inclusion champion. One of her proudest achievements during her term has been overseeing the transformation of the department’s senior leadership, including through its diplomatic missions overseas.

“In 2016, when I started as secretary, just over 31% of our Senior Executive Service were women. Today, the figure is just over 44%. Today, 42 of our career heads of mission and heads of post — or 45% — are women. That’s compared with only 23% in 2016,” she said.

“I focused here on women in leadership, however our strategy, leadership, and programs of work to enable diversity and inclusion in DFAT go well beyond that. The first accountability of a leader is to create a safe and inclusive environment that allows people to come to work, perform at their best, and to have hope for the future.”

But the public service must continue to lift its ability to recruit, develop, and retain the rich diversity of its people and talent, in order to truly represent the community that it serves.

“Progress here begins and ends with leadership at all levels of our society and organisations. I’m proud to say that the department that I am leaving is now the one I hoped I was joining in 1985,” Adamson said.

READ MORE: Lowy Institute: Lack of women in Australia’s international relations sector harms national interest


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