Women rise in top APS jobs, more Indigenous leaders and disability employment needed

By Jackson Graham

Wednesday December 1, 2021

people walking through a large marble lobby
Men continue to outnumber women in the top two bands of SES 2 and 3. (bluraz/Adobe)

Women have reached parity with men for the first time in some of the highest pay levels in the APS, yet roles in the top two bands remain occupied by more males. 

The APS Commission’s State of the Service report, released this week, also shows a slight dip in the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander public servants, falling from a peak of 3.7% of the workforce in 2019 to 3.5% now. 

And although the APS has exceeded a target of more than 3% of the workforce made up of Indigenous Australians, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in leadership positions remains below target. 

Among the top four pay bands in the APS, women for the first time occupy more EL 2 (50.1%) and SES 1 (51.9%) positions than men. 

But men continue to outnumber women in the top two bands of SES 2 and 3, where women make up 44.6% of roles and men make up 55.4%. 

APS commissioner Peter Woolcott said during a Mandarin Talks he believed more women would soon occupy the highest-paying roles. 

“It takes time, they will get promoted,” Woolcott said. 

The gender pay gap remains skewed towards males overall in the APS, Woolcott pointed out, with more women employed in the lower levels of the APS and occupying roles in regional areas. 

“That’s something which is not so easy to fix,” he said. 

The report points out proportionally there are more women working the APS than the general Australian labour force. In another trend that mirrors the broader workforce women are more likely to be working part-time (21.1%) compared with men (5.0%).

Woolcott said the APS had challenges retaining Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees, and highlighted Indigenous Australians made up just 1% of leadership positions. 

“We have an internal target of 3% in the SES amongst the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cohort, and we are long away from meeting that,” he said. 

At the Disability Royal Commission last week, Woolcott was quizzed about why there was a disparity between HR data listings of employees with disability (4.1%) and anonymous 2021 APS census data showing 9.3% of employees having a disability. 

“There are a range of reasons, but one of them is obviously there’s a sense that there may not be any benefit in disclosing or sharing that you have a disability,” Woolcott told the royal commission. 

“Worse than that, there may be a sense by some that it would actually hurt them in terms of their employment.

“Clearly there is a cultural issue and something we will need to work on.” 

The APS Disability Employment Strategy 2020-2025 has a target for people with disability to make up 7% of employees in the APS. But Woolcott disagreed when asked by the royal commission whether this target was “redundant” given the variance in the figures. 

“It is a significant stretch target there to get to 7%,” he said. “It’s only one aspect of the way we are approaching this problem. I think it’s very important to have a target. I also make the point that the target is not a ceiling, it’s a floor.” 

Woolcott also acknowledged the government’s strategy did not include a target for promotion of people with disability, or target for retention of people with disability. He said there was no sanctions for not meeting the overall target.  

“All the data around how we are tracking on that target is public or will be public. And if you look at the action plan, the secretary, agency heads and myself are all accountable for meeting that target. So there are accountabilities,” he said.


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