Gender equality: ‘We must not become complacent’, APS leaders say

By Melissa Coade

Wednesday December 8, 2021

Academics and former officials pin hopes on diplomatic communications remaining open.  (Olga K/Adobe)

The Australian Public Service Commissioner (APSC) and Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary launched an updated gender equality strategy on Tuesday.

In a joint statement, Peter Woolcott and Phil Gaetjens said the strategy was devised in partnership between the APSC and the department’s Office for Women.

“We must not become complacent. There is more that we can do and our challenge is to maintain momentum and sustain progress. Gender equality, and our broader diversity and inclusion objectives, must continue to be prioritised,” the men said.

The 56-page Realising the Benefits for all: APS Gender Equality Strategy 2021-26 (Strategy)’ document updates a previous strategy that was independently evaluated as not going far enough to affect meaningful change.

Following broad consultation, including APS-wide staff engagement, and in response to a recommendation from the Respect@Work report that government agencies deliver action plans to address sexual harassment and safe and respectful workplaces, this latest iteration of the APS gender equality strategy was produced. 

“This strategy provides a flexible framework to enable agency-level conversations and targeted actions on shared areas of focus, outlining how the APS can remain a leader in gender equality, and integrate the principles of gender equality into all aspects of work,” Woolcott and Gaetjens added.

“We must continue to break down stereotypes and shift gender norms to provide a respectful, safe and inclusive culture in the workplace. 

“The strategy highlights the responsibility of leaders at all levels to hold themselves and others to account for demonstrating gender equitable and inclusive behaviour.”

Woolcott and Gaetjens pinpointed the year 1966 as a turning point for the APS, when a rule known as the ‘Marriage Bar’ that banned married women from keeping their jobs was done away with.

“Women now represent 50% of the Senior Executive Service for the first time and our gender pay gap has continued to trend down to the current 6.6%,” they added.

In a pre-recorded video welcoming the strategy, sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins described the updated document as offering the perfect recipe for success.

“What is exciting about this strategy is that it now elevates the goal to true equality for all genders, seeking to realise the benefits of gender equality for all. The strategy offers a united approach in six united areas, which can be tailored by each agency to their own context and workforce. 

“It is visionary, evidence-based and practical,” Jenkins said. 

The commissioner added that a public service which mirrored the diversity of the Australian community would not only create a safer and more respectful workplace, but provide the right environment to develop and deliver better policies and programs that served all Australians.

“As you would expect, the strategy sets out methods of accountability so that the APS can track its progress and maintain its reputation as a world-class public service now and into the future,” Jenkins said.

“At a time when Australians have relied on the skill of our federal public service like never before, I am confident that the new APS gender equality strategy builds on the success of the past and the commitment of the current APS workforce to ensure an even stronger future.”

In his own video, minister for public service Ben Morton underscored the importance of attracting and retaining the best talent to the APS workforce. He said the new strategy focused on equal opportunity and workforce participation for all.

“The new strategy provides an opportunity to further demonstrate leadership and broaden and strengthen our approach to gender equality,” the minister said.

“The strategy aligns with the 2021-22 women’s budget statement and delivering for tomorrow APS workforce strategy 2025.”


Is a new era in public sector gender equality upon us?

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