‘Sustained effort’ needed for half of state’s public service leaders to be women: state sector report

By Jackson Graham

December 14, 2021

Chris Carr said Jenny West’s status in her job application was ‘well-advanced but not at the end of it’.  (Image: Adobe/ Keitma)

NSW’s public service will need a “sustained effort” to have women in half of all senior manager roles by 2025, but it has exceeded a target for Indigenous Australians four years early. 

The State of the NSW Public Sector report, released this month, shows women now make up 42.7% of senior leadership roles, up from 41.1% in 2020. 

NSW Public Service Commissioner Kathrina Lo acknowledged in the report there was still work to do. “Sustained effort will be needed to reach the target of gender parity by 2025,” Lo said. 

She highlighted six of 11 members on the NSW Secretaries Board were women, and the appointment of Karen Webb as NSW Police Commissioner would bring that to seven. “This is the highest number of women that have been on the board at one time,” Lo said. 

The sector has now exceeded a target four years early to have at least 114 Indigenous Australians in leadership by 2025, with 130 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in senior leadership positions this year. 

“I am thrilled that we have already achieved the goal of doubling the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in senior leadership,” Lo said. 

A target for people with disability to make up 5.6% of the NSW public service has shown slower progress, increasing just 0.1% in 2021 to become about 2.5% of the workforce. 

“The workplace experience for people with disability is an area in which I want to see us make significant improvements,” Lo said. 

Agencies are working to earn accreditations and meet standards for accessibility to recruitment, redesigning workplaces in line with accessibility standards, working to better understand the barriers people face in disclosing their disability, and trialling workplace adjustment passports. 

According to the NSW Public Service Commission’s People Matters Survey, which accompanies the yearly overview of the sector, employee engagement (67%) was at the same levels as 2020. The survey had a response rate of just 44%. 

Just 59% of the state’s public servants feel they are paid fairly for the work they do, a slip of four percentage points compared with 2020. 

Employee wellbeing (63%), impressions of inclusion and diversity among senior managers (63%), and job satisfaction (60%) all showed minor decreases compared with a year earlier. 

In line with last year’s findings, the NSW public service performs strongly on risk and innovation, with employees scoring this at 75%, while confidence in recruitment decisions, grievance handling and action on survey results remained below 50% with slight improvements on last year’s results. 

In trends similar with the year prior, about one-in-seven respondents said they had experienced bullying in the public sector, while an even greater number (22%) said they had witnessed it. 

“Over the years, the percentage of employees experiencing or witnessing bullying has trended down,” Low said. 

Four per cent of respondents had experienced sexual harassment, slightly higher than in 2020, and less than half of people who complained about an incident believed it was satisfactorily resolved. 

Most workers had high satisfaction with their access to flexible work arrangements, while 13% said they were unsatisfied.

Lo said flexible working would help the sector attract and retain employees, employ diverse talent, and as research showed increased productivity, living standards, and reduce instances of negative workplace behaviours. 

“Over the past year, managers and staff have learned to work effectively in a hybrid environment while maintaining high levels of engagement and output,” she said. 

“We will, of course, need to consider what hybrid and flexible work look like for different organisations, roles and types of service delivery in the sector.”


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