More women, but still a struggle to break into SES boys’ club

By The Mandarin

Thursday September 17, 2015

Women in the Australian Public Service have now reached at least equal representation with men at all levels up to and including executive level 1, according to the Australian Public Service Commission’s new State of the Service blog.

A recent post covered progress made on women’s representation going all the way back to federation in 1901, when they “were generally few in number and working at lower levels” and “their conditions and rights were not equal to those of men”.

The post reports:

“Since 1995, women’s representation has almost doubled at EL2 and SES Band 1, tripled at SES Band 2. SES Band 3 representation has increased five-fold.

Twenty years ago women made up 19% of ongoing SES employees. By 2015 their representation had grown to 41%.”

The commission’s big mid-year statistical bulletin also came out this month, reporting data accurate at June 30 that showed female EL1s making up about 15% of the total APS and male EL1s making up just over 20%.

No surprise the long term trends continue: a shift towards higher classification levels, a gradual increase in the proportion of women in the APS, and an ageing workforce. Already in the majority overall, women are still a minority at the higher levels, but this trend is clearly changing. The bulletin reports the current state of play gender-wise:

“… the highest concentration of women is at the APS 4 (23.7%) and the APS 6 (19.6%) classifications, while for men the highest concentration is at the APS 6 (21.9%) and EL 1 (20.4%) classifications. The proportion of women at the EL 2 classification (5.5%) is around half that of men (10.5%), this trend continues throughout the SES classifications.”

The growth of non-ongoing jobs also continues apace in the Australian Public Service, with the number of public servants on limited contracts increasing 22% over the last financial year.

The Commonwealth now has about 16,000 non-ongoing employees, according to the 2014-15 Australian Public Service statistical bulletin, while the number of permanent positions shrunk nearly 6% to reach 136,498 at the end of June. Out of non-ongoing employees, the bulletin shows a spike upwards in “specified term” staff over 2014-15, and an almost identical drop in “irregular or intermittent” employment.

It notes this is a quick reversal of a 13-year trend:


The biggest staffing increases were in the aged care regulator and the National Disability Insurance Agency in Geelong, while the biggest cuts came from the three biggest organisations under the APS umbrella: the Tax Office, Department of Human Services and Department of Defence.

The giant mid-year data dump may be the last of its kind as the blog allows the commission’s statistical boffins to push out their findings throughout the year. In recent months, the APSC has been taking a more open approach to its communications that also includes the advent of a short, sharp monthly newsletter.

The SOSR site, launched on August 25, reflects a change in thinking about the purpose of the commission’s major ongoing project of collecting, collating, analysing and presenting loads of statistical data on the APS workforce. The APSC now recognises the SOSR’s value to a wider audience than in the past, and publishes its findings in smaller chunks every week.

When the final report comes out on November 26 this year, the commission says it will be a much shorter document than previous editions, because the majority of its evidence base will already be published online:

“The intent of these changes is to drive higher levels of engagement with our readers on issues of interest. Releasing data and information on a continuous cycle allows the Commission to facilitate discussion that may yield innovative solutions and insight. We invite you to visit the website to learn more and contribute your thoughts.”

A previous post focused on safety culture, and the one before that looked at “immediate supervisor leadership”, pointing to the adage that “people join companies but leave managers”. There’s the recent employee census data in a very readable format, while an earlier post looked at the massive influence that senior leadership behaviour, visibility, risk appetite and communication has on agencies. It reports:

“The gains made in 2014 in relation to senior leaders have been maintained in this year. Results from 2014 demonstrated improvements in employee perceptions of the quality, visibility and communication of senior leaders. However, there remains room for improvement in the areas of engaging with staff and leading and managing change.”

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