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Tasmania’s top mandarin targets SES gender parity, simplified recruitment

Tasmania’s most senior public servant Greg Johannes brings word of his continuing push towards greater workforce diversity in the State Service, and a target to reach gender parity in his own executive ranks by the end of the decade.

The Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary is trying lead by example with a new goal to increase the proportion of women in his senior executive ranks from 40% to 50% by 2020. And he’s trialling a simpler approach to senior executive recruitment, hoping to attract candidates from a wider range of backgrounds.

Johannes told his staff last week he had taken “the unusual step of sending two separate letters to other agency heads” about the changes he wants to see in the Premier’s department and in the State Service more broadly:

“At a meeting with agency heads … we discussed the need to increase the number of women in the State Service’s senior executive — currently just 30% despite the fact that women make up more than 70% of the State Service.”

He acknowledged that “other agencies are doing a lot of work in the area of gender equality too” and suggested they should learn from each other’s approaches to make “real and meaningful change”.

Greg Johannes
Greg Johannes

Johannes is also taking a leaf out of his federal counterpart’s book and simplifying recruitment, in an effort to avoid discouraging talented candidates with onerous requirements such as the need to respond to selection criteria in the initial round:

“I believe that one of the barriers to new people coming into senior roles in the State Service from other sectors is the way we advertise and ask people to apply for our jobs.

“Sometimes it can be pretty difficult to put together a five page statement of claims against a set of selection criteria if you’ve never done it before, and if this stops good people from applying then it’s the State Service that misses out.”

In a 12-month trial, ads for SES jobs at DPAC will “focus more on the opportunity a job provides, the outcome we want and the ideal candidate” and ask only for a one-page application letter, a detailed resume, and details of referees. That’s not to say they’re ditching the merit principle:

“Of course, selection will still be based absolutely on an assessment of merit against the selection criteria.”

The new simpler approach was modelled on a similar initiative of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet — which was actually beaten to the punch by the Northern Territory public service — and will be reviewed at the end of the 12-month trial.

Four reasons for flexible roles

Ads for jobs at DPAC have also been changed to make it clear that all roles can offer flexible working arrangements, unless there is a good reason why not.

According to the secretary, research shows that making an effort to accommodate “people who either can’t or don’t want to work full-time, five days a week, nine-to-five in the office” pays off by attracting a larger and more diverse range of candidates, ultimately leading to “a better and more productive” organisation.

Johannes explained the top four reasons to staff in an earlier message on the department’s intranet system:

  1. “Where it can, the public service should reflect the community it serves and from which most of the people it employs are drawn.”
  2. “We need to offer contemporary employment arrangements if we’re going to compete effectively with the private sector, the community sector and other levels of government to get the best and the brightest.”
  3. “Our decisions, advice and work are at their best when we listen to a diverse range of perspectives, drawing on people from a wide range of backgrounds and with different life experience.”
  4. “There are a lot of people in our community with a lot of skills and experience that we’re missing out on because of the way we advertise our jobs.”

He says that this is not, in fact, a “huge change” as almost half of DPAC staff already work in “some type of flexible arrangement” along with almost two-thirds of staff in other agencies like Service Tasmania, despite the jobs not being advertised originally as such.

The new measure won’t quite apply to all jobs, all the time. Johannes describes a minor caveat:

“Of course, from time to time there may be exceptions where a job just has to be filled full-time for operational reasons. But a job will only be advertised this way if the relevant manager seeks and gets the Executive’s explicit approval.”

The DPAC human resources team has produced a guide “to help prospective applicants and managers understand what flexible work arrangements are and how to put them in place” and will review the impact of the new policy after 12 months.

Author Bio

Stephen Easton

Stephen Easton is the associate editor at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's previously reported for Canberra CityNews and worked on industry titles for The Intermedia Group.