The Australian Public Service has racked up some impressive wins for the progress of women since the ban on married women was lifted some 50 years ago, but it also has three recent stains, Australia’s top public servant revealed today.
Speaking at an IPAA ACT breakfast ahead of International Women’s Day, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Martin Parkinson noted that only three organisations have ever left the Male Champions of Change — all three being federal public service agencies.“What does it say about our commitment to equality?”
The first is one that Parkinson was in a position to do something about. PM&C, his own department, lost its MCC champion when Dr Ian Watt departed in 2014. Watt’s successor Michael Thawley did not join the program like so many of his fellow male department bosses.
Parkinson, who only began duties at the department last month, has already ensured there is a supported MCC network in the central agency.
“It’s men stepping up alongside”, Parkinson told the breakfast, repeating the comment for emphasis, “to address a deep challenge in Australian society.
“Only three organisations have left [since MCC began in 2007], all within the Australian Public Service. What does it say about our commitment to equality? One of the first things I did was have PM&C re-join the MCC. I’ll be looking at what we can do more of within PM&C.”
Parkinson said when he walks to his office he passes photographs of his 18 predecessors. “All white, middle aged men … what a coincidence!” he said with mock surprise.
Watt’s answer for gender diversity in senior ranks was apparently quite simple: “Promote them,” Parkinson recalls his predecessor saying.
“We all have a role to play in this. Every single one of us can display leadership in this space. Set yourself a challenge — what can I do in the next 12 months to make my sphere of influence more diverse?”
The second agency to lose their MCC champion is Treasury — and again Parkinson plays a role here. When Parkinson was ousted from Treasury in 2014 by the then prime minister, Tony Abbott, his successor as secretary, John Fraser, did not take up the additional MCC role.
The third agency is the Australian Public Service Commission. Stephen Sedgwick, then public service commissioner, joined MCC in 2011, but his successor John Lloyd has not.
That’s not to say Lloyd is unsympathetic. Minister for Women Michaelia Cash told the breakfast, where Lloyd was also present, gender diversity of the APS was his top agenda item at their first meeting.
Progress for women in the APS
- 30 years since the first female departmental secretary.
- 40 years since the first dedicated Minister for Women (albeit a man).
- 40 years since the first female federal cabinet minister.
- 50 years since the ban on married women in the public service was lifted.