Gender parity at the top is the goal, state’s eight mandarins agree

By Stephen Easton

Friday August 12, 2016

fifty percent – concept of gender equal opportunity or representation in political and public life sketched with white chalk on blackboard

Tasmania’s eight department heads have agreed that gender parity in the Senior Executive Service is their goal and set an interim target to bump women’s representation in the SES up to 40% by 2020.

Women currently occupy 35% of senior executive roles and make up about 70% of the overall Tasmanian government workforce. There is rough parity in SES “feeder groups”, according to the new statement.

Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Greg Johannes launched the agreement yesterday after a gender equality forum attended by over 120 senior executives. It refers to a 50-50 split in the upper echelon as the “goal” and 40% by 2020 as a “target” with three “areas of action” to achieve it:

  1. Identifying the barriers women face
  2. Addressing unconscious bias
  3. Promoting flexible work practices

The service-wide commitment details how each area of action will be approached as well as what’s already happening in various agencies, and a quarterly reporting regime to monitor progress towards the target.

“We’ll be monitoring our performance, and reporting publicly on our results,” Johannes told The Mandarin by email. “This is a start, and clearly not the finish, but I’m glad we’re taking a long overdue stand on a significant issue for the State Service and the community we serve.”

The document states “the evidence is incontestable” that organisations with gender parity at senior level and on boards are more productive and successful. And it asserts that far from compromising the merit principle, as some might suggest, a target to increase representation of women is all about merit-based selection:

“The State Service is built upon the principle of making employment decisions based on merit, but with more female employees than males overall, clearly on merit there should be more women in senior roles.”

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It’s the first time all of Tasmania’s top mandarins have got together to jointly develop and sign such an agreement. Some of the statements they put their names to include:

“We need to identify and remove the actual and potential barriers, including the cultures and policies that are holding back gender equality in our workplace. Naming up and addressing issues like unconscious bias is critical to the diversity and success of our workforce, to making us a workplace of choice in the eyes of the community, and to leading by example on gender equality in Tasmania. …

“Implementing strategies that specifically aim to increase the representation of women in the senior executive will lead to greater diversity in our thinking, and a State Service profile that matches the community it serves.

“For some departments this will be more challenging than others, but it’s a challenge that heads of departments are committed to addressing. As well as implementing the strategies outlined in the following pages, strategies will continue to be developed by each department that directly address department-specific barriers.”

They also explain why their new commitment only applies to the SES:

“The barriers for women in the workplace are more marked as the level of seniority rises. If gender equality is achieved at the senior executive level, then the Tasmanian State Service is on track to address the key barriers to equal participation.”

The new SES gender agreement comes a few months after the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment released a refreshingly frank gender equality action plan, while the Department of Treasury and Finance is currently using a staff survey and focus groups to develop one of its own.

“When I took on this job there were a number of areas I wanted to invest in to build the state service,” Johannes said.

“One of those was to break down the barriers that were getting in the way of more women being able to realise their potential and to have equal access to opportunities for promotion and career satisfaction …

“Another was to focus much more strongly on collective development of the senior executive service to improve their collective skills and knowledge levels, build their networks across the service to encourage collaboration, and set up some succession for the future.”

Yesterday’s senior executive forum on gender equity, he explained, was part of a series on various topics that are just “one of the mechanisms” for collective professional development he has put in place.

Other topics include: leadership and teamwork; preventing and responding to domestic violence; and breaking down barriers to sharing data and information between agencies to improve service delivery.

The Tasmanian SES heard presentations from Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, Telstra’s diversity and inclusion leader Troy Roderick and gender equity and inclusion consultant Deborah May, who is an honorary fellow of the Australia New Zealand School of Government for her work in the public sector.

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