Be bold enough to be introspective for change

By Martin Parkinson

Friday March 10, 2017

Be bold for change was the theme for International Women’s Day this year. It had me thinking about what it means to be bold.

Generally, we think of boldness as something that comes wrapped in grand gestures — the ability to openly challenge conventional wisdom, to passionately denounce injustice, or to be brave and venture to a new or out-there idea.

To me, boldness is about having the courage to say and do what we believe is right. But there is also an element of introspection within boldness that often gets overlooked.

Being bold is also about daring to put your own assumptions and biases under the microscope, and if that process of introspection reveals you’ve come up short, it means being courageous enough to commit to a new course.

Back when I was Secretary of the Treasury, the leadership group and I came face-to-face with the uncomfortable reality that Treasury’s lack of diversity was largely a product of our own — and my own — biases.

Too often, we found our focus on recruiting on merit meant looking for someone who had done the job before and could therefore do it again—a safe pair of hands. It just so happened that the only candidates ticking this box tended to look, sound and think like those of us already in Treasury. The fault wasn’t the concept of merit, but how we perceived merit.

In the years since, I’ve made it a personal priority to not just say that I’m a champion of diversity and leave it at that, but actually be persistent in holding myself and the people I lead accountable for change.

Since becoming Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, this is still my objective. My vision for our workforce is that it reflects the full diversity of the public that we serve but I know that no amount of saying and writing these words will turn that vision into reality.

What is needed is commitment to action, and for PM&C this means policy changes pegged to clear objectives and bold and ambitious targets.

As part of PM&C’s Gender Equality Strategy, we’ll be looking at ways to make our organisation more accepting of people with different skills and styles of work, and we’ll look at ways our managers can better recognise and temper their own unconscious biases.

By 2019, we want to have maintained our gender balance of a minimum of 40% each of men and women.

By 2019, we are working towards a 50/50 gender split within our executive cohort as well.

I will continue to champion inclusion, and continue to challenge my own biases and test my own assumptions about merit. I want to embolden staff across the APS to do the same.

All employees, regardless of their industry or work level should strive to make their workplace more inclusive of women, people with disability, and people from diverse backgrounds — in short, to make their workplaces ones where all people of merit can get ahead.

Another way I plan to be bold for change this year relates to a more overt expression of merit. I’m going to do more to recognise and promote the achievements of women.

On Australia Day this year, I was fortunate to be awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia Award. This is an incredible honour for both me and the many people on whose contributions my own career achievements have rested.

But it did make me reflect—if statistical trends are anything to go by, my biology no doubt played a role in my nomination.

Over the past 10 years, 72% of Order of Australia nominations have been for men. This tells us that, as a society, we consistently overlook and undervalue the contributions of women.

It’s about time this changed. Imagine if every male award recipient this year made a pledge to nominate at least one inspiring woman for an Order of Australia award. What a bold signal that would send.

Change is not made up of solely big gestures. Each and every person can contribute to the cultural shift we need to make our society a fairer place. Question your own bias. Think about what merit really means. Recruit people on their potential. Challenge your leaders.

Be bold for change.

Martin Parkinson is the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. This article was first published in The Canberra Times.

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