The power of 50: women shaping the future of Victoria’s public sector


From creating child protection programs, fighting against the extinction of animal species to breathing life into the management of the state’s cemeteries, the women playing leading roles in Victoria’s public sector have an impressive and varied portfolio of work under their belts.

While the Victorian state government is recording an increase in numbers of women at an executive level and in their general workforce, local government has seen little progress in women securing top jobs.

Recent data from Victoria’s Public Sector Commission (VPSC) shows that in 2017, women hold 48% of executive positions within the state government departments, which is up from 39% in 2011.

Furthermore, the state government has an employment rate of 67% for women, an impressive 21% higher than the state average with women accounting for 46% of the general Victorian workforce.

According to LGPro, local government is recording slightly lower numbers with around 16.45% of women in CEO roles and around 34% in Level 2 management positions.

But despite the disparity in numbers across the tiers of government, its clear women in executive roles need ongoing support and mentoring to continue closing the gap between the gender divide in the public sector.

It’s for this reason which led one of Australia’s leading recruitment and HR consulting companies, Davidson, to launch the inaugural Top 50 Public Sector Women (Victoria) initiatives. The initiative called for nominations for women who are doing impressive work in leadership roles in the state’s public sector.

Rebecca McKenzie

The nominations then went through a thorough judging process, with the judges led by Rebecca McKenzie, who is the CEO of City of Glen Eira and the president of Victoria’s Local Government Professionals (LGPro).

The final list of the women who made the Top 50 was announced last night at a gala event at Sofitel Melbourne. The women who made the list will now receive ongoing networking, career-building support and leadership development opportunities.

The full Top 50 Public Sector Women (Victoria)

Rebecca commented on how great it is to see initiatives such as the Top 50 project as increases leadership development opportunities for women in local government.

“There has been little progress in the representation of women appointed to senior management roles in local government in the past 15 years,” Rebecca said.

“Our (LGPro) own research shows that despite women comprising more than 50% of the local government workforce, women regularly do not put themselves forward for executive roles.

“While we have seen a great deal of development, and this list is going to help reduce this gap, we still have a number of cultural, political and structural barriers, which stop women from having the confidence to go for the top jobs.

“And as evidenced by the Top 50 list women are doing some remarkable work across the Victorian public sector, and they should be equally represented in the senior ranks. This initiative is taking us one step closer to our goals of a balanced representation in years to come.”

Supporting each other though mentoring

Julie Reid, the Director of Engineering Services of Greater Dandenong City Council, was named on the Top 50 list and next year will celebrate 30 years in local government.

“We need, in particular, to support each other and provide advice and constructive feedback to other women who are keen to progress their careers,” Julie said.

“Mentoring is critical for confidence building and support. Women in executive roles, like myself, need to give back through participating in mentoring programs or even through informal mentoring.

“Women are strong at developing relationships and mentoring supports this, as well as providing valuable coaching and advice in career development.

“The local government, as a sector, is not always great at promoting what we do and how much we support staff in their professional careers and aspirations,” Julie said.

“I think that if we want to attract women to these executive roles we need to be more overt in what we have to offer and how we can support their work and life balance.”

A spotlight on the women doing ground-breaking work

Davidson’s General Manager of HR Consulting Victoria Sharon Ardley said the Top 50 list is a milestone because it is the first initiative to directly focus on women in the Victorian public sector.

“We are incredibly proud of this list as it puts a much-needed spotlight on the impressive and inspirational female leaders who are doing remarkable work across Victoria,” Sharon said.

“We were inundated with submissions and the judges had a hard job to select the final list. Reading through the winning submissions, it was clear to see that the work these women are doing is not only impressive, but ground-breaking and across such diverse portfolios.”

One of the key themes among these submissions and broader discussions with women, was the need for more mentoring to encourage more women to apply for executive positions.

Six women on the Top 50 list also received scholarships to Davidson’s Leadership Acceleration Program and this will be led by Sharon.

“Data shows the number of women in junior roles continues to be disproportionate to the gender make-up of the workforce,” Sharon said. “We hope initiatives such as the Top 50 list and the scholarship program will help to bring about both awareness and change.

“I can’t wait until this project grows and it becomes the Top 100 list due to the sheer volume of entrants of women in executive roles in the public sector.”

Based on feedback from LGPro, Sharon Ardley and the finalists from the Top 50, below is a breakdown of what could assist in raising the numbers of women in executive roles in the public sector.

  • Gender balanced selection panels, an independent chair on CEO selection panels, and Councillor training on bias, discrimination and Equal Opportunity Act obligations
  • Gender blind short lists for executive roles via a best practice model of executive selection
  • Promotion of gender balanced shortlists as best practice
  • More positive stories on role models and case studies
  • More leadership programs
  • Continue to work on the talent pipeline via:
  • Cultivating an aspirational, motivated and willing to relocate talent pool
  • Increasing recognition of the value of broad based leadership capability
  • Providing opportunities for portfolio rotations
  • Increasing transferability between LG and VPS
  • Portability of base entitlements between LG and VPS (lsl, minimum sick leave) and removal of industrial barriers to secondments both within and across sectors
  • More visible measurement and monitoring of improvement trends

The full Top 50 Public Sector Women (Victoria)

  • RWJ

    It’s fantastic that women comprise 48% of the state’s executive employees. A while yet to go for CEOs.

    That said, I was alarmed by this article’s celebration that 67% of state public servants are now women; surely we should be pursuing gender equality not be celebrating that men now only make up 1/3 of the state’s workforce. The reverse sexism of such statements is startling and, frankly, I’d expect more from this publication.