APS salute to inclusion networks and champions

By Harley Dennett

October 27, 2017

A Human Services official who mentored a colleague after a brain injury, a champion of Indigenous cultural capability who forged links with other minority groups, an LGBTI employee network, and a group for women in IT are among the first to be recognised for their efforts by the inaugural APS Diversity and Gender Equality Awards.

Four agencies, four individuals and two employee networks in total have been named as finalists and special mentions in the latest addition to the Commonwealth’s public service awards season.

The awards recognise efforts to improve employment opportunities, experiences and outcomes for Indigenous, disability, LGBTI and culturally and linguistically diverse Australians, as well as contributions to addressing gender inequality in the APS. Revealed for the first time only two months ago, these categories reflect the current priorities of the Secretaries Equality and Diversity Council and align with other initiatives such as mandatory gender inclusion strategies and a more robust APS Census profile of their employees.

Since the SEDC was formed, departmental secretaries have more visible in highlighting the importance of diversity to organisational capability. Outgoing Department of Health secretary Martin Bowles used his valedictory speech to emphasise the critical role of inclusion and diversity to optimal teams and decision-making in a changing APS.

Champions still risking their careers

These finalists also reveal something of the priorities of the rank-and-file members of the APS, who are largely undertaking these efforts outside their daily job requirements, and in some cases in their own unpaid personal time.

Government LGBTI employee networks were for the last 20 years something that could only be found in uniformed services, such as state and federal police and the Australian Defence Force, but have now sprung up in almost every major department and across many mid-sized agencies as well. These groups preceded any formal acceptance from the APS executive, reflecting a genuine grassroots interest instead of a top-down driven signal.

But decades after women who stood up for equality in the workforce were derided as ‘battle axes’, champions of inclusion still risk their careers for their efforts.

In an environment in which diversity and inclusion is still seen as ‘identity politics’ and unduly political in some sections of the Australian media, individuals in apolitical public service have at times been thrown to the wolves by their departments for their efforts — Navy Captain Mona Shindy being one of the most high profile. The Mandarin hears frequently from inclusion champions of their fears of reprisal both from the media and ministers, and they don’t yet trust that secretaries will have their back.

These awards, coupled with the messages like Martin Bowles’ valedictory, may go some way to reversing that pernicious chilling effect seen in recent years.

Room to grow?

It’s also revealing what types of inclusion efforts aren’t yet found. At the recent UK Civil Service Diversity & Inclusion Awards — a major event in its 11th year — its winners reflect a sophisticated spread of inclusion approaches both for employees’ benefit and to influence the services delivered, such as a group supporting social mobility for the disadvantaged and a group supporting women going through menopause in the civil service.

Below are the 2017 APS Diversity and Gender Equality Awards finalists with their nomination descriptions provided by the Australian Public Service Commission. An award ceremony will be held in Canberra on November 8.

Individual award finalists

Justin Lokhorst, Australian Bureau of Statistics

Justin’s approach has been to encourage a culture of open discussion and challenge negative perceptions of staff from diverse backgrounds. Justin openly discusses his own hearing impairment to create an environment in which others can speak safely. He gives up his time to coach, mentor, and assist staff inside and outside his own section, and has been described by these staff as an “inspirational leader” who shows genuine understanding and compassion. He is always mindful of seemingly small details and asks what every employee needs to create an environment that is inclusive of everyone. Justin takes risks to promote the value of diversity and inclusion among the executives at ABS, and promotes the importance of diversity across the agency.

Clinton Scott-Knight, Department of Health

Clinton is passionate about supporting the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce which he demonstrated through the development of the Health’s Cultural Appreciation Program. In the program, he shares his own and his family’s story to help build cultural capability across the department. Over 500 people have attended since July 2016. Clinton encourages other to consider actions they can make at a section or individual level. He shows patience and willingness to try and understand the viewpoints of others while encouraging them to appreciate the importance of diversity. He recognises how diversity groups intersect and promotes inclusive workplace culture through involvement and collaboration with the Health Pride Network and the Disability and Carers Network.

Department/ agency award finalists

The National Disability Insurance Agency

The National Disability Insurance Agency is striving to be an employer of choice for people with disability, with a target of 15 per cent employees with disability. This target is within reach, with 13 per cent of NDIA’s current workforce identifying as having disability. They continue to develop and implement policies to attract, select, support, and retain employees with disability. The NDIA is leading the way in the recruitment and employment of employees with disability and role models how practices that increase access to employment opportunities for people with disability can become part of usual business processes. Candidates and employees are supported throughout the recruitment process and then by Disability Liaison Officers from the Inclusion and Diversity Support Unit to ensure adjustments are put in place for a safe, inclusive and accessible work environment that allows every individual to perform at their best.

Safe Work Australia

Safe Work Australia is a small agency of 100 employees. Despite Safe Work’s size they have achieved significant progress in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. Their Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, developed in consultation with their Workplace Inclusion Network has raised the profile of diversity and inclusion in the agency, and made it part of everyone’s business. The main objective of Safe Work Australia  is to ensure that all staff feel empowered to make a contribution in the workplace, are respected and feel confident to disclose, and understand that reasonable adjustments are available if needed.  SWA continues to seek out opportunities to collaborate and learn across the APS and diversity specialists.

Network award finalists

ATOMIC – ATO Making Inclusion Count – The Australian Taxation Office’s LGBTI+ employee network

The Australian Taxation Office launched its LGBTI+ and ally network know as ATOMIC in 2016. The network now has over 1700 members and is one of the leading LGBTI+ networks in the Australian Public Service. ATOMIC is passionate about creating an environment where everyone can bring their authentic ‘whole self’ to work, and does so through a variety of initiatives including hosting monthly ATOMIC happy hours in Canberra to connect APS agencies, speaking about LGBTI+ inclusion at the Australian Government Leadership Network, appointing Senior Executive Service Champions to promote the inclusion message and provide executive support, and celebrating days of importance to the LGBTI+ community across the ATO.

NEWinIT (Network of Employment Women in IT) The Department of Employment’s employee network for Women in IT

NEWinIT was launched in 2016 with the aim of providing inspiration and support to women working in IT in the Department of Employment, and to help them achieve their career aspirations in an inclusive space. Women face a number of challenges in male-dominated spaces, and the network aims to help women overcome the subtle biases that often challenge their success. NEWinIT runs a variety of programs and events such as mentoring programs and targeted learning and development opportunities that help develop and retain existing female IT employees, and make working for the department more attractive for potential employees. NEWinIT now has over 150 members.

Gender Equality award finalists

Defence Science Technology Group (DST) Gender Equality Working Group

DST is a workforce made up of primarily STEM professionals with strong ties to the Australian Defence Force. These influences combine to shape their organisational culture, and amplify the challenges they face in addressing gender equity. DST’s Gender Equity Working Group works to foster and embed a workplace culture that is inclusive of all genders. They focus on practical measures that individuals can take to create a more inclusive culture. This ranges from a focus on inclusive language, raising breaches in ‘real time’ and setting meeting times that consider flexible working arrangements. GEWG members empower each other to demonstrate courage by speaking up and showing informal leadership to drive cultural change.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)

The ongoing implementation of DFAT’s Women in Leadership Strategy has driven deep cultural change in the department and opened up new ways of working to improve gender equality, help staff reach their full potential and enhance productivity.  The changes introduced in the Strategy range from the introduction of “all roles flex”, to SES gender targets, to the introduction of unconscious bias training for all managers. They aim to make leaders accountable for setting an inclusive tone in the workplace, to improve internal transparency of their performance on gender and to break down the barriers that staff identified as holding back women in the workplace.  The measures in the Strategy are specific, ambitious and innovative.

Special mentions

Jocelyn Gibson, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources

Jocelyn was nominated for her resilience and determination in improving the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources approach to their LGBTIQ staff and community. She is passionate about enabling staff to be comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. Her efforts have contributed to the Department making it a priority to celebrate the diversity of their staff.

Sreta Mrkic, Department of Human Services

Sreta was nominated for the understanding, patience, professionalism, and dedication he has shown when mentoring a fellow Department of Human Services staff member who acquired a brain injury. Sreta supports his mentee achieve his goals, and works to create a workplace culture in which everyone can achieve their full potential.


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