A citizens’ jury has given the thumbs-up to gender quotas for public sector leadership positions, though not without some dissent.
The jury of 83 randomly selected people met over the weekend to hear from experts and discuss what gender quotas are fair and how they should be implemented.
This forms part of the Victorian government’s consultation on its forthcoming gender equality bill, which proposes new obligations to plan and report on gender equality for all state government departments, public sector entities with over 100 full time employees, and local governments.
While the Victorian public sector outperforms most industries, the gap in wages between women and men is still 12%. The gender pay gap is influenced by a number of factors, including a lack of women in senior leadership positions.
Targets introduced with the bill, expected to be introduced into parliament in early 2019, could include ensuring 50% of VPS executive and public sector board appointments are women.
“International evidence shows that gender equality legislation in the public sector generally improves gender equality overall, including outside of government,” says Minister for Women Natalie Hutchins.
The citizens’ jury endorsed a 40-40-20 split for senior roles. This would mean a 40% quota for women, a 40% quota for men, and 20% for either.
“Evidence shows quotas are necessary to achieve to achieve equitable gender balance,” the jurors’ report reads.
“40-40-20 is achievable, offers flexibility and is equitable.”
A number of people expressed the recommendation to apply 40-40-20 to less senior positions over time.
Recruitment processes should eliminate conscious and unconscious bias, with inclusive language attracting a broad pool of applicants, and a 40-40-20 split in shortlisted candidates.
Organisations should be given tailored assistance to implement quotas, so as to minimise backlash and achieve the best outcomes.
The jury recommends organisations are given five years to comply, while acknowledging for some agencies this may need to be extended to 10 years. Such “special circumstances” could include organisations where there are large gender disparities, in areas where there are shortages in certain skills, or where long-term contracts make change difficult.
— Emily Lee-Ack (@emilala) September 15, 2018
They want leaders to be held accountable for achieving gender targets. Performance plans “should have incentives and penalties built in to ensure compliance”, the jury argues. This could be reinforced through the use of incentives and transparency, such as star ratings and excellence awards.
Making parental leave available for both parents to take either concurrently or consecutively — and without any penalties — would help boost gender equity too.
A sustainable pipeline of talent should be built up by breaking down gender stereotyping in career choice, while supporting individual choices. Reviewing the curriculum and public sector training programs to get rid of any gender bias could help, says the jury.
An independent body — whether a new agency or the Victorian Public Sector Commission — should collect and publish data, monitor progress and work with organisations to improve their gender equality performance, says the report. An evaluation schedule would contain annual reporting milestones.
… but not everything went smoothly
Although they ended up supporting the government’s general orientation issue, the jury report also notes that “there was a lack of diverse speakers” who presented to them.
It appears only three people spoke, all of whom were in favour of quotas.
The report provides a list of people invited to speak who did not attend — including some conservatives — and notes that the organisers tried to address the problem in the days before deliberations began, but were unsuccessful.
A minority report of three of the 83 members argued against legislated quotas, suggesting both that quotas are not useful, and that non-legislated quotas in the VPS had already resulted in improvements. They also complained about the lack of diversity of opinion among presenters, and that the process had been rushed.
The Mandarin did not hear back from Minister for Women Natalie Hutchins about these concerns by deadline.