Workplace gender equality: where both women and men put their hands up for opportunities

I recently completed a secondment to the Office for Women, part of the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet. The Office for Women works across Government to deliver policies and programs to advance gender equality and improve the lives of Australian women.

During my entire time there, I never had an average day in the office.  Indeed, each day of my ten weeks so far has been nothing short of fantastic.  The work itself was thoroughly stimulating and I am increasingly grateful for the opportunity to contribute meaningfully on an issue as important as gender equality.

The current political and social appetite for progress on equality is arguably at its strongest since the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984.  Today we are seeing both private and public organisations recognising domestic violence as a workplace issue.  The narrative has moved far beyond women’s issues to one in which everyone has a role to play.  It is about building a workforce that reflects contemporary society through changing unsupportive cultures and challenging assumptions that limit views of how work is done and by whom.

The Australian Public Service Commission launched their first gender equality strategy for the Public Service in May.  This is a clear call to action for line agencies and sets the standard for the broader Australian workforce.

In developing the strategy, I was afforded the opportunity to speak with women working tirelessly behind the scenes and learn from knowledgeable voices in the gender space such as Elizabeth Broderick, Former Sex Discrimination Minister; Diane Smith-Gander, Chairman Broadspectrum & President Chief Executive Women; and Louise McSorley, Head of Office for Women.

I could recount the alarming statistics or remind you of the economic imperative in achieving gender equality and the financial benefits gained by appointing women on boards, however I fear we are at risk of failing to act.

Yes, these arguments may serve as a powerful reminder, but I think we need to challenge our leaders to ask themselves if the culture they foster is an inclusive one. Are you truly across employee perceptions and can you confidently report that both women and men feel supported in putting their hand up for opportunities?

For HR professionals responsible for attracting and retaining talent, don’t be deterred by the arguments of quotas and targets, but reclaim merit for your organisation by designing out the hidden bias that prevents women from progressing.

Men, as parents and carers, echoing what Elizabeth Broderick has said, ensure that your caring responsibilities are visible. There is no honour in twitching silently in 6pm meetings and sprinting across car parks only to be greeted with the disapproving glare of child minders.

Women, as pioneers in gender equality, may we continue pointing out exclusive practices in the workplace, be brave in putting ourselves forward and always leave the ladder down for those behind us.

Everyone one of us has a role to play in championing gender equality. Making the changes necessary to ensure employees are rewarded and supported equally is not easy, nor is it something you can throw money at to fix. Gender equality requires a shift in culture which lies at the heart of an organisation. Having a strategy in place and securing senior leadership support is critical, but making tangible cultural change in a workplace is up to each individual as well.

A gracious thank you to the Australian Public Service Commission, the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet and Chief Executive Women for making this secondment possible.


3 thoughts on “Workplace gender equality: where both women and men put their hands up for opportunities

  1. That’s very interesting. I note some of the figures in the State of the Service report from last year: “Women currently make up 58.4% of the APS workforce. The representation of women in the APS has now reached parity with or exceeded men at all levels from APS 1 to EL 1. Since 1995, the representation of women in the APS has almost doubled at EL 2 and SES Band 1 levels and tripled at SES Band 2 level. The representation of women at the SES Band 3 level has increased five-fold. Twenty years ago, women made up 19% of SES employees compared with 41% in 2015.”

    Do you think the public service has almost reached workplace gender equality or is there still a long way to go?

  2. Really interesting, Cristy, and great to hear such positive feedback about a secondment! An interesting piece of advice I received from a senior (female) public sector official was that the time for mentoring is over; it is time for both men and women to champion other women (and, as you have pointed out, men who take on a significant role in family life) in the workplace. She made the point that, by supporting one another directly and indirectly, we can advance workplace gender equality at a fierce pace.

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