Diverse government workforce ‘better positioned’ to adapt to future challenges, says Australian Public Service Commission

By on 05/10/2022 | Updated on 05/10/2022
Black and Asian colleagues in an office space sharing ideas on Post-it notes.
"Diversity and inclusion is a powerful enabler of performance,” says Australian Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott. Photo courtesy Kampus Productions via Pexels

Australian agencies that are diverse and inclusive will produce better policy and service delivery outcomes and are better positioned to address future challenges, according to an Australian Public Service Commission report titled ‘Our differences make us stronger’.

The inaugural report – which includes data from the Australian Public Service (APS) employee census, employment database, and agency surveys – has provided a snapshot of diversity and inclusion in the public service with a view to driving improvements and enabling it to measure progress over time.

“The research is clear: diversity and inclusion is a powerful enabler of performance,” Peter Woolcott, Australian Public Service Commissioner, wrote.

“Workplace environments that demonstrate cultural integrity drive better policy development and service delivery outcomes, to better meet the needs of the Australian community.”

Read more: ‘The public service must reflect the communities it serves’: New Zealand’s top public servant hails diversity progress

Data featured in the report shows that 60.2% of the APS workforce are women, 3.5% are First Nations peoples, 4.1% have a disability, and 7.0% identify as LGBTQIA+.

While some of these proportions are roughly the same as in the Australian population as a whole and are increasing, the public service is falling down on representation in some areas. For example, while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples made up 3.3% of the country’s population in 2016 as is reflected in the public service, 31.7% of the First Nations peoples working for government are at trainee level – far more than at any higher grade.

Read more: Diversity of UK senior civil service falls

Indeed, the APS will need to more than double the representation of First Nations employees in the top two levels of the public service in order to meet its 3% target by 2024.

‘More than meeting targets’

As well as providing an overview of diversity in the APS and laying out the government’s targets, the report – which is designed to help HR professionals and others charged with progressing inclusion – highlighted case studies and opportunities for agencies to make change.

Sections include recruitment and retention, perceptions of inclusive leadership, the gender pay gap, and workforce planning, while case studies explore areas such as the role of a diversity champion, building mental health capability and job sharing.

Read more: US agencies tasked with annual diversity reporting in new Biden order

The report recommended that agencies work to increase the uptake of affirmative recruitment measures; collect and analyse exit interview data more consistently; improve the accessibility of learning and development opportunities; and conduct research to improve the understanding of disabled employees’ experiences.  

Read more: ‘Urgent’ need to streamline Australian Public Service, review finds

“Increasing diversity and inclusion in the APS is about much more than meeting employee representation targets,” the report said, adding that “striving towards” a more diverse and inclusive APS is about recognising and acknowledging “the discrepancies that exist in the APS for employees who identify with different diversity groups” and taking actions to address these.

“The APS is striving to be a more inclusive public service, where all employees feel valued, respected, are able to contribute their perspectives; and have equality of access to opportunities and resources within the workplace,” it concluded.  

Read more: ‘Much more needed’ to combat racism and improve diversity in Canadian public service, says chief

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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