June 2 2016
Thousands of women doing much of the heavy lifting in the Australian public service are at risk of being left behind in the bureaucracy’s push for gender diversity, a leading workplace academic has warned.
Nearly 19,000 women work in the service at the middle management EL1 and 2 levels and are doing it as tough as anyone, toiling long hours under family-unfriendly conditions, says Sue Williamson of the University of NSW.
The push for more women in the elite Senior Executive Service is great, Dr Williamson says, but more needs to be done for the great bulk of female public servants in middle management and rank-and-file jobs.
The Canberra Times reported on Thursday on the success of the Australian Bureau of Statistics in more than doubling its proportion of female executives through “blind” hiring drives simply talking to women in its workplaces around the country
Dr Williamson, who is leading research on public service departments tackling gender equality, says the work done by the bureau in getting more women into SES ranks, should be applauded and emulated across the service.
The workplace academic fears that women lower down the food chain might be forgotten if gender diversity efforts were too focused on top jobs.
Women make up just 42 per cent of senior executives despite being nearly 60 per cent of the service.
At the EL levels, men outnumber women by just a few hundred and it is within this cohort, Dr Williamson fears, that employees of both genders are toiling under some of the toughest conditions.
“Middle managers work such long hours, they have pressure from above, from their senior managers, pressure from below from the APS employees, so trying to get work-life balance for EL employees is a really difficult task,” she said.
“The focus on leadership is a way of selling gender equality and that’s the hook at the moment but I’d also like to see a focus on APS and EL employees.
“There’s a big push on to get women into the SES and achieve a 50-50 ration which I think is fabulous, leadership is the flavour of the month and getting women into those SES positions
“But that kind of ignores what is happening with APS employees and EL employees. Not everyone wants to become SES.
“So it’s all very fine to have lots of women in leadership, but how do you make workplaces flexible for EL men and women who are doing those really long hours.”
Dr Williamson acknowledges the argument that more women in leadership roles will lead to more female and family workplaces, but says things are not that simple.
“I’m not sure that argument holds,” she said.
“I think it could take quite a long time for that trickle-down effect to happen, so I think you’ve got to have an approach where, yes, you get women into management but you look after your APS and EL women at the same time.”
Dr Williamson said her research would seek to answer why gender equality has not been achieved already in the public service.
“Trying to get equality for women has been a goal in the public service for a really long time and it makes me wonder, why aren’t we there yet?” she said.
Source : The Canberra Times