National

Senator Claire Moore suggests female quotas for public service

Major federal departments Treasury, Foreign Affairs and Trade and Defence are among the slackest at putting women into senior leadership positions and one senator has called for the federal bureaucracy not to rule out using quotas to fix some bad performers. 

Labor Senator Claire Moore.
Labor Senator Claire Moore. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Shadow minister for women Claire Moore said "(Labor) would not have the change we have now without quotas".

"If [departments] have gone through every other step, if you can't see change over a period of time, it should not be off the agenda," she said. 

Latest figures show small gains to fix the gender imbalance have been made across the public service in the past year, including the addition of nine more female agency heads.

But a number of departments were still lagging well behind even the public service's average proportion of female leaders, which was 40 per cent. 

And agencies will find it harder to make their reportable numbers look better from now on.

The Public Service Commission has stopped the practice of allowing departments to count support staff working in a secretary's office or within striking distance of the boss to be included in senior leadership numbers. 

A change to the way numbers are counted has meant Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson lost a swag of women who could previously be defined as being in the senior leadership group.

Treasury lost 10 of its 21, or one-third, of its women in the AH-2 tier, according to details in the State of the Service report.

This AH-2 group is made up of staff whose superiors report to Dr Parkinson.

Four women in Treasury's AH-1 tier - staff dealing directly with Dr Parkinson - was whittled down to two. 

A Treasury spokesman said the reduction happened because the definition of AH-1 and AH-2 had changed to exclude executive assistants and support staff.

It meant the number of female leaders in past reports appeared higher when compared with this year's report.

In comparison just three men across the same two tiers in Treasury were lost from the leadership numbers when support staff were excluded.

Males made up two-thirds of the senior leadership ranks in Treasury and Dr Parkinson has publicly defended the need for gender reporting.

In a separate report released recently Treasury was shown to have improved its gender imbalance in the past five years.

The proportion of females at Treasury's senior executive level has risen from a quarter to one-third - still below the bureaucracy-wide average.

But the improvement meant the department, which has a 52 per cent female workforce, was on its way to reaching its goal of 35 per cent women in SES ranks. 

Across the entire public service women accounted for 40 per cent of senior executives even though they made up for 58 per cent of the overall federal bureaucracy. 

One-fifth of managers who report to Defence Department secretary Dennis Richardson - or report to another person immediately below him at the Defence Department - were women.

A separate analysis show Defence's boards have 48 women and 100 men. 

There were no women on the publicly available list of the Defence white paper panel which will produce a report to direct the future of Australia's military. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had a similar ratio of females in senior leadership as Defence.

Senator Moore said the lack of women managers in the federal public service was actually masked by a few strong performers such as the Department of Human Services.

About half of DHS' most elite senior executives and 45 per cent of the total SES cohort were women.  

Almost 60 per cent of senior executives in Department of Social Services were women.

Senator Moore said the term "flexible work arrangements" needed to suit the employee and not just the employer and that discrimination against staff seeking maternity leave was still prevalent.

She conceded the public service was performing better than the private sector where 18 per cent of ASX 200 boards were made up of women.

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