Immigration Department secretary Michael Pezzullo has called for an "insurgency and revolution" within his workforce to disrupt a history of male dominance in senior positions.
In a blistering speech, Mr Pezzullo called on women to take command of meetings just as men had taught themselves to do by holding senior positions for generations.
"Own the issue and, as required, own the room," he told a room of women leaders.
"Some people need to employ different tactics to own a room or an issue. You don't have to have the loudest voice. You don't need to put ego into every sentence."
He warned women not to copy the way men networked and mentored each other, as if accessing secret knowledge would have them welcomed into the boys club.
"You need to disrupt the very system itself by creating new solutions to problems that largely men – because most of the senior leadership positions are still owned by men – are charged with," he said.
"Now that sounds like quite an insurgent approach and as secretary for a Commonwealth department I normally wouldn't recommend insurgency and revolution, but that is the moment we are in."
His comments came after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull renewed the government's commitment to tackling gender bias and inequality in the public sector, calling for a 50-50 split in senior ranks.
The federal opposition has also promised to install mandatory blind hiring for graduate jobs and ensure flexible conditions to allow for family commitments.
The Bureau of Statistics doubled its proportion of female leaders after hiring hundreds of staff in a blind recruitment round last year, with names and identifying details of candidates withheld.
Women represent 42 per cent of the SES band despite outnumbering men by 22,132 permanent positions.
The vast majority of rank-and-file public servants are women, but progression to more-senior and lucrative positions continues to be a challenge.
Mr Pezzullo said he was not satisfied with the gender balance among his senior public servants despite it being 4 per cent higher than the APS average.
"I should be able to toss a coin and the outcome should always see a 50-50 representation in my SES leadership," he said.
He said gender inequality would remain a side issue until managers questioned whether they were hiring the best candidates.
"I'm a hard-nosed manager of a large enterprise of 14,000 people and I have to be completely unsentimental about how I go about that management role.
"It was the very best people I can get my hands on and I'm completely gender blind in that regard."
Mr Pezzullo said one woman in his department was nervous about commanding a meeting with government representatives, despite mastering her issues.
He organised the meeting and told her to lead it.
"It just so happened that as I was driving there, one of the radio stations was playing a repertoire of old rock songs and I thought, 'no, I want to listen to these songs'," he said.
"So I deliberately drove around the block a couple of times, sent a message to the convener of the meeting to start and I'd be there a little bit later because I was attending to other business."
The woman greeted him with "a look death" and didn't talk to him for a week.
"If someone's got to give you a friendly push, it's because they're your friend," Mr Pezzullo said.
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