The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has launched a formal investigation to determine why career progressions for female employees are not equal to men.
Nearly 57 per cent of the department's employees are female but fewer than 34 per cent serve in senior executive positions and only 27 per cent are heads of mission.
In response to an internal review that criticised cultural norms and practices, the department has launched a strategy to increase gender equality across the workforce.
"Women are applying for senior leadership roles at proportionally lower rates than men, despite performance data showing that women are performing as well as or better than men at all levels across the department," the report said.
"This suggests that the department's culture constrains women's choices and it is not applying the merit principle fully or making the most of its talent."
The department has committed to having women fill 43 per cent of SES band one positions (currently 36 per cent) and 40 per cent of SES band two positions (currently 25 per cent) by 2020.
"The targets are based on workforce planning data and are designed to be ambitious but achievable," the report said.
"They take into account a number of variable factors which will impact on our ability to meet them."
The strategy has identified several actions to change the culture within the department, including the renaming of DFAT meeting rooms after inspirational women in diplomacy and trade.
The department will also introduce mandatory unconscious bias training for all managers, as well as key human resources staff. Breastfeeding policies will also be clarified and work-related travel will be reassessed.
"[We will] consider new ways to promote female and male role models and champions and inspire staff, for example, by profiling senior staff, holding seminars and using appropriate opportunities to highlight the achievements of women in the department," the report said.
Other measures include a trial that makes flexible work the default for all positions.
"For DFAT to perform at its best, we must maximise the talents and skills of all our staff. This strategy is about strengthening our capability by enabling all staff to reach their full potential," DFAT secretary Peter Varghese said.
"This process goes to the heart of our work on leadership and values. It is about ensuring all staff have the opportunity to reach their full potential. If we can achieve this, DFAT will also perform at its best."
Managers will be encouraged to identify high-potential female staff and support their career progression and develop strategies for those with flexible or part-time contracts.
Managers have also been told to run meetings that accommodate different styles and ensure diverse voices are heard.
"For example, rotate chair responsibilities where appropriate, seek out women's voices, introduce a no-interruptions rule," the report said.