Experts have criticised a review of the Australian Public Service for being complicit in "gender blindness", as it undermines a previous attempt to prop up women.
In a report titled Is gender really on anyone's agenda?, researchers argue the terms of reference for David Thodey's independent review of the APS don't mention gender equality, despite its focus on examining "the capability, culture and operating model" of the public sector.
Submissions to the review were "almost universally" gender blind, the report said. The theme carried through to the review's March interim report, rendering the APS gender equality strategy for 2016-19 "merely symbolic".
Mr Thodey submitted the review's final report to the government on Friday. It was unclear when it would become publicly available.
"The review doesn't talk about gender at all," co-author Dr Sue Williamson told the Sunday Canberra Times.
"We think, however, that it provides a really good opportunity for gender to be considered, particularly if the next iteration of the gender equality strategy is being developed."
The government confirmed a new strategy would be developed for 2020 onwards.
Of 77 analysed submissions to the review, only two "considered gender equality issues in any meaningful way", the report said. Others were gender blind, meaning they didn't acknowledge women specifically and instead subsumed them under umbrella terms like "people" and "gender".
The Community and Public Sector Union was one of the bodies that included a detailed discussion about gender in its submission.
"It is a missed opportunity that [a discussion about gender equality] wasn't in [the review] because there is still more work to do, even if the public sector is travelling better than others," acting national secretary Melissa Donnelly said.
"If it's a priority, then it has to influence everything that the government does in this space."
The 2017-18 State of the Service report found that although women make up nearly 60 per cent of the public service, their presence drops below men's at EL2 and the senior executive service.
About 60 per cent of people agreed their SES managers actively supported women in leadership roles, or flexible arrangements for staff. About 57 per cent of women in the APS Women in Leadership program felt supported enough to use what they learnt afterwards; much lower than in other APS leadership programs.
The report's authors hoped the government's final recommendations would acknowledge and improve gender equality in the public service; namely, through the adoption of "gender mainstreaming". The practice involved assessing the implications for men and women of any planned action - across all processes, areas and levels - and had in theory been a loosely held method of the Australian government for many years.
But the APS could embed it internally and make sure it stuck, the report said. Gender mainstreaming was alluded to in the gender equality strategy.
"Essentially, it's casting a gender lens over policy making," Dr Williamson said.
"Gender mainstreaming has been shown to be really effective in progressing gender equality."
If the review maintained its gender void, it would increase confusion about what reform should be adhered to in the APS, the report said. The gender equality strategy could be interpreted as "higher on rhetoric than action" - especially if its acknowledgment of the issue wasn't mirrored in the review.
Another review of the APS, 'Unlocking Potential', was released about the same time as the strategy. It suggested major reforms, some of which potentially conflicted with the strategy's aims, and contributed further to contextual incoherence.
A statement issued on Friday on the independent review's website said its findings underscored "the need for a trusted APS, united in serving all Australians".
"This requires new ways of working to meet the demands of an increasingly connected, changing and complex world, while also harnessing the opportunities technological advances bring," the statement said.
"[Australia needs] a capable and accountable APS that collaborates, partners with others and delivers decisively."