Deputy secretary governance at Prime Minister and Cabinet Stephanie Foster knows what it's like to juggle family responsibilities. She also knows what it is to succeed in a senior job in the public service - and what it took to get there.
The Australian Public Service has come out streets ahead of corporate Australia in Chief Executive Women's sixth annual census, which tracks progress of women's representation in the executive leadership teams of Australia's top companies.
The APS numbers show the proportion of women in senior executive roles in the APS is now 52 per cent, compared to just under 27 per cent in 2001 when it put in place formal targets.
Those targets disappeared in 2021 to be replaced by other strategies to ensure gender balance at senior leadership levels, greater gender diversity in specific occupations and a more rigorous approach to the gender pay gap, say CEW researchers.
But Foster says the culture won't change. She says the policies are entrenched and there is a deep understanding at senior levels of what matters, including flexible work options.
"I have an elderly husband and it's given me insight into what it's like to balance work and a partner who needs lots of care," she said.
What business needs is targeted talent management which brings women to the place they want to be.- Jane Halton
The APS has also simplified performance systems and equal progress through the various pay levels, says Foster.
The gender pay gap has been reduced to just six per cent, compared to the national gender pay gap.
But corporate Australia is slow to follow while quick to criticise, says Jane Halton, the second woman to lead a federal government department. She says corporate Australia has not learned from the effective strategies developed in the public service.
The CEW Census shows the number of women CEOs in the ASX200, Australia's top 200 listed companies, has grown only two per cent from 11 in 2017 to just 14 women in 2022. The representation of women in ASX200 executive leadership teams grew an average of one per cent per year, from 21 per cent in 2017 to 28 per cent in 2022.
"It is time business took serious action," she said. That includes ensuring women are on boards and in senior management.
"What business needs is targeted talent management which brings women to the place they want to be," she said. The CEW census shows that in line roles, the ones involved in making profits for companies, is now at just 15 per cent. Those are the roles from which future CEOs are chosen.
Halton says these changes are not just about parental leave and childcare - but about access to opportunity.
IN OTHER NEWS:
"The level of public scrutiny should be increased, including through the reporting in the Workplace Gender Equality Agency," she said.
Leah Ruppanner, professor of sociology at the University of Melbourne and head of GENEq, has called for the government to set up a mechanism which forces companies to make change.
"Use the power of the pen and financial spending to direct where government money goes. Gender responsive budgeting is a smart use of money to incentivise structure," she said.
"Governments should step in and intervene."