Government is setting the pace

As one of the largest employers in the nation, the Australian Public Service (APS) seeks to reflect the diversity of the community it serves.

In 2016, the Government released its plan for addressing gender equality in the APS Balancing the Future: The Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy 2016-2019[1] (the APS Gender Equality Strategy).

The APS Gender Equality Strategy requires every government agency to set targets for gender equality in leadership positions and boost gender equality in each workplace. Agency heads are accountable for meeting these gender equality targets on the way to achieving the overarching goal of 50-50 gender balance.

In the words of then Minister for Women and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service:

“Improving gender equality and diversity ensures workplaces have greater depth of experience and perspective. To support Australia’s G20 commitment to boost women’s workforce participation and reduce the gender participation gap by 25 per cent by 2025, it is essential the APS shines a light on gender equality and leads the way to drive real and lasting change.”

Of the APS’s 153,000 ongoing employees, 58 per cent are women, 30 per cent of APS agency heads are women, 43 per cent of Senior Executive Service employees are women and 44 per cent at the Executive Level 2 level are women. The APS has achieved parity at the Executive Level 1 level.[2] Women accounted for more than 50 per cent of all ongoing promotions to EL1 to SES Band 1 levels during 2016, most notably they accounted for almost 70 per cent of promotions at the SES Band 3 level. By comparison, in the ASX 200 8.7 per cent of Chief Executive Officers are women.[3]

Watch Stephanie Foster talk about Government setting the pace


The APS is achieving gender equality by driving the following principles:

  • Transformational change – public sector leaders, managers and supervisors will be bold in creating inclusive workplace cultures.
  • Commitment – leaders will give priority to ensuring gender equality in their agencies and will allocate resources accordingly.
  • Accountability – leaders at all levels are accountable for driving gender equality in their agencies.


The APS is setting the pace on gender equality by:

  • Driving a supportive and enabling workplace culture – including committing to implementing best practice strategies to ensure workplaces are as supportive and sensitive as possible for staff experiencing violence.
  • Achieving gender equality in APS leadership – including developing programs that support women’s progression into senior leadership positions, particularly in priority areas such as information technology, science and finance.
  • Working innovatively to embed gender equality in employment practices – including working to build organisational capability to address unconscious bias and ensuring that all selection panels ask ‘50/50 – if not, why not?’ for the purpose of gender balance in shortlisting processes.
  • Increasing take-up of flexible work arrangements by both men and women – including by adopting a ‘flexible by default’ approach.
  • Measurement and evaluation – including developing an evaluation framework so agencies can monitor their progress and adjust their approach as required.
  • Committing to develop training on the differential impact of gender in mainstream policy development.

Key initiatives

Secretaries Equality and Diversity Council (the Council)

Established in June 2016 to drive the implementation of the APS Gender Equality Strategy, the Council is comprised of all APS Departmental Secretaries along with two external members to provide insights and experience from outside the public sector.

Secretaries have committed to appear only at events and on panels that are gender balanced by taking the Panel Pledge. The Council has also considered important issues relevant to staff with disability, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex staff and staff from a culturally and linguistically diverse background. The Council is supported by a working group comprised of department nominated senior diversity champions and human resource representatives.

Gender Equality Action Plans

Every government agency has developed an individual Gender Equality Action Plan, with most now published on their respective websites. These plans outline each Agency head’s commitment to achieving gender equality and include ambitious (stretch) targets over the life of the APS Gender Equality Strategy. For example, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Gender Equality Action Plan is available here.

Flexible by default

The APS Gender Equality Strategy introduced the ‘flexible by default’ principle, which assumes that any role can be filled through a flexible working arrangement. This requires managers to challenge assumptions about how work should be done and how jobs are designed. This approach normalises the idea of flexibility and ensures that both men and women see flexibility as an option that will not curtail their career progression.

Target for Government Boards

In 2016, the Government announced a target of women holding 50 per cent of Government board positions overall, and men and women each holding at least 40 per cent of positions on individual boards. This new target came into effect on 1 July 2016 with Government reporting annually on its performance against the target.

Women now represent just over 41 per cent of all Australian Government board members.[4] By comparison, in 2016, 25 per cent of ASX 200 board members are women.[5]

Women now represent more than 41% of all Australian Government board members.
Source: Australian Government Gender Balance on Australian Government Boards Report 2015-16. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Unpublished data December 2016

Women now represent more than 41% of all Australian Government board members.

  1. Australian Government, (2016) Balancing the future: the Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy 2016-19 [accessed 29 May 2017]
  2. Australian Public Service Employment Database (2016) Data as at December 2016
  3. WGEA (2016) Gender Equality in ASX 200 Organisations [accessed 30 May 2017]
  4. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, unpublished data
  5. AICD (2016) Gender Diversity Progress Report for September – November 2016 [accessed 16 June 2017]