IPAA International Women’s Day Breakfast

IPAA International Women’s Day Breakfast

Office for Women International Forums International Women’s Day
Thursday, March 3, 2016

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Note: This is not a transcript.

Hello everyone.

It’s great to see everyone here so early in the morning, and particularly in a sitting week. While International Women’s Day isn’t until next week, I really approve of Glenys’s idea to start the celebrations early, a bit like a festival.

Let’s all give our thanks to Glenys and IPAA ACT for bringing us together and organising today’s breakfast.

It is an honour to introduce Senator the Honourable Michaelia Cash, who is Minister for Women, amongst a range of other suitably impressive titles.

This morning we’re here to celebrate the importance of diversity and women in leadership in public administration.

We have made a lot of progress since the marriage bar was lifted 50 years ago. But we all know that there are more challenges that we need to face together.

Last year we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the first woman secretary, Helen Williams, who was appointed in 1985. This was a great achievement, but it took another 17 years after that to appoint the second, Jane Halton. Of the 19 permanent heads of departments, there are now five women secretaries. If we’re going to hold the private sector to account for board appointments, we have to do better ourselves. This is a fact I’m reminded of every morning when I walk into my office, past the photos of my 18 predecessors as Secretary of PM&C. All white, middle-aged blokes. What a coincidence!

While 60 per cent of federal public servants are women, data released last week by the ABS tells us that only 41 per cent of senior executive roles are held by women. I’m an economist, so perhaps I’m more trusting of numbers than many, but something about this data tells me we’re going wrong somewhere.

One of my 18 predecessors as Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and one of my colleagues in the Male Champions of Change initiative, Dr Ian Watt, has a pretty straightforward answer when anyone asks him how to get more women into the senior ranks of the public service. His blunt answer: “promote them”.

I agree. Within our organisations we need to understand how we can create the conditions that allow all people of merit to do well. Notice that I say people of merit – this conversation isn’t solely about gender diversity, it’s about how we embrace and promote diversity across the full spectrum of Australian society.

I’ve been a member of the Male Champions of Change initiative started by Elizabeth Broderick almost since its inception. For anyone who doesn’t know about the program, the Male Champions of Change are a group of CEOs and Executive Directors who have formed a coalition to deliver change on gender equality in their organisations and across the broader community. It is men stepping up alongside women to address a deep challenge for Australian society.

And while my membership of the MCC has been unbroken, it might surprise you to know that PM&C’s hasn’t. In fact, there are only three entities that have withdrawn from the MCC and they are all from the Australian Public Service. While there may be justifiable reasons for any individual organisation to withdraw, we have to ask what sort of message does this send to women across the public service and what does it tell the private sector about our commitment to equality?

I’m very pleased to tell you that one of the first things I did as Secretary was to have PM&C re-join MCC. I hope this gives you a sense of my commitment as a leader within the APS to the ideals of equality and diversity.

In the Prime Minister’s first Question Time of 2016 he said: ‘Our Government is giving the leadership, it is giving the means, to ensure that all Australians participate in our 21st century economy and that, above all, women are able to do so as well.’

I will be looking at what more we can do at PM&C and across the public service to rise to the Prime Minister’s challenge. But we all have a role to play in this.

We all have the capacity to be leaders and to make the APS a more inclusive environment where it’s possible for anyone of merit to reach their full potential.

So, why don’t we all commit to doing at least one thing this month that improves diversity in our own environment? I can think of a few things that I want to do straight away. I hope you can too. Although perhaps I should clarify for any of my more enthusiastic staff here today that the violent overthrow of your male secretary isn’t quite what I have in mind.

Now, I ask you to give your full attention to today’s keynote speaker. We are very fortunate to have such an accomplished advocate for diversity and women’s participation, and a role model for so many women and men wanting to make a contribution to public life.

She is:

  • Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service
  • Minister for Employment, and, of course
  • Minister for Women.

Please welcome, Senator the Honourable Michaelia Cash.