Diversity is an opportunity for all

News story
IPAA WA’s Women in Public Sector Leadership Conference 2019 delivered some key themes around welcoming diversity as a means of making society better for everyone
Minister McGurk, Public Sector Commissioner Sharyn O'Neill and others at the IPAA WA Women in Public Sector Leadership Conference

Caption: (From left) SA Commissioner for Public Sector Employment, Erma Ranieri; WA Public Sector Commissioner, Sharyn O’Neill; Minister for Women’s Interests, Hon Simone McGurk; and Master of Ceremonies Cathryn Greville, Legal Services Manager, Master Builders Association of WA.

This year’s IPAA WA’s Women in Public Sector Leadership Conference saw a line-up of renowned leaders and diversity champions deliver the message that diversity is the driver for building a shared world, and a better society, that benefits all.

Staff from across the sector heard from influential women in leadership including Minister for Women’s Interests Hon Simone McGurk MLA; South Australia’s Commissioner for Public Sector Employment, Erma Ranieri; our own Public Sector Commissioner Sharyn O’Neill; Director General of the Department of Finance, Jodi Cant; and Director General of the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage, Gail McGowan PSM. The full agenda for the day is on the IPAA WA website.

Here are some key takeaways from the day.

Image of cartoon man and cartoon woman, where man has more coins than woman

The gender gap remains

Women are still disproportionately in lower-ranked positions.

Achieving gender equality is still very much on the agenda. Minister McGurk said there has been a visible shift in how the public sector delivers services due to increased diversity.

Some paraphrasing: The wheel is turning but let’s turn it faster.

Image of woman looking happy as she has a 'light bulb' moment

Lead your way

Commissioner Ranieri outlined how authenticity calls for embracing your background, your values and your story by bringing who you are to the table and not trying to be ‘someone else’ just because you are in a position of leadership.

Director General McGowan echoed the importance of being as natural as you can be rather than trying to be the leader you think you should be. Self-audit your skills. Be yourself, know yourself.

Commissioner O’Neill spoke of going for jobs you care about, rather than looking for the next rung on the career ladder. Success is based on the impact you make, not your position title.

Accomplished leaders need to navigate complexity but allow room for their team to shine.

From there it’s just about getting things done. Director General Cant said there is an expectation that you will try and fail often, on the way to success.

As Commissioner Ranieri added, it’s about acknowledging you may not know all the answers. Allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to learn and seek guidance.

Image of family and doctor, denoting that taking time off work to look after family is a whole-of-family issue

Flexibility is not a women’s issue

Flexibility is not women’s business or only for those with childcare responsibilities – it benefits everyone.

The panel discussion between Minister McGurk and Commissioners Ranieri and O’Neill discussed South Australia’s move to an ‘if not, why not’ policy in support of workplace flexibility. This helped to move mindsets away from perceived risks towards the multitude of positives that come from increased flexibility, for organisations as well as individuals.

More generally we should all ask ‘what can I do to change?’ and consider what is in our sphere of influence. That includes promoting workplace flexibility to men as much as we promote it for women.

And be prepared to innovate. Commissioner Ranieri spoke of successfully pioneering job-sharing at the executive level when she and another colleague applied for an SES position in the SA public service.

Image of woman and glue stick, denoting that diversity is the glue that makes a workplace stronger

Not a ‘bolt on’, it’s the glue

We need to change the view of diversity as being a ‘bolt on’ to people’s work, to viewing it as core or central to everyone’s jobs. This is particularly important for managers and leaders.

Be the change you want to see

Be the change you want to see

Make an effort to make diversity visible, and visibly and vocally support others.

Director General McGowan and Leadership WA’s Chief Executive Officer Dominque Mecoy spoke of the value of feedback and how creating trust is the key to being able to give and receive honest feedback.

Don’t wait until the last day to give employees a glowing farewell speech. Recognition should be given regularly, in both private and public settings.

Image depicting successful woman with her young children and husband

Successful women are role models for future generations

Being a successful woman gives your children permission to live their own life – you are a lived example of who they can be and what they can achieve.

Which brings us back to the future… and changing the focus from women adapting to a man’s world, to one of building a shared world that welcomes diversity as a means of benefiting all.

IPAA WA’s Women in Public Sector Leadership Conference series is delivered annually to explore the critical issues affecting the advancement of women into leadership roles within the sector.

Work continues on a whole-of-sector workforce diversification strategy as part of the public sector reform workforce diversification initiative being led by the Public Sector Commission.

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Page reviewed 4 December 2019
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