Public Service must keep nurturing women leaders

It was a huge privilege to be asked to speak at the Women in Public Sector Summit this week.

It was only the second such summit but already I see it becoming a major event on our calendar. The organisers reach out to women who feel they’re ready for leadership roles, women who want to progress their careers as public servants. I believe this week’s attendance of more than 500 says heaps about the level of ambition among women in the Public Service. And that is a really encouraging sign for the future.

For me the summit was an opportunity to talk about my personal commitment to increasing diversity and inclusion in the Public Service. Under my watch I’m determined that we see some real progress. Increasing diversity and inclusion in the Public Service makes good business sense. But more importantly it’s the right thing to do.

There are things which we ought to be proud of when we look at how far women have come in the Public Service.  Some impressive gains have been chalked up. Twelve women CEs, about 41% of the cohort, is the highest number ever. About 45% of our tier 1-3 leaders are women, and this should hit 50% by 2021. The gender pay gap, while still significant, is now the lowest it’s ever been, at 13.5%.

We’re seeing further progress at present on pay equity, women and men getting the same pay for doing jobs that are different but of equal value. The government is implementing a new pay equity regime to make it easier to address and fix pay equity issues. That is something to celebrate.

So there’s progress. But we can do better.

There’s stuff we’re not doing so well on. For instance our women CEs, with a few exceptions, are mostly in smaller, lower paid roles. One third of departments have less than 40% representation of women on their leadership teams. And while women make up 61% of the Public Sector workforce, their representation in senior leadership lags well behind that. Women are also clustered around lower paid occupations, like clerical and administrative, where they hold 80% of the jobs.

One of the messages I had for the women at the Summit was not to sell themselves short. Over the course of my career I’ve spent a fair bit of time trying to convince women to put their names forward for leadership roles. I haven’t had to do the same with men! I want our women public servants to lean into challenges and say, “Here I am, this is what I can do.”

The Public Service has lots of hugely capable women. We need more of you to go as far as you can, to become leaders, to drive change.

Then it’s not just the Public Service that benefits, it’s all of New Zealand.


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Last updated: 
21 June 2017