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Balancing the Future: Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy 2016–19 sets out actions for driving high performance and boosting productivity in the Australian Public Service (APS). It is a strategy for harnessing the best talent, changing cultures, and challenging assumptions that hold us back.

The APS must embrace diversity, drawing on the skills and potential of all employees. The APS benefits from people from all backgrounds.

This is a strategy to address gender imbalance across the APS—at all levels and in all agencies. To achieve this, all men and women need to step up together as leaders to foster equitable and highperforming workplaces.

The APS must change to secure the best talent and the best results.

This strategy focuses on changing culture through leadership, flexibility, and innovation. To do things differently an honest stocktake is required. The APS workforce must reflect contemporary reality— one in which men, as well as women, have both caring and work responsibilities, and where everyone is given the same opportunities to develop and to lead.

The APS must set the pace for a contemporary Australian workforce. APS leaders at all levels must be accountable for driving progress in their agencies, their divisions, their branches and their teams.

The APS will not achieve gender equality until both women and men are seen as capable and credible leaders; until both women and men can work flexibly without risking their career progression; and until outdated assumptions of 'women's work' and 'men's work' are identified and eradicated.

The principle of merit remains central to APS employment. The strategy aims to create an environment in which merit is applied properly and fairly. This will be achieved through reportable targets, the removal of barriers like hidden bias, and adopting work arrangements that balance choice with operational requirements.

This strategy is an opportunity to drive lasting change. It is time for the APS to be a leader once again in gender equality.

I am delighted to launch Balancing the Future: The Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy 2016–19. 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 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.

Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash
Minister for Employment
Minister for Women
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service

Peter Daley
Executive Level 1

Department of Immigration and Border Protection

My wife and I had decided that we wanted our child to be cared for at home for the first two years of his life, and that we should share this responsibility. We agreed that my wife would spend the first year at home on maternity leave, and then she would return to her job full time and I would spend the second year at home. In addition to strengthening the bond between me and my son, me being at home also really helped my wife transition back into the workforce.

After my year at home, my son started childcare three days a week and my wife and I split the remaining two days. We both found it rewarding to still be able to have a day at home with our child and watch him develop. My workplace has been very supportive of my arrangements.

Amanda McIntyre
Chief Financial Officer First Assistant Secretary

Financial Services Division Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

I love having an engaging job which also allows me to participate in the lives of my two young boys—aged four and nine. I work four days per week and have worked on a part-time basis for the last nine years. Spending one day per week at home allows me to connect with my sons, be active in their school and sporting communities, and enjoy a work/ life balance.

I think that because of my choice to work part-time I am better at prioritising, delegating, and engaging with risk. My flexible working arrangements provide an opportunity to develop my staff. I have to trust and empower others to finalise and progress their work, and to make judgment calls on my behalf.

I know from personal experience that commitment to do a good job and achieve great outcomes should not be measured by the number of hours that you input to a role or your presence at a desk in an office.

Daniel Boyer
Assistant General Manager
Tourism Policy and Operations


Throughout my public sector career, I have seen the benefits of allowing people to access flexible working conditions, particularly part time and flexible hours. I work on the principle that my role as a manager and a team member is to help create an environment where people want to come to work—allowing people to work flexibly is a big part of that.

One of the great things about working with an agile and global organisation like Austrade is the freedom it affords you as a manager, to help build individual and team capability—part time hours and broader flexible working conditions are an essential element in any agile workplace, and Austrade is a strong supporter of these principles. Ultimately, giving people the freedom and the space to do their jobs almost always brings its own rewards.

The case for change

Men make up 64% of the Senior Executive Service Band 2 and 3 levels


Men are twice as likely to be denied flexible working arrangements, according to recent Australian research

('The power of flexibility: A key enabler to boost gender parity and employee engagement', Bain & Company, 2016)

Men account for only 18% of part-time work take-up by all APS employees


A growing body of research shows that:

  1. organisations with the most gender equality outperform those with the least,
  2. increasing the proportion of women in leadership roles is associated with better financial performance, and
  3. gender equality in teams promotes an environment where innovation can flourish1.

As at 31 December 2015, women made up 58.7% of the APS, but only 41.8% of the Senior Executive Service.

Implicit bias remains a barrier to women being recruited into certain roles and promoted to senior positions2. Further, female employees are less likely to have informal networking opportunities extended to them than their male co-workers—missing out on the connections and confidence these offer3.

Flexible work arrangements are available in most APS agencies, but are accessed overwhelmingly by women and hardly at all by senior leaders4. Flexible work is seen largely as an accommodation for women, and as incompatible with working in a leadership role. Workplaces that take a flexible approach to how, where, and when work is done attract the highest-calibre employees—and keep them in the long term5.

The case for change is clear. Without recognising gender equality as a business imperative, agencies risk being left behind.

1 'The business case for gender equality', Workplace Gender Equality Agency (2013), www.wgea.gov.au, accessed 9 March 2016, 'Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review – Report' (Section 1.3(a)), Australian Human Rights Commission (2014), https://www.humanrights.gov.au/publications/supporting-working-parents-pregnancy-and-return-work-national-review-report/chapter-1, accessed 10 May 2016 'What is the impact of gender diversity on technology business performance', National Centre for Women and Information Technology (2014), https://www.ncwit.org/sites/default/files/resources/impactgenderdiversitytechbusinessperformance_print.pdf, accessed 10 May 2016, 'Is there a payoff from top-team diversity?', McKinsey and Company (2012), https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/is-there-a-payoff-from-top-team-diversity, accessed 10 May 2016, 'ASX 500 – Women Leaders, Research Notes' (page 12), Reibey Institute (2011) http://www.reibeyinstitute.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/ASX500_Women-Leaders-2011.pdf, accessed 10 May 2016, 'Building a Business Case for Diversity', Melbourne University Business School - Centre for Ethical Leadership (2012), accessed 10 May 2016.

2 See, for example: Gender diversity: Why aren't we getting it right? Hays 2014, https://www.hays.com.au/cs/groups/hays_common/@au/@content/ documents/digitalasset/hays_227986.pdf, accessed 11 April 2016; What stops women from reaching the top? Confronting the tough issues, Bain & Company and Chief Executive Women, 2011, http://www.cew.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/2011-CEW-Bain-report.pdf, accessed 11 April 2016.

3 The Leadership Challenge: Women in Management, Department of Social Services, 2008, https://www.dss.gov.au/our-responsibilities/women/ publications-articles/economic-independence/the-leadership-challenge-women-in-management?HTML, accessed 11 April 2016.

4 For example, as at 31 December 2015, 82% of all part-time employees were women, and 3.8% of all SES employees worked part-time, Australian Public Service Employmant Database (APSED).

5 Workplace Flexibility Strategy, p. 4, Workplace Gender Equality Agency, https://www.wgea.gov.au/sites/default/files/Building_a_flexibility_strategy.pdf, accessed 29 March 2016.

Dr Martin Parkinson PSM

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

The Australian Public Service must lead the way in improving gender equality in the workforce. A diverse and inclusive workplace is important not just for reasons of equity and fairness, but also for improving organisational performance.

For me, it is not only a moral issue. It is a clear business imperative—why would anyone seeking to ensure their organisation's success choose to ignore the talent and leadership of half their potential staff? And if you expand that idea to the Australian economy, what could we achieve by improving women's workforce participation across the board?

Renée Leon PSM

Department of Employment

Truly enabling people to work flexibly is critical if we are to achieve the engagement and success of women in our teams. For too long the norm has been one that assumes our staff don't have family responsibilities. We have to change that approach if we want to create workplaces that enable all of the available talent to be utilised, women and men equally.


Achieving gender equality in the APS will be driven by 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 will set the pace on gender equality by:

  1. Driving a supportive and enabling workplace culture
  2. Achieving gender equality in APS leadership
  3. Working innovatively to embed gender equality in employment practices
  4. Increasing take-up of flexible work arrangements by both men and women
  5. Measuring and evaluating actions.

Getting started

To help you make this strategy successful in your agency, the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) has developed a practical online Implementation Guide: http://www.apsc.gov.au/gender-equality.

The guide comprises nine interactive modules that can be accessed in an order that suits you best.


During its G20 presidency in 2014, Australia undertook to reduce the gender gap in workforce participation by 25 per cent by 2025. Achieving greater participation rates for women is a social imperative that will also assist Australia to position itself as economically competitive in the global market.

To support Australia's G20 commitment, the Government is taking action to boost women's workforce participation by:

  1. Delivering more affordable, accessible and flexible childcare;
  2. Supporting businesses to create more flexible and diverse workplaces;
  3. Examining the tax and transfer system and its impact on women and their families; and
  4. Supporting women in innovation as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

The APS Gender Equality Strategy focuses on strengthening workplace diversity and making better use of existing flexibility arrangements for women and men. Through the Strategy, the public service will be a pace-setter for industries in meeting the Government's G20 commitment in this area by modelling best practice for other sectors in the Australian economy.

Last reviewed: 
10 October 2019