Chapter 4: Diversity and inclusion

Chapter 4: Diversity and inclusion



For years, we’ve known that diverse teams are better at solving problems. Inclusive workplaces also have more engaged employees. We achieve better outcomes when staff know their views count; and when they feel empowered respectfully to contest policy and ideas.

Diversity and inclusion matter for improved function … Embracing diversity also drives innovation and enhances our ability to relate to modern Australia.

Frances Adamson, Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade59

Australia is a diverse nation, and this should be reflected in the makeup of its public service. By increasing diversity in the APS, the service can better represent the Australian population, resulting in better public services and increased trust in those services.60

However, the true benefits of diversity cannot be realised without inclusion. When employees see their organisation as being committed to diversity and inclusion, they report better business performance through increased ability to innovate, respond to change and engage in team collaboration.61

The APS can capitalise on the unique experiences, knowledge and abilities of its workforce by creating inclusive environments that enable diverse thought to flourish and that drive innovation and creativity. An inclusive workplace culture can enable employees to bring their best selves to work and encourage them to work hard to achieve their organisations’ goals.

Agencies should not only hold themselves responsible for their own culture but should be working together to increase inclusion and diversity across the entire APS, promoting a ‘One APS’ culture.

Secretaries Equality and Diversity Council

Senior APS leaders are driving diversity and inclusion initiatives across the APS through the Secretaries Equality and Diversity Council, comprising all 18 APS departmental secretaries and two external members. The Council’s purpose is to break down formal and informal barriers to ensure the APS provides an inclusive and respectful workplace for everyone. Since its inception in 2016, the Council has been responsible for three APS-wide strategies to promote diversity and inclusion:

  • Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy 2015–18
  • Balancing the Future: The Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy 2016–19
  • As One: Making it Happen, Australian Public Service Disability Employment Strategy 2016–19.

Progress against these strategies is explored throughout this chapter.

The Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy 2015–18 was evaluated towards the end of 201862, and Are we there yet?: Progress of the AustralianPublicService Gender Equality Strategy was published in June 2018.63 At the time of writing this report, three updated diversity strategies are in development and are anticipated to start in 2020.


It is only through inclusion that organisations can make the most out of diversity.

Diversity Council of Australia64

Inclusion—that is, acceptance, tolerance and respect for people regardless of their diversity—should shape the culture of any workplace, and the APS is no exception. This goes beyond simply seeking to ensure workplace harmony. For the APS, it goes to the heart of its ability to deliver effective services and solve complex policy challenges on behalf of the government and the people of Australia.

Inclusion is fundamentally about each employee’s experience of both their work and their workplace. Inclusion plays an important part in creating and sustaining a meaningful career pathway through the APS for each member of the workforce, irrespective of cultural background, religion, gender, disability status, sexual orientation, age and socio-economic standing.

An inclusive, diverse workforce is thought to strongly promote innovation and staff engagement and, importantly for the public sector, build trust in public institutions. The OECD principles for a fit-for-purpose public service include ensuring an inclusive and safe public service that reflects the diversity of the society it represents.65

The value of inclusion was highlighted by a Diversity Council of Australia survey of more than 3,000 working Australians. The survey results demonstrated that inclusion:

  • mattered to Australian workers—three out of four were strongly supportive of their organisations taking action to create a diverse and inclusive workplace
  • was good for business—workers in inclusive teams were more effective, more innovative and provide better customer service
  • was good for employees—workers in inclusive teams were more satisfied with their jobs, more likely to stay with their employers and more likely to receive career employment opportunities; even a somewhat inclusive team provided benefits to employee satisfaction, success and security, and team performance
  • minimised harassment and discrimination
  • benefited everyone—men and women can equally feel satisfied with their jobs.66

APS employee perceptions of inclusion

The 2019 APS employee census revealed that overall perceptions of inclusion in the workplace in 2019 were either unchanged, or slightly more positive, compared to 2018. As Figure 4.1 shows, employees were most positive about their immediate colleagues and supervisors. Their perceptions about their agencies and SES were lower, but still positive in absolute terms. It is worth noting that 80 per cent of respondents indicated their supervisor invited a range of views, a key contributing factor to diversity of thought within teams.

Figure 4.1: APS employee perceptions of inclusion

Figure 4.1 is a bar graph presenting 2019 APS employee census results on APS employee perceptions of inclusion.

Source: 2019 APS employee census

Indigenous employees

Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy 2015–18

The goal of the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy 2015–18 was to increase the representation of Indigenous employees across the public sector to 3 per cent by 2018 through four key action areas:

  • expanding the range of Indigenous employment opportunities
  • developing the capability of Indigenous employees
  • increasing the representation of Indigenous employees in senior roles
  • improving the awareness of Indigenous culture in the workplace.67

Agencies employed various activities and initiatives in response to the strategy. In the 2019 APS agency survey, 55 agencies indicated they had agency-specific Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment plans. Measures included:

  • affirmative measures and/or Indigenous identified positions to recruit Indigenous people
  • entry-level recruitment programs such as Indigenous cadetships and Indigenous graduate pathways
  • cultural competency training for selection panels to understand unconscious bias in recruiting
  • Indigenous mentoring programs and agency facilitated employee networks for Indigenous staff
  • participation in culturally significant events such as National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week and National Reconciliation Week.

An evaluation of the strategy in late 2018 found that the APS had made solid progress towards its Indigenous employment target.68 The evaluation found that this progress largely resulted from an increase in Indigenous employment at the lowest APS classification levels (graduate/trainee).

An emphasis on entry level recruitment as the principal way of achieving the 3 per cent target meant less focus on clear promotion or leadership pathways for Indigenous employees. This has been reflected in a decrease in the proportion of Indigenous engagements at higher classification levels and an increase in the proportion of ongoing Indigenous employees leaving the APS workforce.

Moving forward, the evaluation suggested setting a more complex employment target, with targets specific to classification levels, to address Indigenous employment over representation in lower levels. It also recommended strengthening capability development for Indigenous employees and focusing on building Indigenous career pathways.

The next iteration of this strategy is being developed and is expected to launch early 2020. The Secretaries Equality and Diversity Council has stated that the strategy will aim to ‘consolidate best practice employment programs, improve retention rates and build equity in promotion opportunities for Indigenous employees, particularly into SES ranks’.69

Indigenous representation and inclusion

At the last Census of Population and Housing in 2016, 2.8 per cent (649,200 people) of the population identified as Indigenous.70 Australian Public Service Employment Database (APSED) data notes the proportion of APS employees identifying as Indigenous was 3.5 per cent as at 30 June 2019, an increase from 2.9 per cent in 2015. Figure 4.2 demonstrates that most Indigenous employment was concentrated at the APS 3–4 level and significantly declines at higher levels.

Higher proportions of Indigenous employees (37.7 per cent) compared to non-Indigenous employees (13.5 per cent) work in regional areas rather than capital cities. At 30 June 2019, Indigenous SES made up just 1.2 per cent of the SES workforce (32 Indigenous SES out of 2,780 total SES).

Figure 4.2: Proportion of Indigenous employment by classification, June 2019

Figure 4.2 is a column graph showing the representation of APS Indigenous employees by APS classification according to APS Employment Database data at 30 June 2019.

Source: APSED

In responses to the 2019 APS employee census, Indigenous APS employees generally had similar perceptions of diversity and inclusion in the workplace when compared with non-Indigenous APS employees. However, Indigenous employees responded less positively to questions relating to agency support for diversity and inclusion, and perceptions of inclusion in their immediate workgroup (Figure 4.3).

Figure 4.3: Indigenous and non-Indigenous APS employee perceptions of inclusion

Figure 4.3 is a bar graph comparing the perceptions of inclusion for Indigenous and non-Indigenous APS employees.

Source: 2019 APS employee census

The evaluation of the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy noted feedback that many non-Indigenous APS employees, including in supervisory or leadership positions, have limited understanding of the pressures and challenges faced by their Indigenous colleagues. This can undermine relationships and create barriers to career progression for Indigenous employees.

As outlined in Chapter 1, recent amendments to the Commissioner’s Directions address the responsibility of senior leaders and supervisors in developing and sustaining a high- performance culture across the APS. The Commissioner’s Directions explicitly mention ‘career conversations’ as an important aspect of a supervisor’s role. This should play a part in ensuring that all APS employees, including those who identify as Indigenous, receive appropriate support and encouragement as they move through their APS careers.

Nevertheless, there remains a question of cultural competency. Agencies have employed a number of strategies to develop Indigenous cultural understanding in their staff, including through face-to-face training, participation in National Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week celebrations, and through participation in the Jawun APS Secondment Program.

Many of these initiatives fall under the umbrella of an agency’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), a strategic document that supports an organisation ‘to develop respectful relationships and create meaningful opportunities with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’.71  The RAP program was started in 2006 by Reconciliation Australia to provide a structured, nationally recognised, model for workplaces to formalise commitments to reconciliation, based on the pillars of respect, relationships and opportunities.

In the 2019 APS agency survey, 63 out of 97 agencies reported they had a RAP. Using RAPs, agencies are turning good intentions into positive actions, helping to build higher trust, lower prejudice, and increased pride in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. This, in turn, increases inclusion in the workplace.

The new Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Workforce Strategy 2020–24 will emphasise the role of cultural understanding in driving Indigenous inclusion across the APS. RAPs will continue to be an important mechanism for achieving this goal.

The APS Indigenous Champions Network can also play a role in leading and driving initiatives aimed at increasing the workplace experience for all APS Indigenous employees. The network, chaired by Services Australia, is an advisory group of champions who are senior representatives from various APS agencies. Among other activities, the network is committed to seeking ways in which more Indigenous employees can move into APS senior executive roles. It also focuses on the recruitment, retention and development of Indigenous employees in regional areas.

Indigenous cultural awareness initiatives—Department of Agriculture

A priority for the Department of Agriculture is to foster knowledge and understanding of Torres Strait Islander culture in the workplace, as the department’s biosecurity work in the Torres Strait is carried out by local staff.

In conjunction with the Australian Public Service Commission, the department coordinated several Kaymel Gasaman72 cross cultural workshops delivered by Torres Strait elder Gabriel Bani from Thursday Island. The workshops allowed employees the opportunity to immerse into the wisdom of this elder and be grounded in truth to foster positive relations with Indigenous people. This forms part of efforts to create cultural safety in the workplace.

Employees shared in a unique opportunity to engage in an inspiring cross cultural learning experience delivered as part of the celebrations of National Reconciliation Week. These workshops explored the cultural considerations and challenges of the Torres Strait kinship, taboos, culture, history, governance and Island politics as well as trans-generational pride and culture.

In a separate initiative, the department has been working with Ngunnawal Elder Tyronne Bell to teach executives and senior staff to speak in Ngunnawal language. Once trained, executives can deliver an Acknowledgement of Country in this language. It is powerful to hear Ngunnawal language spoken in the workplace and it contributes to recognition, celebration and acknowledgement of Aboriginal culture.

Reconciliation Action Plans—Department of Home Affairs and Services Australia

The Department of Home Affairs began its third RAP in May 2019. Successes from its previous RAP include implementation of affirmative measures recruitment, mandatory cultural competency training for all staff, participation in the Jawun APS Secondment Program and exceeding the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet targets for contracts with Indigenous-owned businesses.

The new RAP intends to build on these successes by extending targets and actions over the next three years and focusing on relationships, respect and opportunities.

‘The department takes an innovative and solutions-based approach to addressing Indigenous disadvantage. A particularly noteworthy example of the Department’s RAP initiatives is its immense contribution to the Uniforms 4 Kids program, which sees disused ABF uniforms donated to the Brighter Future 4 Kids Foundation and repurposed as clothing for students attending the Yarrabah State School in Far North Queensland. This partnership has resulted in over 300 disadvantaged children receiving clothing, and is a fantastic example of the collaborative and respectful approach the Department takes toward reconciliation.’

Karen Mundine, Chief Executive Officer, Reconciliation Australia.

Services Australia was one of the first organisations to join the RAP program. In 2015, it became the first Commonwealth department to have an Elevate RAP, reserved for organisations with a proven track record of embedding effective measures internally and the ability to be a leader in advancing the national goals.

Through the RAP, Services Australia has increased the representation of Indigenous staff to 5.6 per cent, up from 3.1 per cent in 2011. It has adopted a 2022 target of 6 per cent, including at least 3 per cent in senior leadership roles. Recruitment has been boosted through the pioneering Indigenous Apprenticeships Program, complemented by mentoring and buddy networks, targeted leadership training and four internal Indigenous Champions. Ninety-fi per cent of staff have completed Indigenous Cultural Awareness Training.

The Indigenous Servicing Strategy 2018–22 has introduced a set of service design standards to ensure customer-facing systems are culturally appropriate and increasingly responsive to customer needs. The department also leads the APS Indigenous Champions Network (senior representatives committed to improving Indigenous employment outcomes across the APS), in recognition of its unique role as a service delivery partner to Indigenous communities and a gateway for Indigenous staff into the APS.


Balancing the Future: The Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy 2016–19

Balancing the Future: The Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy 2016–19 has guided the APS to support Australia’s 2014 G20 commitment to boost women’s workforce participation by 25 per cent by 2025 through these key actions:

  • driving a supportive and enabling workplace culture
  • achieving gender equality in APS leadership
  • working innovatively to embed gender equality in employment practices
  • increasing take-up of flexible work arrangements by both men and women
  • measuring and evaluating actions.73

The strategy recognised that gender equality in the APS should lead to improvements in organisational and financial performance, and enhanced innovation. It sought to improve the gender balance at senior positions of the APS by addressing the barriers women face in being recruited and promoted to certain positions.

In 2018, PricewaterhouseCoopers was commissioned by the APSC to review progress against the gender strategy and Are we there yet?: Progress of the Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy was published in June 2018. The progress report found that the overall representation of women in the APS had steadily increased since 2016. The progress report also noted that for departments to create a more inclusive culture, they needed to ‘move beyond simple measures of success such as numbers of women, to developing a more rounded picture of what an inclusive organisation would look and feel like, and measuring success accordingly’.74

To support the strategy, initiatives continue to be implemented by agencies across the APS, including:

  • developing gender equality plans, strategies or policies
  • implementing flexible working arrangements plans, strategies or policies
  • appointing gender champions and creating gender networks
  • undertaking training in recruitment practices regarding unconscious bias
  • promoting gender inclusive practices through awards, such as the APSC Diversity and Gender Equality Awards for best practice in gender equality in the APS.

Some stand-out initiatives by agencies include:

  • the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Women in Leadership program75, which has driven deep cultural change in the department and led to an increase in female representation in senior roles in Australia and internationally
  • The Digital Transformation Agency’s Women in IT Executive Mentoring program, which won the 2018 APS Gender Equality Award, and has matched more than 780 participants at EL levels with mentor senior information technology leaders across government, nurturing confidence, skills and driving cultural change at agency level.

The Secretaries Equality and Diversity Council noted progress against the strategy at its July 2019 meeting. Early work on the development of a new APS gender equality strategy is under way and progress made to date will inform the next iteration.

Gender representation and inclusion

Overall, the representation of women in the APS is higher than the proportion of women in the Australian population. At the last Census of Population and Housing in 2016, women made up 50.7 per cent of the population.76 In the APS, at 30 June 2019, women represented 59.6 per cent of APS employees, with the highest proportion of women at APS 4 and  APS 6 classifications (Figure 4.4). APSED data shows women are still underrepresented in the SES, at 46.3 per cent of the SES workforce; however, this represents progress from 41.8 per cent at 31 December 2015.77

Figure 4.4: Proportion of male and female APS employees by classification, June 2019

Figure 4.4 is a column graph showing APS employee classification by gender according to APS Employment Database data as at 30 June 2019.

Source: APSED

APSED shows that during 2018–19, 57 per cent of employees joining the SES were women, the highest rate of female representation entering the SES cohort ever recorded. Women represent just 37.3 per cent of the SES over the age of 54 and only 43.8 per cent of ongoing separations during 2018–19. If this trend continues, the proportion of women in the SES should continue towards parity.

The move towards parity at the highest classification levels is reflected in a reduced gender pay gap across the APS. In 2018, the average base salary for males in the APS was $96,391 while the average for females was $88,896. This represents a 7.8 per cent gender pay gap for the APS and continues the improvement shown since 2014 (Figure 4.5).

It is important to note that the gender pay gap calculation is based on gender remuneration results for the whole of the APS. As a result, it reflects the underrepresentation of females at higher classification levels (EL 2 and above) and the overrepresentation of females at lower classification levels (APS 2–6). The actual differences between male and female median base salaries were minor at most classifications, with the majority within a range of 1 per cent variance.

Figure 4.5: Overall APS gender pay gap, 2014 to 2018

Figure 4.5 is a line graph presenting the decreasing trend in the gender pay gap across the APS as a whole between 2014 and 2018 from APS Employment Database data.

Source: APS Remuneration Survey

Men and women had very similar perceptions of inclusion in the 2019 APS employee census (Figure 4.6).

Figure 4.6: APS employee perceptions of inclusion by gender

Figure 4.6 is a bar graph presenting 2019 APS employee census results that compare perceptions of inclusion by females and males.

GENIE—Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business

The gender equality network of the Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, GENIE (Gender Equality Network, Inclusion for Everyone), was a finalist in the 2018 APSC Diversity and Gender Equality Awards.

GENIE is an employee network comprising staff who volunteer time beyond their usual work to increase awareness of, and advocate for gender equality and workplace inclusion in the department. The network is governed by a committee with two Senior Executive Champions.

The GENIE network was established after an idea shared during Innovation Month 2015 to establish a women’s network. Collaboration with other APS staff networks and an internal staff survey found that staff supported forming a network supporting gender equality.

The network has been instrumental in providing opportunities for staff to engage with senior management on issues that matter to them, including implementing flexible work arrangements, gendered work policy issues, societal changes and unconscious bias, leadership, and personal development.

GENIE’s Chair, Priyanka Gupta, attributed the network’s success to ‘the passion and commitment of the committee members to facilitate tangible action and genuine engagement with departmental staff to improve gender equality and inclusion’.

In 2018–19, GENIE:

  • led the department to win the 2018 Dignity Cup in the cross-agency Dignity Cup competition for Share the Dignity by donating the most feminine hygiene products
  • fundraised more than $1,100 for gendered days of significance and charities
  • implemented a bi-monthly Women in Leadership lunchtime series featuring guest speakers
  • assisted to evaluate the department-wide Flexible by Default trial and initiated discussions on the department’s next Gender Equality Action Plan
  • in partnership with the People Branch, sponsored 11 staff to attend two women’s leadership conferences.

GENIE collaborates extensively when organising events and promoting inclusion, including with its membership, other internal and APS employee networks, the department’s corporate teams, and the Senior Executive.

The department’s Gender Champions, Kerryn Kovacevic (Chief Digital Officer, First Assistant Secretary, Digital Solutions) and Grant Lovelock (Assistant Secretary, National Careers Institute), both agree that while gender equality has come a long way from where it used to be, there is still work to be done. As Gender Champions, they aspire to lead the department towards becoming leaders in gender equality and workplace inclusion with the support of the GENIE committee.

The APS Gender Equality Strategy continues to seek improvement in gender balance in senior APS roles by addressing barriers to women being promoted and recruited to certain positions. For example, by promoting flexible work arrangements across the workforce, and enabling men to work flexibly, it was hoped to change the perception that ‘flexible work is seen largely as an accommodation for women, and as incompatible with working in a leadership role’.78

The 2019 APS employee census data indicates that a greater proportion of females than males are using flexible working arrangements such as changes to work locations, work hours or patterns of work. However, the proportions of both men and women accessing flexible work have increased over the lifetime of the APS Gender Equality Strategy, as highlighted in Figure 4.7 (for more information on flexible working arrangements, see Chapter 5).

Figure 4.7: Proportion of APS employees using flxible work arrangements by gender, 2017 to 2019

Figure 4.7 is a column graph presents APS employee census results outlining the use of flexible work arrangements by females and males between 2017 and 2019.

Source: APS employee census

The Future Through Collaboration mentoring program—Department of Defence

The Future Through Collaboration is a mentor program designed to enhance organisational capability by attracting, supporting, developing and retaining women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) roles within the Department of Defence.

‘We need to increase the representation of women in [the] Defence industry to better reflect Australian society and strengthen the retention of the women Defence has recruited and trained, particularly in the areas of STEM.’
The Hon Marise Payne MP, former Minister for Defence

The program facilitates supportive engagement between women in STEM and mentors in senior Defence and industry management roles. Mentees are matched to a mentor around shared goals, objectives, professional background, personalities and experiences. From meetings held every three to four weeks throughout the year, mentees have the opportunity to seek career guidance and advice to help with their professional development. The mentors, who champion the program through support and inclusive leadership, are critical to its ongoing success.

Since its inception in 2014, more than 280 women from Defence have participated, and around 50 per cent of participants gained a promotion within 18 months of completing the program. Retention rates of women in STEM roles who participated in the program increased during the program. In 2018, the program’s scope expanded to address Defence industry sector capacity in cyber and Information, Communications and Technology.

The program’s success shows that the barriers that may deter women from STEM roles can be overcome by enhancing inclusion. Mentoring has provided a practical and effective solution to the challenge of retaining women in STEM roles and developing their careers. Addressing this challenge effectively increases workforce capability in this much needed area and assists Defence in its ability to serve Australia.

Employees who identified as Gender X

Gender X was first introduced as a gender category in the APS employee census in 2014, to encompass employees who did not identify as male or female. In 2016, the APSC also began recording Gender X in APSED.

APS employee census data collected between 2014 and 2017 showed reasonable stability in the rates of APS employees identifying as Gender X. However, when ‘prefer not to say’ was included as a gender option in the 2018 APS employee census, the proportion of respondents identifying as Gender X dropped substantially from 1.1 to 0.2 per cent. This remained consistent in 2019, at 0.3 per cent.

The significant change in 2018 APS employee census data led to a hypothesis that some respondents had previously selected Gender X to further anonymise their responses. This year’s data tends to support this suggestion.

APS employees with an ongoing disability

As One: Making it Happen, APS Disability Employment Strategy 2016–19

As One: Making it Happen, APS Disability Employment Strategy 2016–19 aims to improve the employment experience of people with disability in the APS by:

  • expanding their range of employment opportunities
  • investing in developing their capabilities
  • increasing their representation in senior roles
  • fostering inclusive cultures in the workplace.79

APS agencies have been working to increase employment of people with disability by:

  • using affirmative measures and/or using the RecruitAbility scheme to recruit people with disability; more than 6,500 vacancies were advertised using RecruitAbility in 2018–19
  • participating in, and facilitating, entry-level programs for people with disability such as Grad Access and the Dandelion Program
  • implementing policy and documentation to increase inclusion and representation of employees with disability
  • offering mentoring programs for employees with disability such as PACE Mentoring, promoting disability champions and establishing networks for employees with disability.

Stand out agency initiatives include:

  • the ABS Leveraging Asperger’s and Autism Employee Network, in partnership with  the I CAN Network. The ABS network provides professional development, mentoring and networking opportunities for ABS staff at all levels, whether they, a family member or loved one are, or believe they may be, on the spectrum
  • the Services Australia SES Changing Mindsets Program, winner of the 2018 APS Department Award, which has driven organisational cultural change by providing SES participants with direct exposure to the experiences of people with disability.

The new APS disability employment strategy that is being developed will seek to further improve outcomes for employees with ongoing disabilities. It will also include a 7 per cent employment target for people with disability across the APS by 2025, as announced by the then Minister for Families and Social Services, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP, in May 2019.80

To promote better employment outcomes for employees with disability, the APS Disability Champions Network brings together senior level advocates to focus on disability employment matters of strategic and APS-wide importance. The network meets quarterly and assists in promoting and facilitating the sharing of good practice and collaboration between agencies on disability employment issues.

Disability representation and inclusion

The  Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has reported that approximately 18 per cent  of Australians have a disability and, of those, 32 per cent have a ‘severe or profound’ disability (5.8 per cent of the total Australian population).81

In the 2019 APS employee census, 8.4 per cent of employees reported as having an ongoing disability (Figure 4.8). This proportion is higher than the 3.7 per cent reported through agency HR systems as identifying as an employee with disability.

Figure 4.8: Proportion of APS employees with an ongoing disability, 2012 to 2019

Figure 4.8 is a line graph presenting APS employee census trend data between 2012 and 2019 showing the representation of employees with an ongoing disability in the APS workforce.

Source: APS employee census

This disparity between agency data compared to APS employee census information has been consistently reported over many years and there are several possible explanations.  For example, an individual’s disability status may change during the course of employment but not be updated in their agency’s HR system, or employees may not share information about their disability because they feel their disability does not affect the inherent requirements of their role. The confidential nature of the APS employee census may also be a factor, as some employees may be concerned about including disability information  on their agency’s HR system.

Employees who identified as having a disability in the 2019 APS employee census had lower perceptions of inclusion (Figure 4.9) coupled with higher rates of perceived bullying and harassment in the workplace (outlined in Chapter 3). These trends may lead to employees with disability not having enough trust to identify as having an ongoing disability to their agency. There may be concerns that self-identifying with a disability might go against access to development opportunities, limit progress to more senior roles or negatively impact on employee experience in the workplace.

The difference in positive perceptions about workplace inclusion was greatest for questions relating to agencies supporting and actively promoting an inclusive workplace culture (70 per cent compared to 79 per cent), SES managers actively supporting people of diverse backgrounds (61 per cent versus 69 per cent) and SES managers actively supporting flexible working arrangements by all staff (55 per cent compared to 64 per cent).

Figure 4.9: APS employee perceptions of inclusion by disability status

Figure 4.9 is a bar graph presenting 2019 APS employee census results that compares perceptions of inclusion for APS employees who identified they have a disability to those who do not.

Source: 2019 APS employee census

APS leaders have an important role to play in promoting an inclusive culture in the APS and empowering employees with disability by removing barriers to participation, addressing unconscious bias and engaging in open and meaningful conversations on accessibility and career development. As highlighted by the Australian Network on Disability, a more open and inclusive workplace is likely to build trust and facilitate an increase in employees sharing information on their disability.82

Facilitating workplace adjustments and providing access to flexible working arrangement for employees with disability, as well as implementing disability awareness training for all employees, are some steps that can be taken to build a more inclusive culture. By doing so, employees with disability are more likely to feel valued and able to perform at their best to deliver better outcomes for the Australian community.

The Dandelion Program—Services Australia, Department of Defence, Department of Home Affairs and Department of Social Services

The Dandelion Program, originally founded by HPE (now DXC Technology), has been executed in four APS departments to date: Services Australia, Defence, Home Affairs and, most recently, Social Services.

The three-year program is open to people on the autism spectrum and builds valuable IT skills while providing high levels of support. The Dandelion program focuses on helping people to build sustainable careers by improving their technical skills, but also their life skills through a holistic employment experience.

‘The Dandelion Program is a win-win. We get to employ people with a set of unique skills and abilities that benefit our business while providing opportunities for those in our community who are sometimes overlooked in employment situations.’

The Hon Paul Fletcher MP, Minister for Families and Social Services

Reach Program—Department of Agriculture

The Reach Program is a pilot program run by the Department of Agriculture which places skilled applicants with autism into roles in the department. People with autism often face significant barriers to employment including difficulties with recruitment processes, especially interviews, and moving through jobs due to lack of understanding or inclusion in the workplace.

The Reach Program recruitment process includes a skills and experience summary in place of a CV and work trials instead of interviews. This allows candidates to best demonstrate their skills and assess whether they have the right skills for the job.

The program addresses retention issues through providing autism and employment training to managers and colleagues. This education and training aims to provide an environment which is safe, inclusive, respectful and responsive to the needs of participants. Through addressing the key issues around recruitment and retention, the program gives participants the opportunity to join and remain in the APS and perform to their best.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and/or Intersex employees

Data on representation of APS employees who identify as LGBTI+ has been gathered through the APS employee census since 2017. The proportion of 2019 APS employee census respondents who identified as LGBTI+ in 2019 was 4.8 per cent, up from 4.4 per cent in 2018 and 4.1 per cent in 2017.

Determining if the proportion of APS employees who identify as LGBTI+ is representative of Australia as a whole is complicated by lack of data, with several data sources estimating figures between 3 per cent and 11 per cent.83  The ABS notes the lack of information presently available and is exploring the suitability of collecting additional data for the 2021 Census of Population and Housing.84

In the 2019 APS agency survey, 39 of the 97 participating APS agencies indicated they had an LGBTI+ inclusion strategy, plan or policy. Consistent with 2018 results, APS employees who identified as LGBTI+ had similar perceptions about inclusion in the workplace as those who did not identify as LGBTI+ (Figure 4.10).

Figure 4.10: APS employee perceptions of inclusion by LGBTI+ status

Figure 4.10 is a bar graph presenting 2019 APS employee census results that compares LGBTI+ and non-LGBTI+ APS employees’ perceptions of inclusion.

Source: 2019 APS employee census

Culturally and linguistically diverse employees

At the last Census of Population and Housing, 26 per cent of the people living in Australia in 2016 were born overseas (6,163,667 of 23.4 million people)85, and 21 per cent spoke a language other than English at home. In the 2019 APS employee census, 22.2 per cent of respondents indicated that they had been born overseas and 18.7 per cent reported they spoke a language other than English at home.

Figure 4.11: Proportion of APS employees by location of birth, 1969 to 2019

Source: APSED

As shown in Figure 4.11, there continues to be a decreasing trend in European country of birth of APS employees and an increase in employees born in Asian countries. In 2010, employees with an Asian country of birth replaced employees from Europe as the highest proportion of people born overseas.

In the 2019 APS agency survey, 36 of 97 APS agencies reported having an action plan, strategy and/or policy in place to support culturally and linguistically diverse employees.

Future considerations

The APS has made significant progress on various diversity measures in recent years, and inclusion must now be an area of focus. The foundations of inclusion in the APS are clearly set out in the APS Values, Employment Principles and Code of Conduct in the PS Act. As a result, all APS employees have a part to play in fostering diversity and inclusion across the APS workforce.

The APS is at an important junction with three key diversity strategies expiring. Senior APS leaders continue to drive diversity and inclusion initiatives across the APS through the Secretaries Equality and Diversity Council to ensure the service reflects the diversity of the community it serves. The development of new strategies is an opportunity for the APS to define a strategic inclusion and diversity framework that supports and reflects the service of the future.

Beyond specific diversity measures, however, lies the matter of diversity of thought. To address current and emerging policy, regulatory and service delivery challenges, the APS needs to bring various perspectives to bear at all levels. In this context, diversity of thought:

  • helps guard against groupthink and expert overconfidence
  • encourages new insights
  • helps organisations identify the right employees who can best tackle their most pressing problems.86

Little data is available on the extent of diversity of thought across the APS. There are some encouraging indicators; for example, a more diverse workforce inevitably brings with it a greater diversity of perspective. In addition, 80 per cent of 2019 APS employee census respondents agreed their supervisor invites a range of views, including those different to their own.

At the same time, it is possible there is less diversity of thought among APS leaders. Officers in senior APS roles often come from similar backgrounds, have similar levels and types of education, and have had similar career paths. This has the potential to restrict the diversity of thought that is allowed to flourish at lower levels of organisations.

59 Institute of Public Administration Australia. (2019). Secretary series | Frances Adamson. Retrieved 8 October 2019 from

60 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2019). Diversity and inclusion. Retrieved 8 October 2019 from

61 Deloitte and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. (2012). Waiter, is that inclusion in my soup? A new recipe to improve business performance.

62 Inside Policy. (2019). An Evaluation of the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy Final Report.

63 Commonwealth of Australia. (2018). Are we there yet?: Progress of the Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy.

64 Diversity Council of Australia. (2019). Diversity & Inclusion Explained. Retrieved 8 October 2019 from

65 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2019). Recommendation on Public Service Leadership and Capability (adopted 17 January 2019).

66 Diversity Council of Australia. Inclusion@Work Index 2017–2018. Retrieved from https

67 Commonwealth of Australia. (2015). Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy 2015–18.

68 Inside Policy. (2019). An Evaluation of the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy Final Report.

69Commonwealth of Australia, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. (2019). Secretaries Equality and Diversity Council. Communique No 11. July 2019.

70 Commonwealth of Australia, Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017). 2016 Census shows growing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population [media release].

71 Reconciliation Australia. (2019). What is a RAP? Retrieved 8 October 2019 from

72 Language from the Western Islands of the Torres Strait: Kaymel Gasaman—‘sit down together’, ‘look back’ together, ‘understand the present’ together and ‘formulate our future’ together.

73 Commonwealth of Australia. (2016). Balancing the Future: The Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy 2016–19.

74 Commonwealth of Australia. (2018). Are we there yet? Progress of the Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy.

75 Winner of the 2017 APS Gender Equality Award.

76 Commonwealth of Australia, Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017). Census of Population and Housing: Reflecting Australia—Stories from the Census, 2016.

77 Commonwealth of Australia. (2016). Balancing the Future: The Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy 2016–19.

78 Commonwealth of Australia. (2016). Balancing the Future: The Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy 2016–19, 4.

79 Australian Public Service Commission. (2019). As One: Making it Happen, APS Disability Employment Strategy 2016–19.

80 Fletcher, P. Liberal Party. (2019). Morrison Government’s Plan to Support People with Disability. [media release]. Retrieved from

81 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2019). People with disability in Australia: in brief. [media release]. Retrieved from ple-have-disability

82 Australian Network on Disability. (2016). Sharing and Monitoring Disability Information in your Workforce: A Guide for Employers. Retrieved from information-967.html

83 Such as: Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2015). General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia, 2014. Retrieved from and Australian Human Rights Commission. (2015). Face the facts: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People. Retrieved 9 October 2019 from

84 Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2018). Census of Population and Housing: Topic Directions, 2021: Other Topics.

85 Commonwealth of Australia, Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017). Cultural Diversity in Australia: 2016 Census Data Summary.

86 Diaz-Uda, A., Medina, C. and Schill, B. Deloitte University Press. (2013). Diversity’s new frontier: Diversity of thought and the future of the workplace. Deloitte Insights. Retrieved from