Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Treasury has a problem with women?

Yes. It acknowledges it, and it's making plans
Treasury building 1970s Canberra. National Archives, Creative Commons
Treasury has a problem with women.

Australia’s number one economic department believes it doesn’t value them enough as workers, in part because it doesn’t properly value the skills they have to offer.

The department has an institutional bias toward valuing “conceptual and analytic skills over coordination and people skills,” its boss said yesterday. And it makes “unconscious assumptions about the capacity and credibility of people with commitments”.

Martin Parkinson, head of Treasury since he replaced Ken Henry early last year, is determined to change things. He told a gathering of senior public service executives that although at least half of Treasury staff were women none were near the top of the tree.

He had kept hoping things would gradually change as more new women joined the department, but it “wasn’t happening”.

“We had come up with some ad-hoc responses - encouraging part-time work, facilitating access to childcare and so on.” But they appeared not to have addressed more fundamental problems relating to the department’s culture.

“What the consultations revealed was that some aspects of our culture were the
source of our strength, while other aspects of the same culture were presenting barriers to women’s progress. In particular, there were some unrecognised biases at play.. These included some institutional biases toward a homogenous leadership style, biases toward conceptual and analytic skills over coordination and people skills,” Dr Parkinson said.

Treasury has adopted a long-term target of making 40 per cent of its senior executive service women with a milestone of 35 per cent by 2016. It was “not a quota, but a sincere and realistic attempt to bring about long-term change in the culture”.

Dr Parkinson acknowledged that men with family responsibilities and strengths in people skills skills would also benefit...

He said among the problems facing Australia were the fragmentation of the media associated with the rise of narrowcasting, or “egocasting” where consumers increasingly heard only views that reinforced their own.

There was “a sense of dissatisfaction in the community, which seems incommensurate with what the figures say about our comparative economic and social performance and outlook”.

“Intriguingly, some Australians sound as though they live in Greece,” Dr Parkinson said.

In today's Sydney Morning Herald

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