Chapter FiveBuilding diversity and inclusion

Progress comes from focused efforts to meet targets

The public sector touches citizens’ lives at critical points and it must consistently strive to improve this interaction. A strong commitment to diversity and inclusion recognises that customer service, productivity and innovation are enhanced by different work and life experiences. This section examines the progress made towards maturity in key areas, using the flexibility provided by the GSE Act to move beyond the equal employment opportunity focus.

Work to improve the diversity of the public sector workforce reflects partial success, though further progress is required in some areas. Many entry-level public sector roles are filled by people from key demographics such as women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and those whose first language is not English. However, talented employees in these groups do not evenly progress to executive levels. There is evidence of improvement where granular agency targets are set and there is a coordinated push, although the rate of improvement will need to increase to meet leadership diversity targets.

Other employees, such as those with a disability, have an entirely different experience, with a consistent decline in workforce representation, lower engagement scores and higher reported rates of bullying than the sector average. This section identifies challenges to achieving targets in these areas, and shows where an inclusion-based approach has made a difference.

Attracting applications from senior women remains a challenge

While leadership has been transformed though executive reforms, the diversity of skills and experience among the cohort is still emerging, and the rate of progress across the sector is slow.

The Premier’s Priority of driving public sector diversity was introduced in 2015 with the aim of achieving the following goals by 2025:

  • increasing in the proportion of women in senior leadership to 50%
  • doubling the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in senior leadership roles from the baseline of 57 to 114.

Much work has been done towards these targets, and retention rates are strong in both demographics. However, the percentage of women in senior leadership grows by increments of 1–2% per year on average, and is now at 37%.

While women had higher success rates in winning employment at executive levels in 2017, they remained far less likely to apply than men, with a rate of one woman applying for every 2.8 men. This ratio deteriorates at each executive level. As a result, more men than women continue to be appointed to executive roles overall.

If agencies replicated this rate annually until 2025, the 50% goal may be unlikely to be reached. The approach taken in collaboration with the Premier’s Implementation Unit assists agencies to develop targeted strategies that, when combined with merit-based recruitment, can result in six out of every 10 senior leader hires being women, and the target achieved.

Figure 5.1 shows the possible scenarios between now and 2025. Scenario 1 shows what would happen if the sector continued on its 2017 trajectory of hiring approximately four women for every 10 leadership roles. Scenario 2 shows that if six out of 10 appointments for every executive role were female, the number of female senior leaders in 2025 would be 51.4% of the total. Scenario 3 shows what would happen if every cluster continued at the average recruitment rate of the past three years: 40.4% of senior leaders would be women (2015–17).

Figure 5.1: Different recruitment rates for senior female leaders compared with required target

Different recruitment rates for senior female leaders compared with required target

Click to view

  2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22 2022-23 2023-24 2024-25
Scenario 1 33.5% 33.9% 36.1% 37.4% 37.3% 37.2% 37.1% 37.0% 36.9% 36.8% 36.7% 36.6%
Scenario 2 33.5% 33.9% 36.1% 37.4% 39.9% 42.1% 44.0% 45.8% 47.5% 48.9% 50.2% 51.4%
Scenario 3 33.5% 33.9% 36.1% 37.4% 37.9% 38.3% 38.7% 39.1% 39.5% 39.9% 40.2% 40.4%
Target 50% 50% 50% 50% 50% 50% 50% 50% 50% 50% 50% 50% 50%

Source: NSW Workforce Profile; I work for NSW e-recruitment; PSC modelling

Most clusters appear to have a generous number of potential leaders in their pipeline. In the next phase, agencies may need to reconsider how they can encourage applications from this pool. This may involve sponsoring and promoting talented female employees, actively encouraging women to apply for roles, considering possible career pathways for women and identifying how organisational culture may need to be changed to provide support for these initiatives. Clusters with smaller internal pools will also need to extend this consideration beyond the sector.

Figure 5.2: Number of women in the leadership pipeline, number in senior leadership, and their percentage representation in overall senior leadership, by cluster, 2017

Number of women in the leadership pipeline, number in senior leadership, and their percentage representation in overall senior leadership, by cluster, 2017

Click to view

Cluster Women in pipeline Women in leadership Percentage of women in senior leadership
Education 10,526 722 53.0%
Family & Community Services 1,876 161 56.9%
Finance, Services & Innovation 724 120 39.7%
Health 15,073 699 39.9%
Industry 1,700 176 44.6%
Justice 2,462 297 23.8%
Planning & Environment 1,222 137 39.6%
Premier & Cabinet 370 103 51.0%
Transport 1,592 581 26.6%
Treasury 295 111 45.7%


Source: 2017 NSW Workforce Profile
Note: The ‘pipeline’ is defined as women currently in 9/10 and 11/12 and equivalent level roles; this includes a large number of teachers and nurses in the Education and Health clusters.

Some pockets of the public sector, such as the Public Service, have increased female representation, and several clusters have made real progress, as shown. The representation of women in the Public Service senior executive roles rose from 41% to 48% by the end of the GSE Act executive transition process. While not quite at parity, and notwithstanding the fact that the Public Service has historically displayed better gender parity in many roles, this shift is an example of the trajectory of increase possible across the sector.

Case study: Driving diversity improvements at Transport for NSW via three strategic priorities

Transport for NSW (TfNSW) has introduced a leadership-led diversity model with targets across three areas to drive progress towards achieving the Premier’s Priority for driving public sector diversity.

TfNSW designed programs to meet its strategic priorities of improving the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and women in leadership, and introducing flexible working (known as TfNSW’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Framework). All agencies in the Transport cluster adopted the same targets and guiding principles.

Data helped develop a portfolio of diversity solutions

One of the priority targets was to increase the number of women in senior leadership roles. Flexible working was identified as a key enabler for attracting and retaining women, including those in senior leadership roles. TfNSW began embedding flexible working by identifying some of the common barriers. This data showed that TfNSW leaders could benefit from challenging their perspectives on diversity and flexibility and shifting the way they responded to change. The TfNSW Conscious Inclusion Program was created in response.

This program helped TfNSW leaders understand and challenge their biases and reflect on ways these could affect their team culture and decision making on diversity and flexible work arrangements. The program included a facilitated, conscious inclusion session for TfNSW’s top 250 leaders. The executive team, which comprised the Secretary, deputy secretaries and chief executive officers were also coached in developing inclusive leadership capabilities, through one-on-one training sessions. This capability-building program provided rich data. The teams of TfNSW leaders assessed as demonstrating strong inclusive behaviours achieved 20% better performance and decision making results than the cluster average.

Other attraction, retention and leader-sponsored elements of the strategy included:

  • establishing clear performance targets and including these in the performance agreements of male and female senior leaders
  • monitoring the number of women applying for, being interviewed for and being hired for TfNSW leadership roles, and regularly communicating the progress to leaders
  • launching a ‘women in leadership’ employment awareness campaign
  • supporting women aspiring to senior leadership roles through events and programs such as TfNSW’s International Women’s Day Forum, regular Women of Transport networking events, and a connecting program that targets women in roles immediately below the senior leader level
  • initiatives to build a pipeline of talented female employees, including attracting talented female students to entry-level programs. Around 52.5% of TfNSW’s February 2017 intake of scholars, cadets and graduates were female.
The impact is shown in the rate of change

By March 2017, TfNSW had exceeded its target of 25.5% female leader representation, nine months ahead of schedule. This rate of representation improved significantly faster than the rate seen for the sector as a whole.

Figure 5.3: Representation of women in senior leadership roles, TfNSW and Government Sector average, 2014–17

  TfNSW (%) Sector average (%) TfNSW headcount  Sector headcount 
2014 20 33 326 2,520
2015 21 34 374 2,522
2016 22 36 377 2,795
2017 27 37 581 3,107

Source: 2017 NSW Workforce Profile

These initiatives are flowing through to employee perceptions of leadership support for women. TfNSW’s score has improved from the lowest in the sector in 2016 to align with the sector average in 2017.

Figure 5.4: Senior leader support for the career advancement of women, TfNSW and public sector average, 2016–17

  Transport (%) Sector (%)
  Male Female Male Female
2016 52 48 57 54
2017 63 56 63 57

Source: People Matter Employee Survey

The next phase of work will target interventions using data

TfNSW’s next phase will be to move from building awareness of the benefits of diversity and inclusion to changing its culture. Further analysis of its workforce data will guide targeted interventions. An example may be using recruitment progression information by gender to track progress from the initial application stage to the acceptance of offer. TfNSW will also establish a new employment target for women in leadership roles for 2017–18.

This data-driven approach will also enable pipeline planning and identify where incremental targets may be required. Merit-selection training will also be redesigned to further promote workforce diversity.

Aboriginal representation growth remains focused in a few key clusters

Steady progress has been made across almost all salary bands towards meeting the target of 1.8% representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in all salary bands by 2021.1 This strategy provides focus in shifting the distribution from junior roles into more senior roles, and a connection to the pipeline to support achievement of the Premier’s Priority for senior leaders.

Figure 5.5 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation across all pay grades, by cluster, 2017 (%)

Salary Education (%) Family & Community Services (%) Finance, Services & Innovation (%) Health (%) Industry (%) Justice (%) Planning & Environment (%) Premier & Cabinet (%) Transport (%) Treasury (%) External to Government Sector (%) Total (%)
$8,000 to $60,153 4.9 3.9 1.0 4.1 2.3 2.6 8.2 4.4 1.4 0.0 7.8 4.0
$60,154 to $67,247 2.2 3.9 1.8 2.4 2.0 5.0 6.1 2.6 1.8 6.3 0.0 2.9
$67,248 to $79,383 2.9 4.9 3.3 2.6 2.6 3.9 4.4 6.3 1.3 3.3 1.1 3.0
$79,384 to $91,214 2.8 4.8 3.7 0.8 0.9 2.9 2.5 0.6 1.4 0.8 0.0 1.7
$91,215 to $102,837 1.8 6.4 3.7 1.7 1.2 2.3 2.0 0.9 1.0 0.9 1.1 2.0
$102,838 to $118,942 2.2 4.6 2.5 0.9 1.6 1.6 1.5 3.1 1.2 0.4 0.0 1.6
$118,943 to $153,914 2.7 2.5 3.9 0.9 1.2 1.3 1.5 0.7 0.5 0.4 0.0 1.5

Scroll across to view all clusters.

  • Well above 1.8%

  • 1.8% or above

Source: 2017 NSW Workforce Profile

However, closer analysis shows that these employees are still focused in a small number of clusters, and predominantly in front-line roles. Typically, front-line areas have a much smaller proportion of senior leaders compared with the total workforce, making it harder to step up from providing a service to leading one. Solutions that include innovative approaches to role locations and cross-sector mobility will assist, rather than rely on, a traditionally siloed vocational path to overcome the unevenly distributed pipeline.

Figure 5.6 Number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees in front line roles, 2017

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in front-line roles Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in other roles
7, 313 858

Source: 2017 NSW Workforce Profile
Note: ‘Front-line role’ is defined as a role in which the employee spends 70% or more of their time providing services to members of the public. Agencies’ interpretations of this definition may differ.

While median tenure is consistently improving for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees, they remain lower than the sector average. This has typically been explained by the younger median age profile of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees, given all 15 24 age groups exit the sector at higher rates. However, further analysis shows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees aged between 15 and 24 also exit the sector at a rate 5.5 percentage points higher than that of their non Aboriginal peers.

Figure 5.7: Median tenure for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees compared to all public sector employees, 2012–17

Year Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander median tenure (yrs) NSW public sector median tenure (yrs)
2012 6.8 8.5
2013 7.0 8.9
2014 7.1 8.9
2015 7.1 9.0
2016 7.3 9.3
2017 7.3 9.3

Source: 2017 NSW Workforce Profile

Figure 5.8: Age-adjusted sector exit rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees compared to all public sector employees, 2017

Age (yrs) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander exit rate (%) NSW public sector exit rate (%)
15 to 24 15.6 10.1
25 to 34 8.5 8.7
35 to 44 8.9 7.8
45 to 54 7.1 6.4
55 to 64 7.9 9.9
65 plus 17.0 20.1

Source: 2017 NSW Workforce Profile

The higher exit rates from the sector in key age groups for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees will constrain the capacity to meet both the 1.8% aspirational representation goal, as well as the Premier’s Priority leadership target of doubling the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders across the Government Sector by 2025 to 114.

Leadership representation grows steadily

The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander senior leaders increased to 71 in 2017. However, because overall numbers are small, achieving the target is far from certain. Based on the four-year growth average to date, the 2025 target will not be achieved even if the sector maintains the current retention rate of 94%, which is higher than the sector average for executive roles. This means work to increase average tenure and decrease the exit rate of potential future leaders may be worthwhile.

Figure 5.9: Number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees in pipeline and in senior leadership, 2017

Number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees in pipeline and in senior leadership, 2017

Click to view

  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in pipeline Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in leadership
Education 346 30
Family & Community Services 101 7
Finance, Services & Innovation 51 2
Health 188 6
Industry 47 1
Justice 92 13
Planning & Environment 53 0
Premier & Cabinet 11 3
Transport 43 8
Treasury 2 1


Source: 2017 NSW Workforce Profile
Note: The pipeline is defined as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people currently in 9/10 and 11/12 and equivalent level roles.

The total pipeline of potential future Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders available across the sector comprises 22 times more employees than the number required to fill target gaps. However, most Aboriginal employees are in regional areas (63.2% in 2017), yet only a minority of overall senior leadership roles are located outside Sydney (20.1% in 2017). Maintaining a steady trajectory of net growth therefore will require the use of retention strategies at earlier stages. Broadening the range of roles and agencies, re-thinking where these roles could be located, and building a supportive and culturally competent workforce to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people progress to senior executive roles can be considered.

Agencies can also build on the success of the Aboriginal Career and Leadership Development Program by nominating talented Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees to the Leadership Academy. As noted in last year’s report, 54% of participants in the Aboriginal Career and Leadership Development Program had gained career opportunities, including promotion.

Arresting the decline in disability representation will require significant effort

A work program to improve the representation of employees sharing their disability status will shortly commence, with progress measured against a target for levels of representation, and against measurable improvements in the experience of people with disability in the sector. Achieving these goals will require a concerted effort to understand why the representation of employees with a disability has declined, and how best to improve it.

Disability representation has declined for 10 years

The proportion of employees reporting a disability in the NSW public sector continues to decline, as it did across most public sector jurisdictions in 2016–17. In NSW, the largest percentage of employees with disability are leaving the sector at the highest salary bands, at a rate 5.5 percentage points higher than the sector average for all other employees. While there is a correlation between age and disability that may inform this disparity, employees reporting a disability also have lower starting rates at 1.5% of all new employees across the sector, and have higher agency separation and sector exit rates overall, resulting in an decade-long trend in declining representation.

Figure 5.10: Key statistics for employees with disability compared with sector averages, 2017


Employees reporting a disability (%)

NSW public sector (%)

Commencement rates 



Agency separation rates 



Sector exit rates 



Median tenure (years)



Source: 2017 NSW Workforce Profile
Note: Commencement is calculated as the percentage of new starters sharing disability status divided by the percentage of current employees sharing disability status.

Employee Survey numbers echo the decline in representation seen in the workforce census

People with disability, like other groups, may be hesitant to share their disability status when joining an organisation. However, the Employee Survey has also seen a decline in employees sharing their disability status, with a sharp drop between 2014 and 2016. In 2017, the number of employees who preferred not to reveal their disability status exceeded the number sharing it.

Figure 5.11: Employee Survey disability disclosure rates at sector level, 2014-17

  2014 (%) 2016 (%) 2017 (%)
Employee answered 'Yes' to having a disability 6.1 3.4 3.1
Employee answered 'No' to having a disability 90.6 92.9 92.7
Prefer not to say 3.4 3.7 4.2

Source: People Matter Employee Survey

The PSC partnered with the University of Sydney and the Department of Family and Community Services to consider the types of survey questions used to ask employees to identify their disability and, where relevant, their workplace adjustment. Nearly 600 NSW public sector employees provided their feedback on alternative questions. This feedback indicated that questions requesting information on disability may benefit from wording that uses a more functional approach, asking about everyday difficulties related to a long-term health condition or impairment rather than relying on employees to self-identify. Self-identification can be affected by a range of issues, such as identity and personal circumstances, whether the disability is a barrier to performance, or being unaware that a condition is classified as disability.

Where inclusion is made a priority, representation and engagement improve

Last year’s report noted that agencies self-assessing their combination of strategic and transactional disability employment practices as mature (including proactively making their workplaces accessible and having policies and procedures to enable adjustments), also tended to have a higher representation of employees reporting a disability.

While employees who shared their disability status, or who preferred not to say, reported lower engagement across all questions in the Employee Survey, closer analysis indicates the success of a workplace adjustment requested by an employee with disability has a positive impact. Employees sharing their disability status and who are happy with their workplace adjustment have engagement scores 4% higher than the sector average. Those unhappy with their workplace adjustment have engagement scores approximately 18 percentage points lower than the sector.

Figure 5.12 Engagement scores for successful and unsuccessful adjustments for employees with a disability

  Engagement Index (%)
Do you have a disability? Yes 60
No 65
Prefer not to say 52
If adjustments were made to any aspect of your work situation to accommodate your needs, were the adjustments successful? Yes 69
No 47
Prefer not to say 56

Source: People Matter Employee Survey

Many of the sector’s diversity and inclusion initiatives are underpinned by a commitment to improving services. Agencies report that having a workforce that reflects its community leads to better policies, service design and delivery. Disability targets have been implemented before2 but are not an end-to-end solution. The 2017 data for employees with disability shows that before the new target can be realised, there is much work to be done to proactively build inclusive workplaces that welcome these employees. The sector will need to re-calibrate its systems and capability towards proactive inclusion to achieve it.


1 NSW Public Service Commission, NSW Public Sector Aboriginal Employment Strategy 2014–2017.
2 The previous strategy to increase the employment of people with disability in the NSW public sector, EmployABILITY, ended in 2013. EmployABILITY set
an incremental target for the sector to increase the representation of people with disability requiring workplace adjustment to 1.5% by 2013. Based on 2013
data, while 3.46% of the sector’s employees identified as having a disability, only 0.91% identified as having a disability that required a work adjustment.