5 Fostering diversity and inclusion

Inclusion unlocks the benefits of diversity

Diversity refers to the seen and unseen characteristics that make every one of us different. A diverse NSW public sector workforce is one that reflects the depth and breadth of differences between people who live in NSW.

Inclusion, a related concept, is the act of enabling genuine participation and contribution, regardless of seen and unseen differences. Acts that facilitate inclusion help employees to feel safe to be themselves to work. Diversity and inclusion go hand in hand: the benefits of diversity are unlocked by ensuring that employees feel accepted, valued and listened to.

The PSC recently asked NSW public sector employees what diversity and inclusion means in the NSW public sector and why it’s important12. A strong story emerged with the following key themes:

  • Diversity and inclusion are personal and can be challenging at times.
  • Everyone in the workforce can benefit from greater diversity and inclusion.
  • Progress will require genuine support, starting from the top.
  • Employees deliver greater benefits for the people of NSW when everyone is able to contribute.
  • Everyone has a role to play in building a diverse and inclusive workplace.

When workforce diversity and inclusion are valued there are many benefits. Among them are improved performance and productivity, more innovative problem solving, greater employee attraction and retention, and better customer service. In a recent analysis, the PSC found that agencies with highly inclusive workplaces (as measured through questions in the People Matter survey) had significantly lower rates of paid unscheduled absence compared to agencies with less inclusive workplaces.

On a positive note, scores on all inclusion-related questions in the People Matter survey improved from 2017 to 2018 (see Table 5.1). Of concern, however, is that about a quarter of employees do not think their agency values and respects individual differences. It is important to consider that inclusion does not happen automatically. Positive actions, such as making workplaces physically accessible and fostering psychological safety, are required to create spaces in which everyone can freely participate and contribute.

Table 5.1 Employee perceptions of workplace inclusion, 2018 vs 2017

Question 2018 (% positive) Change from 2017 (pp)
I am provided with the support I need to do my best at work 64.6 1.3
My manager listens to what I have to say 75.6 1.1
My manager encourages and values employee input 72.1 1.5
Senior managers in my organisation support the career advancement of women 60.3 2.1
My organisation respects individual differences (e.g. cultures, working styles, backgrounds, ideas) 75.6 1.4
Personal background is not a barrier to success in my organisation 75.1 1.1
I am able to speak up and share a different view to my colleagues and manager 67.1 0.7

Source: People Matter Employee Survey (2017, 2018)

To be successful, the sector’s approach to diversity and inclusion needs an active commitment and ongoing conversation. It will also require recognising people’s unique identities and experiences. There is still much more work to be done to ensure that the sector’s workforce reflects the diversity of the communities it serves. Initiatives aimed at increasing the participation of under-represented groups, including women (in senior leadership roles), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and people with disability, will continue to be the focus of attention.

Progress towards equal representation of women in senior leadership needs acceleration

The Premier’s Priority of increasing workforce diversity was introduced in 2015 with the aim of achieving the following goals by 2025 for the government sector:

  • increasing the representation of women in senior leadership to 50%
  • doubling the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in senior leadership roles from a baseline of 57 (in 2014) to 114.

Women made up 64.9% of the non-casual public sector workforce and 65.8% of the non-casual government sector workforce in 2018. These percentages were similar in 2014, when the representation of women in the government sector’s senior leadership cohort was only 33.4%. Representation reached 38.7% in 2018, an increase of 1.3 percentage points on the previous year. Significant efforts have been put in place to accelerate progress towards the 50% target, but the sector is at risk of not achieving it.

The PSC has used Workforce Profile data to forecast the likely level of representation of women in senior leadership in 2025 (see Figure 5.1). If the sector continues with its current hiring rate of roughly four female senior leader hires for every 10 senior leader hires in total (Scenario 1), the representation of women in senior leadership in 2025 will be 40.9%, far short of the 50% target. Even if the high-performing clusters continue with their current hiring rates and all other clusters immediately achieve a hiring rate of five out of 10 (Scenario 2), the level of representation will only reach 46.1%. To hit the 50% target by 2025, the government sector needs to reach and sustain a hiring rate of six out of 10 until the 2025 targeted deadline (Scenario 3).


Source: Workforce Profile (2014–2018)

The sector constantly looks for new ways to reach the target. While individual clusters are making progress toward increasing the representation of women in senior leadership (see Figure 5.2), the collective effort of the sector is required to reach the 50% target by 2025. The leadership of the Secretaries Board is pivotal to making this happen. The Secretaries Board is deeply committed to driving change and to keeping each secretary accountable by regularly reporting and sharing their cluster’s progress. For example, to create a consistent, foundational level of practice across the sector, the following immediate initiatives have been implemented to help achieve the target:

  • including at least one woman on all executive recruitment shortlists, and having a stretch target of 50% women on all shortlists
  • including diversity and inclusion KPIs in senior executive performance plans
  • implementing flexible working practices across the sector.

These initiatives appear to be working. For instance, a 2017 analysis of the gender ratio of applicants for senior roles showed there were 2.8 male applicants for every female applicant. This decreased to 2.1 males for every female in 2018. Given evidence that women are more likely to be successful than men when applying for senior roles, there is growing confidence that the sector can accelerate its progress toward the 50% target. Further, the percentage of female Band 2 senior executives exceeded the percentage of female Band 1 senior executives for the first time. This suggests women are progressing through the senior leadership ranks, creating momentum and role models for others to follow, and demonstrating a career path to the most senior levels of leadership.

To create sustainable change, longer-term initiatives have also been identified by the Secretaries Board. These initiatives include piloting career sponsorship programs and identifying recruitment (sourcing and selection) strategies to make executive roles more attractive to women. The sector also must find effective ways to build the leadership pipeline through mobility opportunities to increase potential leaders’ experience and prepare them for leadership roles.


Source: Workforce Profile (2018)

Note: The leadership pipeline comprises employees at grades 9/10 and 11/12 (and equivalent). For Education and Health, the pipeline includes many teachers and nurses, respectively.

The Department of Premier and Cabinet’s Behavioural Insights Unit (BIU) investigated the barriers to and enablers for women entering senior leadership. The unit analysed more than 1 million job applications, conducted in-depth interviews with 65 male and female employees in pipeline and senior leader roles, and surveyed 500 applicants for roles in the public sector.

The research showed that women continue to experience and report more barriers to their career progression compared to men. Barriers included the time required to apply for roles, gender-based discrimination, access to flexible work and the self-perception of not having the right skills and experience for senior roles. The research findings also point to strategies to remove barriers. Improving feedback on job applications, managers’ support and encouragement to take up flexible work, and increasing the confidence of women in applying for senior roles were identified as key enablers to increase the representation of women in senior roles. The BIU is partnering with the PSC and other agencies to test and improve strategies to increase the representation of women in senior roles using these insights.

Boosting the number of female leaders at the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation

Since 2015, the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation (DFSI) has made steady progress against the Premier’s Priority for increasing the number of women in senior leadership. The agency’s Executive Board has increased its female representation from none to 50%, while the number of women in all senior executive bands has also increased.

To achieve these improvements DFSI built diversity and inclusion initiatives into all aspects of the employee life cycle. Here are some examples:

  • All senior executive appointments are confirmed by the Secretary, who takes an active interest and involvement in the quality and diversity of the cohort.
  • The Executive Board has the benefit of statistics on the gender balance when considering executive appointments.
  • A comprehensive talent management process for executive-level and Grade 11/12 employees considers development opportunities for female leaders in the talent pipeline, and how to retain them.
  • An executive mobility program encourages employees to drive their own careers with the help of information about development opportunities across the agency. Fifty per cent of the executives who moved jobs during an initial mobility round were female leaders.
  • Women account for 50% of participants in leadership development programs at all levels of the talent pipeline. One such program involves mentoring and coaching opportunities with other female senior executives.
  • A Women’s Employee Resource Group increases awareness and understanding of the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce.
  • A Diversity Advisory Council advises the executive, supports initiatives to encourage a diverse workforce and an inclusive work culture, and reviews progress towards diversity targets.

DFSI is building on these initiatives by developing mentoring and succession planning programs, as well as a new leadership development program for talent in the pipeline.

The sector is a leader in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment

The sector’s Aboriginal Employment Strategy 2014–17 came to term in December 2017. The aims of the strategy were to attract, retain and support the development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees while improving Aboriginal cultural competency in workplaces across the sector. The strategy also set an aspirational target of 1.8% representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in all grades (see Table 5.2).13 A PSC evaluation showed that the sector is on track to meet the target by 2022. The evaluation also showed that the sector is doing well in many areas of the strategy.

Table 5.2 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation by grade (non-executive) and cluster

Salary range Education (%) Family & Community Services (%) Finance, Services & Innovation (%) Health (%) Industry (%) Justice (%) Planning & Environment (%) Premier & Cabinet (%) Transport (%) Treasury (%) External to government sector (%) Public sector (%)
General Scale 5.1 4.2 1.6 4.4 1.7 2.4 8.7 16.7 1.8 0.0 1.7 4.3
Grade 1/2 2.4 4.1 1.2 2.2 1.9 4.8 6.7 3.6 2.7 0.0 2.9 2.9
Grade 3/4 3.0 5.5 2.6 2.8 2.7 4.4 4.4 5.4 1.6 4.7 2.2 3.3
Grade 5/6 2.8 6.1 2.4 0.8 1.2 3.1 2.9 1.5 1.6 0.0 0.0 1.8
Grade 7/8 2.0 7.7 1.4 1.6 1.6 2.7 1.9 0.8 1.8 1.2 1.1 2.1
Grade 9/10 2.3 5.9 1.0 0.9 2.1 1.4 1.6 2.2 1.5 0.4 0.0 1.6
Grade 11/12 2.8 2.5 0.9 1.0 0.7 1.8 1.4 0.3 0.8 0.3 0.0 1.5

Source: Workforce Profile (2018)
Note: Shading indicates where the level of representation is equal to or greater than the 1.8% aspirational target.

The NSW Government is leading this space with practices such as setting ambitious targets at all levels, developing targeted Aboriginal employment initiatives and using a data-driven approach to monitor and evaluate performance.14 The Aboriginal Career Leadership Development Program and the Aboriginal Employment Development Program are leading practices that contribute to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation.15

Progress towards the Premier’s Priority target of having 114 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander senior leaders by 2025 is also strong. In 2018, 87 senior leaders in the government sector were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage, an increase of 30 from the 2014 baseline. If the sector continues to hire and promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees into senior leadership roles at the current rate, the sector will likely hit the target earlier than expected (see Figure 5.3).


Source: Workforce Profile (2014–2018)

Not surprisingly, there is a significant relationship between the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in a cluster’s leadership pipeline and those in the senior leadership cohort (see Figure 5.4). To keep up momentum, agencies need to continue to grow the capability of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees and consider opportunities for mobility within the sector to take advantage of stronger pipelines in other agencies.


Source: Workforce Profile (2018)

Agencies commented to the PSC on the value of the recently completed Aboriginal employment strategy and signalled the importance of creating a new strategy. The new strategy, to be released in 2019, will recognise the sector’s achievements in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment while drawing attention to the need to improve the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees and retain their talent in the sector.

Issues with retention are reflected in the shorter agency tenure of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees compared to the broader sector (see Table 5.3), and a higher exit rate compared to the broader sector in all age brackets below 55 and overall (see Table 5.4). The sector must also reduce the bullying experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees to ensure their experiences in the sector are positive and productive.16

Table 5.3 Median agency tenure for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees and the public sector, 2014–2018

Year Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees (years) Public sector (years)
2014 7.1 8.9
2015 7.1 9.0
2016 7.3 9.3
2017 7.3 9.3
2018 7.4 9.0

Source: Workforce Profile (2014–2018)

Table 5.4 Exit rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees and the public sector by age over 2018

Age band Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees (%) Public sector (%)
15 to 24 13.5 9.1
25 to 34 8.7 7.3
35 to 44 7.2 6.4
45 to 54 7.4 5.7
55 to 64 9.8 10.1
65 plus 15.5 20.5
Total 8.7 7.9

Source: Workforce Profile (2018)

Apprenticeship program makes a difference for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) created the Southern Region apprenticeship program to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation in its workforce. The region covers 7% of NSW, encompassing the Illawarra, Shoalhaven, South Coast and Southern Highlands. It has relatively high unemployment17 and the level of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation was well below the target in RMS’s 2020 Diversity and Inclusion Plan.

Before the apprenticeship program was created, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples made up just 1.3% of the Southern Region workforce. There were also no targeted employment strategies or programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The apprenticeship program, which is also offered to non-Aboriginal youth, offers the opportunity to gain on-the-job training and experience in a professional environment.

The Maintenance Delivery team used a holistic approach to implementation, including:

  • collaborating within the leadership team during the planning stage, particularly when facing pushback
  • overhauling the recruitment and engagement strategy, which included changing role descriptions used for advertising to target unconscious bias, and having Aboriginal representation on recruitment panels
  • implementing excellent onboarding and staff development practices from the outset. These included a mentoring program for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal apprentices that connected them to the leadership team to achieve two-way learning
  • promoting deep-seated cultural change through both a management commitment to make Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff engagement a priority and the mentoring program.

The program has achieved a 100% retention rate to date and doubled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation in the RMS Southern Region workforce. It has been so successful that a similar program has been developed for female apprentices.

Disability representation continues its downward trajectory

The downward trend in representation of people with disability within the sector continued from 2017 to 2018 to a low of 2.5%.18 In contrast to the broader sector, people with disability had a higher exit rate than entry rate, driving representation down (see Table 5.5). The underlying drivers of this difference will need to be identified and addressed if the government sector is to reach the new target set for representation of people with disability. In 2017, the NSW Government announced a target to increase the representation of people with disability to 5.6% by 2027 – more than double the current figure. The NSW Department of Family and Community Services and the PSC are working together, and in collaboration with the sector, to improve employment outcomes for people with disability across the sector.

Table 5.5 Movement rates for employees with disability and the public sector over 2018

Commencement rate (%) Exit rate (%)
Employees with disability 5.9 10.2
Public sector 8.9 7.9

Source: Workforce Profile (2018)

As in previous years, this year the percentage of people reporting disability was higher among respondents to the People Matter survey than among those who contributed to the Workforce Profile (see Table 5.6). This is likely because employees complete the survey in real time, whereas the data for the Workforce Profile comes from HR systems and may not be updated by employees to reflect changes in their disability status over time or as people move roles within the sector. Also noteworthy is that the People Matter survey recorded an increase in the number of people reporting disability compared with 2017, and the number of survey respondents who preferred not to reveal their disability status decreased 0.5 percentage points from 2017 to 2018. These changes may suggest that employees are starting to feel that their workplaces are becoming more trustworthy and inclusive of people with different needs.

Table 5.6 Disability statistics from the People Matter survey, 2016–2018

Group 2016 2017 2018
Respondent answered ‘yes’ to having a disability (%) 3.4 3.1 3.7
Respondent answered ‘no’ to having a disability (%) 92.9 92.7 92.7
Respondent answered ‘prefer not to say’ (%) 3.7 4.2 3.6

Source: People Matter Employee Survey (2016–2018)

Disappearing data

The Workforce Profile collection is the key source for all diversity statistics, including disability representation. Unlike the People Matter survey, the Workforce Profile collection is a census of all employees working in the public sector. However, it is suspected that at least some of the decline in disability representation is due to disappearing data.

The PSC has found that diversity data that appears in one year’s collection may be missing from the subsequent year for various reasons, including the following:

  • When an employee moves from one agency to another, their diversity data does not automatically follow them.
  • When an employee’s status changes, such as in relation to disability, it is not always easy to update their diversity data.
  • When agencies update or change their HR systems, the diversity data is not always transferred from the old system to the new.

If the sector wants to set, track and achieve diversity and inclusion targets, or other outcomes, it needs accurate and timely data. Agencies need to ensure that employees update their data at least annually and take steps to prevent data loss. The PSC is working with agencies to improve this situation and consider how technology can best support continuity of data and what methods can be employed to encourage employees to maintain current and accurate information.


12 More details of this analysis, as well as a discussion of the broader benefits of diverse and inclusive workplaces, can be found in Diversity and inclusion in the NSW Public Sector: A conversation.
13 The Premier’s Priority target of having 114 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander senior leaders by 2025 applies to executive pay bands and was announced after the Aboriginal Employment Strategy’s 1.8% aspirational target was introduced.
14 PSC (2018)
15 The Aboriginal Career Leadership Development Program facilitates career and leadership development for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander NSW public sector employees who aspire to leadership roles. The Aboriginal Employment Development Program is an entry point for Aboriginal people wishing to pursue a career with the NSW Government, and aims to attract new talent to the sector. It is a whole-of-sector initiative and available to all NSW public sector agencies who would like to consider Aboriginal candidates for Clerk Grade 3/4 vacancies.
16 Almost one in four experiences bullying according the 2018 People Matter Survey, an increase of 2.3 percentage points on 2017.
17 REMPLAN (2018)
18 The figure for the government sector is the same as for the public sector.