Australian Public Service tackles unconscious bias and gender inequality

| 29 Nov 2017

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Managers in the Australian Public Service (APS) are committed to tackling gender inequality and unconscious bias in employment processes, UNSW Canberra academics have found.

A report, Embedding Gender Equality in the Australian Public Service: Changing practices, changing cultures, by Dr. Sue Williamson and Dr. Meraiah Foley, will be launched tonight as part of UNSW Canberra’s Public Service Research Group (PSRG) Paper Series.

Following the 2016 release of the Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy, the authors interviewed around 250 APS employees and managers to identify the key barriers and enablers to achieving gender equality.

Dr. Williamson and Dr. Foley found that managers were supportive of the strategy, which had sparked a wider institutional conversation about the causes of gender inequality.

“It enabled managers to talk about the ways they could progress gender equality within their teams and organisations,” Dr. Williamson said. “We heard about many great initiatives being implemented, from job-sharing between employees of different levels, to SES working flexibly.”

The APS Gender Equality Strategy directs agencies to raise awareness about the operation of unconscious biases, and to mitigate the effects of biases in employment processes. Dr. Foley says managers showed a high level of awareness around the existence and operation of unconscious bias, but more work needs to be done.

“Unconscious bias training has been very effective at giving people a language to talk about the negative effects of stereotyping,” Dr. Foley said. “Many of the people we interviewed were acutely aware of the potential for unconscious bias to influence employment decisions, and were very motivated to prevent that.”

“However, the research shows that just being aware of unconscious bias is not enough to prevent it from affecting our decisions. Agencies need to monitor the outcomes of bias training or other awareness measures to determine whether it is effective over the longer term.”

The study, which examined three APS agencies, also found: workplace flexibility is supported and valued, agencies are modelling equality from the top down, and grassroots networks promoting gender equality within agencies are being established.

“However, to truly embed gender equality, it is important that organisations focus not only on parity in leadership, but also on creating a gender equitable culture, through sharing stories, changing behaviours, and having visible role models,” Dr. Williamson said.

The PSRG Paper Series will be launched at the National Portrait Gallery tonight, Wednesday November 29 at 5.30pm.



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