Treasury will find diversity target hard to meet

Treasury Secretary Dr Martin Parkinson gave a speech in Canberra today setting out Treasury’s agenda to increase the diversity in its ranks, which is an admirable goal given line agencies joke they can tell Treasury officers by their dark suits and earnest looks. Dr Parkinson has set a goal of having 35 per cent female representation among Treasury Senior Executive Service (SES) officers by 2016. Currently 23 per cent of Treasury SES officers are women, compared with 37 per cent across the public service.

Treasury will find it hard to meet its aspiration, owing to its workaholic culture that makes it very difficult for women raising children to combine parental responsibilities with an SES position in the Department. In contemporary Australia, while some men make a large contribution to sharing parental responsibilities, it’s clear that many men get off relatively easily and traditional gender roles persist.

Unfortunately, the Treasury workaholic culture is a product of the Department’s responsibilities and I doubt it will change any time in the future. Given its role as the central coordinating agency for the Budget process, its broad policy responsibilities and the high profile of its Minister, the Treasurer, Treasury officers often have to work extremely long hours – to get the briefs and speeches delivered on time and fully correct so the Treasurer isn’t exposed. I recall one female SES officer worked 35 hours straight to prepare the FuelWatch bill for Parliament, and that this incredible effort reminded at least one or two Treasury officers (not me thankfully) of similar feats of endurance. Of course, this example shows an SES position can be combined with parental responsibilities, but it must be extremely difficult and may be unappealing to many.

Given the intense demands of the job it will always be difficult for people in Treasury who work part-time or have significant interests outside work to perform in an SES role. While I wish Dr Parkinson luck in achieving his aspiration, I have my doubts whether it will be achieved given that the key barrier to change, Treasury’s workaholic culture, is a product of the Department’s responsibilities and is probably immovable.

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