Spotlight on the government and defence industry
Diversity is a hot topic among organisations and the public sector is one industry leading the charge.

With employees placing greater value on inclusive companies, the sector is in a fine position to attract the best talent and the latest data from SEEK Employment Trends shows that its job ads are on the rise.

SEEK jobs ads for the government and defence industry were out in front in August 2016 for the second month in a row. They increased by 59% year-on-year and the average advertised salary was $90,372. Job ads for roles in policy, planning and regulations increased by 45% year-on-year in the three months from June to August 2016, while state government roles grew by 44% over the same period and federal government roles were up by 40%.

Diversity on the agenda

The business case for diversity has become widely recognised. Recent research from McKinsey & Company finds that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.

“Government has been focusing on diversity in the workplace for years but now they are able to deliver more on their quota in terms of the number of indigenous workers or the number of women at executive levels,” says Christine Liew, Client Solutions Manager with recruitment firm Adecco Group.

One government department with a firm focus on diversity and inclusion is Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning (DELWP). Gender equity has been a particular focus for the department and Virginia Matthews, Gender Equity Project Manager People and Culture at DELWP, explains that balance is essential to its recruitment process.We’re very clear with our executive search providers that we expect balanced long and shortlists to come through,” she says.

DELWP has a broad portfolio. “We’ve got policy people, corporate services and specialised groups – such as a large contingent of workers who focus on forest and fire management,” explains Matthews. “We have people working in laboratories and people working in remote parts of Victorian forests. It’s a very diverse organisation.”

Matthews explains that DELWP’s push for gender equity comes from the top. “Our Secretary, Adam Fennessy, set a 50:50 gender target for his executive group and this was achieved in July this year,” she says. “Because we have a leader who is so committed, the nature of the conversations I am having are so much easier than those I have had in other organisations when trying to get things moving. The leadership piece is so important.”

Matthews adds that DELWP has ‘if not, why not’ conversations about gender equity. “We put an action plan in place to make sure that our systems support our goals for gender equity,” she says. “This takes into consideration things like recruitment, how we manage promotions and how we manage leave.”

DELWP’s commitment to inclusion goes beyond gender equality. It has established a broader diversity and inclusion council and all roles at the department became flexible in March last year. “There was some concern around this at first and managers thought the flood gates would open and everyone would want to work part-time,” says Matthews. “A year-and-a-half on, that hasn’t happened but people are well connected to the idea of flexibility.”

An eye on innovation

Employers within the industry are also placing a greater value on diversity of experience. Liew explains that rather than looking for public sector stalwarts, employers are looking to recruit the brightest minds from a range of backgrounds.

“There are policy roles where people need to be subject matter experts because they are writing policies around things such as family violence or child protection,” she says. “However, there are other government departments that are looking for policy officers who are unbiased toward a subject – they just need to show that they have a strong ability to read and interpret legislation. For example, when writing policies about gaming, you can’t have someone who is too biased towards the social outcomes and does not think about the economic outcomes. There needs to be a balanced view.”

Matthews notes that government aims to attract the best talent, just like the private sector. “At DELWP, we look for candidates who can demonstrate innovative thinking,” she says. “A connection to community is also important, whether that’s through previous experience or a capability to connect. We also look at how candidates can be inclusive of others.”

As the public sector continues its push for innovative and inclusive workplace culture, its chances of attracting the best talent are looking up. “There are some amazing roles in government and I think people who don’t work in the sector don’t realise it,” says Liew. “There are also some amazing people in government who are making a real difference.”