The case for filling public service leadership posts with women – then let’s look at the All Blacks

More than 50% of chief executives in public service departments for the first time are women, the Government proudly proclaimed this week.

Seventeen of the 33 public service department chief executive posts are filled by women, including acting roles.  That’s 52%, up from 14, or 44%, at 30 June 2018.

“This is an outstanding achievement,” Chris Hipkins said.

Hipkins, Minister of State Services, then noted that in addition to meeting this milestone, more women CEs

” … have been appointed to larger jobs.

“Their average job size has increased by 15% since 2016 and the job size gap with their male colleagues has narrowed to 6%, compared with a 27% gap in 2016.”

We had heard of the wage gap – readers can check how Statistics New Zealand defines and measures it here.

We had heard of the skills gap.

The job size gap is something we had not previously encountered and our google search (a hasty one, true) suggests it has popped up for the first time in the State Service s Commission’s latest annual report.

Hipkins proceeded to declare contradictory policy objectives:

“We want, and New Zealanders deserve, a public service with an international reputation for excellence. A public service that reflects the communities it serves. A public service with an international reputation for equal representation for women and paying women equally.

Building a public service with an international reputation for excellence calls for appointments to be based strictly on merit.

Building a public service with an international reputation for equal representation for women calls for a quota system or an administrative intervention of some sort to ensure a balance is reached, then maintained.

Whichever path to excellence is taken to resolve this conflict, let’s examine the proposition that  we have not yet had “a public service with an international reputation for excellence”.

A former top public servant has reminded us we did have such a public service before a previous era of reform under a Labour government.

It was based on departments which were the recognised experts in their areas of responsibility, led by permanent heads who were recognised as leaders of their professions.

Over the past 30 years, alas, the public service has lost the public’s respect for its competence.

Our mate  blames Roger Douglas and Richard Prebble who, back in the 1980s, set out to reduce the influence of public servants during the era of Rogernomics.

“They succeeded in doing so at the expense of the quality of our bureaucracy”.  

Excellence is what the service now must regain, regardless of the gender of the departmental leaders.

But the gender balance is important to Julie Ann Genter, Minister of Women and self-appointed minister for culling old white blokes from board rooms.

She endorses a policy of government intervention to get the mix right:

 “Increasing women’s representation in senior leadership in the public sector is part of the Gender Pay Gap Action Plan that we launched in July this year.”  

Increasing it to what level?

The answer seems to be 100%.

Genter said:

“Having more women in leadership is not only the right thing to do, but diversity helps organisations function more effectively.

“More women in leadership means better decision making, better organisational resilience and better performance.”

If it’s a case of the more women we have in top jobs, the better will be the performance (etc), and if the government is determined to build a public service with an international reputation for excellence…

Well, the way forward is all too clear.

And may we suggest the Women’s Minister alert the Minister of Sport to her thinking.  A bit of government intervention might be required to persuade the All Blacks and other teams they would perform better if led by  women.

 

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