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Evidence demonstrates impact of diversity on APS careers

31 January 2024
Image of Nu Nu Win

Powerful analysis by Nu Nu Win provides evidence on the impact of diversity on careers in the Australian Public Service (APS).

The Sir Roland Wilson scholar from The Treasury used APS employment data to examine promotion prospects of women, staff with a disability, Indigenous staff and staff of non-English speaking background between 2001 and 2020.

The research comes as the APS develops its first culturally and linguistically diverse employment strategy and launches the SES 100 initiative, a plan to double the number of Indigenous/First Nations senior executives (SES) in the APS.

“My research takes into account a rich set of attributes: skills, experience part-time status, job type, degree type and education level of employees and estimates their likelihood of being promoted from APS level 4 through to SES,” Nu Nu explains.

The analysis found that Indigenous employees were less likely than non-Indigenous to be promoted at most levels.

“Indigenous staff are more than 1.5 times less likely to be promoted from APS 4 through to APS 6 compared to non-Indigenous staff with similar skills, experience, education and other attributes. The likelihood of Indigenous staff being promoted improves as they progress upwards from APS 6, but they are still less likely to be promoted than their non-Indigenous colleagues.”

Promotion prospects for staff from non-English speaking backgrounds worsen as they ascend ranks in the APS, a pattern that persists even if they were born and raised in Australia and are therefore fluent in English and culturally Australian.

“The promotion prospects of employees from non-English speaking backgrounds worsen as they progress. They are around 1.2 times less likely to be promoted at junior ranks, but if they advance to EL2 they are more than 1.6 times less likely to be promoted to the SES compared to similar English-speaking background staff.

“This is in contrast to people of English-speaking background who immigrated to Australia later in life, who do not experience any promotion disadvantage.”

Nu Nu’s research also found that, over the 20 years, women and staff with a disability have been less likely to be promoted at almost every level compared to similar men or staff without a disability.

The situation has not improved over time for any of the cohorts except women.

“Looking at how these estimates have changed over the past 20 years, we can see strong gains for women. Women are now as likely to be promoted at every level compared to similar men. In contrast, promotion prospects have not moved towards parity for Indigenous staff, staff with disability or staff of non-English speaking backgrounds.”

Nu Nu highlights the need for robust data and evidence to help inform policies to overcome such inequalities.

“Where you don’t have data and evidence, people tend to fill the gaps with biased explanations for the outcomes.

“A more diverse public service can better serve the needs of modern Australia. This kind of analysis can help us get there.”

Nu Nu’s research has made an outstanding contribution to progressing the diversity and inclusion debate in Australia and overseas. She was awarded the Sir Roland Wilson Foundation 2023 Joan Uhr Prize for her research and efforts to share it widely.

The Sir Roland Wilson Scholarship is a three-year, full pay scholarship for PhD research at ANU for high performing EL1 and EL2 APS employees.

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Image: Sir Roland Wilson Foundation

The Sir Roland Wilson Foundation is a partnership between The Australian National University, Charles Darwin University and the Australian Public Service.