Partnership Case Studies

IGPA Case Study 1

“Not yet 50/50”: Barriers to the Progress of Senior Women in the Australian Public Service

1. Form of Partnership

This case study focuses on a high quality end user partnership which has generated significant research funding, research publications and policy impact for the Institute.

2. How was the partnership developed? Celebrating the contribution of women to public sector excellence

This research was sponsored by the Institute for Governance and six Australian Commonwealth departments as part of a broader project that was launched in 2010 on ‘Celebrating the Contribution of Women to Public Sector Excellence’. Members of the Institute were concerned that data on the representation of women in the ‘most’ senior echelons of the public service in Australia showed a decline despite the election of Australia’s first woman prime minister. We therefore decided to establish both a Canberra-based reference group and an overseas reference group to investigate why.

The project commenced with several high profile televised public events in Canberra at which notable senior women told stories about their journeys to the top, identifying the barriers they confronted and the coping mechanisms that they developed to navigate them. This included: the Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC, Governor-General of Australia; Katy Gallagher MLA; Virginia Haussegger; Wendy McCarthy AO; Roxanne Missingham; Christine Nixon APM; Lisa Paul AO PSM; Tu Pham PSM; and, Natasha Stott Despoja AM.

It is noteworthy that most of our high performing women had been counselled at some time to be more ‘male’ in their approach if they were to gain more respect and be more effective in their leadership roles.  Overwhelmingly they saw that it was preferable to display leadership qualities based on personal authenticity and integrity; although this was not easy. They all viewed the development of personal support networks as critical to their success in coping with the “male-streamed” culture they experienced.

After a series of these events and in the absence of primary research findings to reinforce the emerging perceptions of a relatively small sample of women elites, the Reference Group decided that it would be valuable to investigate a broader set of perceptions of senior public servants as to what barriers appear to impede women’s progress through to the senior ranks of the APS i.e. the Senior Executive Service (SES). The senior public servants on our Reference Group approached Treasury and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet with a value proposition. The Head of Service recognized the importance of the project and convinced five other departments to join in.

In most countries around the world women remain in the minority when it comes to senior positions in both the public and private sectors. That there are barriers to their progression is not in doubt. What is not well understood is the nature of those barriers and the extent to which they are consciously or unconsciously constructed. Moreover, there has been a stark absence of empirical studies in the field of Australian public administration to investigate these issues and assess the implications. The purpose of this research was to help bridge the gap. It did this through a study of the perceptions of senior men and women of the cultural and systemic barriers affecting the recruitment, retention and promotion of senior women in six Australian Commonwealth departments.

The core policy insight from our research findings is unsurprising – the quest for gender equality in the workplace (indeed any form of equality) is an ongoing struggle which should not stop with the achievement of a performance target. Our four core empirical findings underscore this observation: (1) competing priorities/family responsibilities hinder women from taking up demanding leadership roles; (2) negative male perceptions of a woman’s ability to lead impede women’s progression into leadership roles; (3) workplace structures and cultures hamper women’s progress by distilling processes of unconscious bias that afford comparative advantage to men with the requisite attributes; and, (4) workplace cultures and practices undermine the self-confidence and self-belief of women in seeking career advancement. These findings lead us inexorably to the crucial question that if meritocracy is not a sufficient criterion for affecting the advancement of women what interventions are necessary to redress the imbalance? The research therefore proposes a range of mitigating strategies for navigating these barriers and achieving and maintaining a better gender balance at the Senior Executive Service level across the Australian Public Service. These strategies are integrated within a systems model of behavioural change which we hope will prove useful to public organizations embarking on diversity reform initiatives.

We have subsequently been engaged by the Federal Reserve Bank, and Geoscience to conduct similar research.

3. What instrument is in place to manage the partnership?

The key instrument here was not a formal MoU; it is the existence of a high profile, passionate Reference Group with strong insider knowledge determined to make a difference. Many members of the Reference Group are also part of our Adjunct Faculty and are intimately involved in Institute research, engagement or education programs.

4. What outcomes were we seeking?

The aims of this project were threefold: a) to produce high quality evidence-based research to inform better practice in diversity reform; b) to heighten public awareness of gender inequalities in the workplace; and c) to provide a repository of national and international better practice on diversity reform initiatives.

5. Critical Success Factors

Five critical success factors can be identified from this case study. Firstly, the importance of a high profile Reference Group of project champions. Secondly, a topic that captures the imagination of the Canberra village. Thirdly, strong marketing and communications advice (in this case from Virginia Haussegger). Fourthly, the provision of seed core money for dissemination events. And, fifthly, project collaborators who are willing to present at forums the length and breadth of Australia and internationally. We have conducted 18 forums nationally and 3 internationally on our research findings.

IGPA Case Study 2

The Power of One and Other Stories

1. Form of Partnership

This case study focuses on the development of a Premier multi-lateral partnership with the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, SBS, and Ipsos Mackay. The initial purpose of the partnership was to develop a new exhibition at the museum entitled The Power of One but it has subsequently broadened out to a more ambition agenda:

  • To help design and analyse unique data sets on the qualities of Australian democracy and (where appropriate) processes of democratisation internationally.
  • To co-design education programmes that explore the qualities of Australian democracy and (where appropriate) processes of democratisation internationally.
  • To make full use of a unique space for disseminating our research findings and debating future democratic governance.
  • To co-author innovative ways of visualising and imagining Australian democracy.

2. How was the partnership developed?

IGPA was approached by Museum staff after presenting our report How do Australians Imagine their Democracy? at Parliament House in July 2013. It was evident from the start that Museum staff shared our passion for the subject but needed our expertise to help them build a strong evidence base to inform the exhibition. This was a genuine meeting of the minds from the beginning. However, we did organise a series of long conversations where we could demonstrate our expertise and value as potential collaborators. In the first instance, the partnership involved lending support to the development of the new exhibition (“Power of One”!) to ensure that it is underpinned by:

  • A rigorous evidence base on the quality of Australian democracy (with a view to establishing a cyclical audit).
  • Identification through story telling of challenges to Australian democracy (e.g. anti-politics).
  • An interactive public engagement programme for debating new forms of democracy.

We therefore co-designed an on-line large-scale quantitative survey instrument and analysed the findings. IPSOS processed the survey for us and absorbed the bulk of the costs. The next stage of the project will involve us designing a series of panel discussions and deliberative forums to debate democratic futures with targeted groups over the next year. In essence, our partners are meeting the costs of our field work and we are providing the labour. The partnership allows us to engage in large scale surveying and to design and pilot democratic innovations at limited cost.

The exhibition will explore how four different generations of Australians imagine their democracy, by examining the landmark events, political milestones and cultural trends which have shaped their political paths. Vox pops, audio-visuals, interviews and portraits of well-known Australians will tell the diverse stories of the Builders (born 1925?1945), Baby Boomers (born 1946?1964), Generation X (born 1965?1979) and Millennials (born 1980?1994). Visitors will also be invited to share stories of their own political participation and experiences of Australian democracy at work to enrich the picture of each generation.

3. What instrument is in place to manage the partnership?

We have signed a formal MoU specifying clear project outcomes and working protocols and meet regularly to monitor progress.

4. What outcomes were we seeking?

The aims of this ongoing project were at least: a) to produce high quality research on the changing nature of political engagement in Australia and internationally; b) to heighten public awareness of problems in Australian democracy; c) to provide a repository of national and international better practice in terms of democratic innovations; d) to deepen the net in terms of potential funders of our research; e) to design and analyse unique data sets on the qualities of Australian democracy and (where appropriate) processes of democratisation internationally; f) to co-design education programmes that explore the qualities of Australian democracy and (where appropriate) processes of democratisation internationally; g) to make full use of a unique space for disseminating our research findings and debating future democratic governance; and h) To co-author innovative ways of visualising and imagining Australian democracy.

5. Critical Success Factors

Five critical success factors can be identified from this case study. Firstly, a common passion for the subject matter. Secondly, the ability to be flexible to partner needs. Thirdly, demonstrable expertise. Fourthly, investment in relationship building and project scoping. And, fifthly, strong facilitation and project management skills.

  Click here to listen to ABC Lateline interview

IGPA Case Study 3

How do Australians Imagine Their Democracy?

1. Form of Partnership

This case study focuses on the development of a Premier partnership which was developed through IGPA’s International Visitor’s Scheme. The partnership was with Professor Gerry Stoker the Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Globalization and Governance at the University of Southampton. This has proved a high quality bi-lateral University partnership which has generated significant international research publications and policy impact for the Institute.

2. How was the partnership developed?

Gerry Stoker was invited to spend time in the Institute for four periods of eight weeks over a two-year period to work on a comparative project that sought to compare the attitudes of British and Australian citizens to politics and their role in making democracy work. Stoker is a leading international thinker in the field and has been awarded the following accolades: 2001: UK ESRC “Hero of Dissemination”; 2004: “Making A Difference” Award, UK Political Studies Association for impact of work on local governance; 2006: “Best Politics Book of the Year” Award for Why Politics Matters, UK Political Studies Association; 2010: Elected Member of the Academy of the Social Sciences (UK). Gerry combines the rare talent of being an outstanding academic and knowing how to communicate his research findings to end users. In sum, Stoker is not only a major international scholar but has access to the major international networks in this area of study.

3. What instrument is in place to manage the partnership?

The key instrument used here was a formal MoU which identified very clear outcomes for the partnership in terms of publications, international conference activity, research dissemination activities, mentoring for ECRs and user workshops.

4. What outcomes were we seeking?

The aims of this ongoing project were at least fivefold: a) to produce high quality comparative research on the changing nature of political engagement; b) to heighten public awareness of problems in Australian and British democracy; c) to provide a repository of national and international better practice in terms of democratic innovations; d) to deepen our international networks and potential funders of our research; e) to mentor ECRs; and f) to provide overseas placement opportunities for our research students. The project has achieved all of these outcomes and as a consequence of the success of the initiative Gerry became IGPA’s first centenary professor in March 2014.

5. Critical Success Factors

Three critical success factors can be identified from this case study. Firstly, a strong existing working relationship with the International Visiting Scholar. Secondly, a topic that works well from a comparative perspective and is attractive to the top international journals. Thirdly, the provision of seed core money for travel and accommodation and research dissemination activities.