Third Top 50 Public Sector Women (Victoria) event recognises the need to encourage women

5 Sep 2019

When the Top 50 Public Sector Women initiative was launched in Victoria in 2017, we had a clear objective: do what we could to address the disparity in the numbers of women in senior leadership roles across all levels of government in Australia.

With the third Top 50 Public Sector Women (Victoria) event being held this Wednesday (August 21), we have seen some progress made, but there is still more to do, notably in the field of local government.

The gender equity in local government report, produced for Local Government Victoria, reveals that in August 2017, women held just 16.5% of CEO positions in Victorian local governments and accounted for 38% of Councillor positions across the 79 LGAs.

Currently there are 18 women in CEO positions with Victorian local governments, accounting or 23% of CEO roles. There was a brief period earlier this year where there were 20 female Victorian Councils CEOs before two exited (one to retire, one left to the water sector).

There is still a need to make a concerted effort to ensure women are equally represented at the local government level.

To achieve this, it is essential that initiatives such as the Top 50 Public Sector Women event, now held by the IPAA Victoria and the Women’s Network Advisory Committee and supported by Davidson, be recognised as valuable.  

If not for the encouragement and opportunities it provides, but for the ongoing alumnae it provides.

Carol Jeffs, CEO at Cardinia Shire Council, was named on the inaugural Top 50 Public Sector (Victoria) list in 2017 and said she remains “extraordinarily grateful” for the work done by the initiative to promote “the readiness of women in the sector to become CEOs”.

Ms Jeffs was working as the General Manager Community Development with the City of Port Phillip when she received the accolade before taking on her current role in October 2018.

“The recent appointment of several women local government CEOs and the LGPro CEO has given me reason to reflect,” Ms Jeffs said. “I am absolutely certain that I would not be here today [in her CEO role] if not for the Top 50 initiative.

“I now have a new definition of what remarkable leadership is - it is the organisers of the Top 50 Public Sector Women event working together to change the recruitment and networking landscape. I absolutely aspire to making game changing contributions such as this throughout my career going forward.”

Tracey Slatter, Managing Director at Barwon Water (who held the role of CEO at the City of Port Phillip Council for almost four years), was named in the 2018 Top 50 Public Sector list and says the event is important recognition and support for those working in leadership across all levels of government.

“I am really pleased to see there are now 18 women in LG CEO roles which is a high point but there is a lot further to go,” Ms Slatter said. “It is also critical more be done to have more women on councils. 

“I was reflecting the other day about women who I looked to as role models early in my career. While I was mostly in my 20s, I was lucky enough to work with some incredible women.

“And it really made a difference to me to see successful women in executive leadership positions; it is a reminder to me to reach out to more junior women and provide encouragement and opportunities to them. 

“The Top 50 list has been a game changer.” 

Rebecca McKenzie, CEO with the City of Glen Eira and another of those to be named in the 2018 list, agreed saying the need to encourage women to strive for leadership positions was an important one for women who have paved the way.

“The thing that I have learned over the past few years is that there are so many talented women in the sector, it’s just about providing the reassurance and the encouragement for them to make the big step to put themselves forward,” Ms McKenzie said.

“I feel very strongly that our own legacy as female leaders is to do that for our colleagues, and in doing so start to change the tone of our sector in a way that ensures that the environmental conditions are there for them to enjoy the role, and to be at their best.”

Until there is parity in the number of women securing leadership roles from Managers to CEOs, we will not rest. There is more to be done and we are looking forward to the challenge.