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International Women’s Day

International relations

Speech by Secretary Frances Adamson

RG Casey Building, Canberra

Dhawura  nguna  dhawura  Ngunawal.

Yanggu  ngalamanyin  dhunimanyin  Ngunawalwari  dhawurawari.

Nginggada Dindi  wanggiralidjinyin.

This is Ngunawal Country.

Today we are all meeting on this Ngunnawal Country.

We acknowledge and pay my respects to the Elders.

Thank you Alopi, thank you Mina-Siale and thank you Ruth. That was wonderful. I only caught the tail end of it. I hope there is a recording somewhere. Thank you everyone for being here and thank for those who are watching online. I would like to particularly acknowledge Kathy Klugman, our WIL champion and Julie-Ann Guivarra, our Ambassador for Gender Equality.

International Women’s Day is a time to reflect and celebrate the achievements of women and efforts across the globe to further gender equality.

As we reflect this year, in particular, we do so against the backdrop of weeks of intensive media coverage and discussion in workplaces and homes about both recent and historic allegations of sexual assault and harassment. Many of us find these deeply troubling.

Our natural instinct is to want to support each other and we particularly want to support those who have suffered or are suffering abuse. We want our society to do that and we want DFAT to do that. 

We also know that everyone deserves a feeling of personal safety and security whether in the home or in the workplace. It is critical to the diverse, inclusive and respectful workplace we want DFAT to be.

We know to achieve that we must not tolerate inappropriate behaviour.

We know we have a collective duty to ensure that all employees, regardless of their position, location, or status, are empowered to speak out against bullying, harassment, and discrimination. And more than that, we want, I want, all our employees to feel they belong here.

We know that everyone in DFAT can lead by example in what we do and how we do it — whether in everyday personal interactions, or through our international engagement.

We understand the importance of saying what we mean — zero tolerance of bullying, abuse and harassment — and living what we say. This has to happen in every corner of the department — on every floor, at every post, at every state office, in every division, branch and section.

The department has reasserted its commitment through the Preventing Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment Policy, and through the appointment of a Champion, Beth Delaney, for this cause.

As Secretary, I recommit today to a DFAT where there is zero tolerance of bullying, abuse, and harassment and I commit to continuing to look for ways to improve our practices, reporting processes and our culture.

And, as I do so, I welcome — in fact I need — your views and ideas.

I will continue to ask and I encourage you to ask whether we are doing all we can to make ours a safe, inclusive, and respectful workplace for everyone. A place where everyone belongs.

And together, we will continue to look for ways to further improve diversity and inclusion because we must.

As has been said in recent days, it is important we listen and understand one another, as we seek to achieve gender equality for the benefit of all staff.

We are not there yet — obviously — but we have a lot to celebrate in this regard, particularly around this year’s International Women’s Day theme of Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.

This theme gives us an opportunity to acknowledge the successes we’ve had in enabling, supporting, and driving female leadership both within our own department, and through our work abroad.

A narrative of this success sits behind me: the History of Women in DFAT Exhibition.

These artefacts and stories provide insights into the important contributions by women to the history and culture of DFAT.

The Exhibition is an initiative of the DFAT Families Network, I’m pleased to say, now in its tenth year.

I commend the Network for the support it gives to staff and their families and the important role it plays in supporting DFAT’s community.

It’s also important that we celebrate the achievements of the Women in Leadership initiative — launched by my predecessor Peter Varghese, band a priority for me over the past nearly five years.

This now long-running diversity and inclusion program has brought real, measurable and I believe sustainable change to the department.

WIL has changed who we are, how we lead and has brought into sharper focus the many ways in which women contribute to Australia’s national interest.

And how this is helping us to contribute to an equal future in a COVID-19 shaped world.

I’d like to talk about that progress today — how it is creating and nurturing a culture in which women and men are equally able to contribute to the prosecution of Australia’s national interest — and the work we still have ahead of us.

I’m happy to say that this long-running diversity and inclusion program has brought about real, measurable, and sustainable change to the department.

WIL has changed who we are, how we lead, and brought into sharper focus how women are making a huge contribution to Australia’s national interest.

I’d like to talk about that progress today — how it has created and nurtured a culture in which women and men are equally able to contribute to the prosecution of Australia’s national interest — and the work we still have ahead of us.

And how this is helping us to contribute to an equal future in a COVID-19 shaped world.

I am pleased that we reached, and in fact exceeded, our end-of-2020 targets set in 2015, reaching 48.4 per cent women at the SES Band 2 level, against the 40 per cent target.

At the SES Band 1 level, we reached 43.3 per cent against the 43 per cent target.

Over the five years to the end of December 2020, the proportion of our female HOMs and HOPs rose from 27 per cent to a record 43 per cent of the total.

Encouraging, yes; noteworthy, yes…

…but actually just another step towards a gender equal workplace.

One where all staff have the confidence and encouragement to put their names forward, or their hands up, for roles they are well qualified for and well suited to. And importantly a workplace where everyone feels they belong.

It’s only what you would expect really.

I believe that equal representation in leadership has been enabled, to a significant degree, by the progress WIL has brought in our culture and the way we work at home and overseas.

Right now, of course, that progress is being tested by the continuing pandemic, which is putting our organisation, our posts and all of us under so much stress.

In 2020, we saw many outstanding examples of outstanding leadership at DFAT, helping us respond to the challenges of COVID-19.

Today, in celebration of International Women’s Day, I highlight that progress — and the efforts of some of our women. 

And I’ll start from the top with the convening by Minister Payne of the inaugural Foreign Minister’s Pacific Women Leaders meetings.

In many ways, governance leadership across the Pacific has traditionally been less open to female voices than today — this means, on many fronts, the region is not yet reaching its full potential.

To her great credit, the Foreign Minister understands this — which is why she saw the benefit of convening an annual meeting of female leaders, to help turn around this trend.

Our HOMs throughout the Pacific engaged strategically with female government leaders, that resulted in a step towards gender equal leadership in the Pacific, through a PIF women’s meeting — female voices advocating, being part of the solution.

We know, of course, that the pandemic is having a disproportionately negative impact on women and girls — so, it’s been vital that DFAT’s people — women and men — have ensured that our responses are gender-sensitive.

Likewise, as the international crisis of the pandemic unfolded, the spill-over impacts on maternal and infant health began to be felt in the region.

In Asia and the Pacific, 10 women die every hour in pregnancy and childbirth, over 80 million women still have an unmet need for family planning, and gender-based violence is pervasive.

These existing challenges were further exacerbated by COVID-19 — so, DFAT teams in Canberra and at post played a huge role in finding new ways and workarounds to get family planning information and dignity kits out to women and girls in the Indo-Pacific.

Over the past year, our female HOMs and HOPs across the globe have been at the forefront of some of our biggest challenges…

…whether it be supporting the return of Australians …

…leading our response to the Beirut blast…

…dealing with the political crisis in Myanmar…

…or shaping the Indo-Pacific response to increased geo-strategic competition.

Role models matter, in diplomacy as in any other field. 

And I am pleased to say DFAT, in contrast to the bygone days recorded in the Exhibition behind me, DFAT now has female role models just about everywhere.

 Today, I specially acknowledge the work of Ms Andini Mulyawati, a much-loved member at our Jakarta Embassy who died recently.

Andini dedicated her life and career to gender equality and social inclusion in Indonesia.

Her legacy will live on through the Australia-Indonesia Partnership Towards an Inclusive Society — an 8 year, $120m flagship investment to support Indonesia’s stability and prosperity, responding directly to the needs of women, people with a disability, and other vulnerable groups.

At an organisation-wide level, through Women in Leadership, we have called out unconscious bias and everyday sexism and created a first of its kind across the APS: a new parents guide for DFAT staff.

The efforts we made towards introducing more opportunities for flexible and remote work paid dividends in 2020 when COVID-19 hit and has set the foundations for better work-life balance for many men and women in our department.

Last year, I launched the Portraits and Mirrors Exhibition, just through there now permanently displayed, which acknowledges those women who have been the first to represent Australia at the highest level at one of our missions.

Today, I’m happy to report that the number of mirrors in the Exhibition has fallen.

Since the launch, five women have commenced as the first female Head of Missions or Posts in Tokyo, Seoul, Alofi, Makassar, and Kolkata.

We are also correcting an oversight in the original Exhibition by now including a portrait of Australia’s First Ambassador for HIV/AIDS, Ms Annmaree O’Keeffe AM, who was appointed in 2006.

Feedback on the Exhibition has been overwhelmingly positive. I know — I take all of my guests there. It certainly raises my spirits to see some of the trailblazing women of DFAT all in one place.

In the midst of our pandemic response in 2020, we launched the WIL Refresh, which sets out new, ambitious targets for gender equality to take us forward to 2025.

This WIL Refresh seeks to include staff in all their diversity, recognising that gender discrimination can be compounded by discrimination based on age, cultural or linguistic background, sexuality, Indigeneity, and disability.

As Diversity and Inclusion Champion, and together with all our Diversity Champions, I am particularly proud of the achievements that have been driven through:

  • the Women in Leadership agenda;
  • our commitment to One Approach Zero Tolerance;
  • and to have launched the Diversity and Inclusion Framework and Leadership@DFAT.

While we have come a long way, we know that our diversity and inclusion journey is not done.

I want to acknowledge, actually I should I have done so earlier, but I want to acknowledge Antoinette Merrillees. Antoinette, for all the work that you’ve done, continuously over the last decade, for the DFAT Families Network. That’s been incredibly supportive. We all know men or women, male or female, we can’t do what we do without the support of our families in the narrow or in the broad.

By continuing to embrace diversity in all its forms, including by working to achieve gender equality, I believe, we will become a stronger, more resilient, and higher performing department, representing the Australians — in all their diversity — we serve.

Thank you.

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