Communique No 3 - 17 March 2017

Communique No 3 - 17 March 2017

PM&C Secretaries Equality and Diversity Council
Friday, 24 March 2017

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

The first Council meeting of 2017 provided an opportunity for in-depth consideration of the experiences of APS staff with disability.

The Council was fortunate to be joined by Alastair McEwin, Disability Discrimination Commissioner and a number of APS staff who provided the Council a first-hand perspective on what it is like to work in the APS with disability such as hearing or sight impairment, mobility challenges, chronic health and mental health conditions.

The stories that APS staff shared were both poignant and motivational. While some staff reflected on the ability of the public service to provide employment that brought a sense of achievement and fulfilment, this was not a uniform experience.

Staff also shared that they had experienced:

  • bullying;
  • exclusion;
  • stereotyping; and
  • assumptions about their capabilities.

The Council heard that narrow interpretations of the support that could be provided to staff impacted on people’s self-esteem, self-worth and productivity. Staff noted that their experiences were largely dependent on their immediate managers (many of whom were described as uncomfortable and/or ill-equipped to support a staff member with disability) and the agency where they worked.

Staff noted that they felt that they had to work twice as hard to demonstrate that they were as capable as their colleagues.

These experiences echoed advice from Commissioner McEwin, who told the Council that people with disability often face employer misconceptions of their ‘limitations’. Commissioner McEwin congratulated Secretaries for seeking to understand the experiences of people with disability.

Commissioner McEwin noted that having disability impacts on every element of an individual’s pathway to employment from primary schooling, through tertiary education and training into interviews and commencement. Commissioner McEwin encouraged the Council to consider how recruitment practices can disadvantage people with disability, noting that workplaces are often designed and built around the dominant culture.

The Council committed to departments developing three immediate actions that could better support people with different abilities – these will be developed through the Working Group on Equality and Diversity.

The Council discussed factors which contributed to staff’s decision to share information about their disability. These factors include:

  • organisational culture;
  • concerns about the impact of sharing on career progression;
  • concerns about confidentiality;
  • a lack of clarity about the purpose of data collection; and
  • potential benefits of sharing this information.

The Council also received a briefing on the University of Canberra’s Doing It Differently report and an update on the work of the Disability Champions across the public service.

The Council agreed on the benefit of engaging directly with staff from diversity groups and noted the work of employee networks in supporting APS staff. The Council agreed to support the cross-APS LGBTI Network Conference, planned for late 2017, noting its work enhancing the respectful and inclusive culture of the Australian Public Services.