Navigating to senior leadership in the Australian Public Service: identifying barriers and enablers for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in APS employment

Report to the Indigenous Capability Unit, Australian Public Service Commission
Public service Aboriginal Australians Public servants Public sector Australia

This commissioned report examines enablers and barriers which act to support or impede career progression of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees to senior levels in the Australian Public Service (APS).

Key findings suggest that informal relationships with mentors and managers form the key enabler of career advancement, and generally play a more important role than other institutionalised measures (which were nonetheless seen as useful), such as formal mentoring, study & development programs, affirmative measures and family-friendly provisions. A number of barriers to advancement were identified including operational constraints, limited regional opportunities, poor management practices and a lack of institutional valuing of Indigenous skills and leadership styles.

The research highlights a combination of elements as creating a unique career experience for Indigenous employees, notably institutional biases fostering stereotypes and pigeonholing and the widely shared perspective among Indigenous public servants of being required to ‘walk in two worlds’: that of culture/community and of the Public Service.

Institutional biases clearly constitute an additional barrier to career progression, while the ‘two worlds’ experience can represent either a career resource or difficulty depending on the degree of institutional recognition, support and valuing of cultural diversity.

The report’s main conclusion is that the APS needs to develop and more effectively disseminate at all levels, a clearly articulated business case (or Value Proposition) in relation to employing Aboriginal and Torres Islander people in terms of the strengths, capacities and attributes they bring that will directly benefit the mission and goals of the APS.

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