A recruitment initiative to showcase successful women leaders and encourage more into senior roles is improving confidence among female candidates, while attracting broader interest from employers.

Over 2017–2018, Davidson engaged the Victoria and NSW public sector's peak bodies to create the Top 50 Public Sector Women program, aimed at encouraging more women to apply for the most senior roles in the sector.

"We've had greater access to diversity in our talent pools without question," Davidson group executive and boards GM Clare McCartin told Shortlist.

Following the most recent iteration of the program, McCartin presented a public sector CEO shortlist that was exclusively female – the first such instance in her 15-year career in executive search.

The program has now profiled 150 female leaders in Victoria and NSW, resulting in approaches from public sector employers in two other states with the question, "why aren't we getting our Top 50?", she says.

Davidson is likely to broaden the program to another state at some point, and is having conversations with some government departments "to see if there is an appetite".

In local government organisations in Victoria, female representation at leadership level is just 12%; in state organisations it is 36%, McCartin notes.

"That's not great given [the ratio] is at least 50/50 women working in the public service, and in some areas it's significantly greater."

Perceived barriers for women leaders

McCartin says she developed the idea for the Top 50 Public Sector Women after being invited to a ministerial advisory committee in late 2016, which was tasked with investigating the lack of female CEOs.

There, female leaders expressed their fears about applying for top management roles, she says. "They were actually quite intimidated in picking up the phone to ring a search consultant about a job. That was even female directors – one removed from a CEO – just not putting their hand up for chief executive positions."

There was also a concern in the public sector that, if diversity quotas or targets were enforced, "we wouldn't be appointing the best candidates", says McCartin.

Marketing blitz for awards

Davidson's marketing campaign, which earned it a nomination at the 2018 RCSA Awards, involved getting local and state government peak bodies on board to spread the message, as well as business press and social media, McCartin says.

"We contacted just about every secretary across state government, and as many CEOs as we could in local government, education and other areas to give us their best and brightest females to profile," she says, resulting in the Victorian awards receiving more than 80 submissions in its first year.

A panel of judges represented the breadth of the public sector and were instrumental in the program's success, says McCartin, who considers the campaign one of her team's proudest achievements.

Article originally featured in Shortlist Wednesday 03 October 2018