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Women in Politics and Public Leadership

Women in Politics and Public Leadership

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No 6/2011 by Talina Drabsch
The number of women in senior political roles and in positions of leadership within the public sector is growing. In September 2011, four of the nine heads of government in Australia (Queensland, Tasmania, the ACT and the Commonwealth) are women. Australia has a female Governor-General and NSW has a female Governor. A number of parliaments have had female presiding officers as well as female Clerks. However, some have voiced their concern that progress towards equal numbers of men and women amongst Members of Parliament is slowing or even declining.

This paper is the latest in a number of publications by the NSW Parliamentary Library concerning women in parliament. Where relevant, it updates the previous papers but does not revisit in detail many of the issues dealt with earlier, such as the barriers preventing greater entry of women into politics, the various strategies available for improving the descriptive representation of women, and media portrayal of female politicians. The scope of this paper is broader than earlier papers in that it also considers women in positions of leadership within the public sector and those serving on government boards and committees. The debate surrounding the use of quotas to improve gender equality in the composition of boards and committees is briefly discussed in this context.

Section two (pp 4-10) of this paper provides an updated timeline of significant milestones and some of the major advances toward the more equal participation of women in parliament.

There are currently 34 female Members of the NSW Parliament. A statistical overview of women currently serving as Members of Parliament in NSW and in other parliaments throughout Australia may be found in section three (pp 11-19). Information is also provided on female Ministers and female office holders within the NSW and Commonwealth parliaments. Australia is currently ranked 38th in the world in terms of the proportion of members of the lower house of the national parliament that are women (falling from 33rd in 2007). A table showing the top 38 rankings and the proportion of female members of each parliament, together with the 2007 results, is also located in section three.

Section four (pp 20-21) of this paper considers leadership within the public sector. The public sector in NSW is the largest employer of women in NSW and it has more female than male employees. However, this does not translate to senior positions within the public service where the majority of positions are held by men. A brief overview of the Commonwealth public sector is also presented in this section.

The issue of the imbalance in the gender composition of government boards and committees has received attention of late, with various governments announcing strategies to improve the number of women serving as board and committee members. Information on this issue in NSW and at the Commonwealth level is provided in section five (pp 22-26).