Australia’s top diplomat is comfortable with the idea of introducing targets, but not quotas, to increase the number of women in senior roles. Peter Varghese reflected on how it’s been many years since the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had been exclusively a men’s club, in a speech to an Australian diplomacy conference in Canberra. The DFAT secretary said his department ensured its annual graduate intakes were gender balanced and the rate of women’s progress up the ranks to executive level was even. But more work had to be done to get more women beyond that level. The department has commissioned a women in leadership review which considered the constraints which deter them from applying for senior positions. As a generalisation many women tended to apply a much more “vigorous test to themselves” when meeting the selection criteria. Former Labor MP Janelle Saffin told the conference she had lobbied hard to get DFAT to establish an Ambassador for Women and Girls – a position filled by former Democrats leader Natasha Stott Despoja. Ms Saffin had made the case to then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who agreed, but she revealed that DFAT had not initially been keen on the idea.
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