13 Jun 2018

Public sector reshuffle: 'Musical chairs for the boys'

From Nine To Noon, 9:36 am on 13 June 2018

It's disappointing five public service chief executive jobs announced yesterday were all men, moving between agencies without the jobs even being advertised, Equal Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue says. 

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue.

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue. Photo: Supplied

The State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes announced a reshuffle yesterday which included moving five public service chief executives into different roles.

None of the appointments was advertised or contestable - and all the appointments were men.

The roles included the top jobs at Justice, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC), and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Equal Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue is furious.

"It's musical chairs for the boys basically, but no one missed out on a chair this time," she said. 

Dr Blue said while the reshuffle was permitted by law, it was an unusual move. 

"I would have thought in the modern world we live in, that they would have gone to a contestable and advertised process and they haven't, which is very disappointing," she said. 
She told Nine to Noon it completely undermined efforts to improve gender equity into the public service. 

Women who headed these large government departments tended to be the exception, rather than the rule, she said.

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State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes announced the reshuffle yesterday.  Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Dr Blue said while women held 13 of the 30 chief executive positions in the public service (43 percent), they tended to lead smaller departments. 

"Women face such unconscious bias, we know that, Peter Hughes knows that, but for some reason they've omitted women in the musical chairs that has just occurred. Unless women are intentionally included, they will be unintentionally excluded," she said.  

The reshuffle involves senior public figures, the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Andrew Kibblewhite, who goes to Justice, head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Brook Barrington who goes to the DPMC, and the head of Corrections Ray Smith who goes to the Ministry for Primary Industries. 

In a statement, Mr Hughes said he was committed to achieving full gender equity in leadership roles across the public service. He said Dr Blue knew this and supported the Commission in its endeavours. 

"On the issue of transfer rather than going to market, I did it to ensure we retain strong, experienced leadership and continue to drive important transformation programmes under way across the public service.

"Stability of leadership is a critical component of delivering the promised changes," he said. 

Dr Blue said she totally rejected that statement and got very angry when she read it. 

"There are capable women there, they just haven't looked very hard. They could have been supported to step up to take these bigger roles, they are quite capable, they are there. Unfortunately they didn't look and find them," she said. 

Dr Blue said she had spoken with at least one woman public sector chief executive who was unhappy with the reshuffle. 

RNZ has heard from another who said she was disappointed the process was not contestable, and that the message to senior women public servants was that they were not experienced enough to lead big agencies.

Mr Hughes said the reshuffle opened up four vacancies and he urged people to judge the Commission on the end point, not every move along the way. 

"Yesterday's announcements change that mix by one, but not until June 2019," he said.

"In the meantime we will be recruiting a further four chief executives.

"These vacancies are opportunities to achieve greater gender balance and there are more in the pipeline. 

"Yesterday's announcement was, in my judgement, the best outcome for this point in time.

"It was one move, not the whole game."

Dr Blue said the SSC was now on notice and she would be watching the process closely to ensure it is fair and transparent, and run by a gender-based selection panel.