Significant barriers remain in the role of middle managers in progressing gender equity in the public service, according to a new report by researchers at Victoria University of Wellington, Massey University and Auckland University of Technology (AUT).
Published in partnership with the Ministry for Women, the report was carried out as part of a wider project and in light of recent calls to address gender inequity.
The team of researchers conducted interviews with senior executives and middle managers from four public service agencies in New Zealand.
Their report, co-written by Professor Jane Parker from Massey University, and Ruth Weatherall, now at the University of Technology Sydney, alongside Victoria University’s Dr Noelle Donnelly, Dr Julie Douglas and Dr Katherine Ravenswood from AUT, shows middle managers report ongoing challenges in balancing the needs of individuals with organisational requirements.
“Our interviews show government agencies are highly committed to addressing and improving gender equity in their workplaces, and they play a very critical role,” says Dr Noelle Donnelly from the Centre for Labour, Employment and Work at Victoria University of Wellington.
“We found that despite managerial intentions, the success of gender equity initiatives were limited by entrenched traditional cultures that privilege certain groups, full-time working and masculinist leadership models, and the challenges in implementing flexible work arrangements,” says Dr Donnelly.
AUT researcher Dr Julie Douglas agrees, saying workplace cultures that assume women don’t want or aren’t ready for promotion and tend towards hiring and appointing women to lower levels than male recruits create barriers to improved gender equity.
AUT’s Gender & Diversity Research Group researcher and co-author, Dr Katherine Ravenswood, says managers often find themselves stuck in the middle – unable to implement gender equity policy because of a lack of operational agility in their agency.
Dr Donnelly says the report highlights the need to develop coordinated gender equity strategies within agencies.
“Gender equity policies and initiatives were often fledgling in nature, and many managers had limited knowledge of their scope, character and application,” she says. “These initiatives need to include both interim and long-term goals and benchmarks.”
The report also recommends creating improved resources and capabilities to support managers in their role as facilitators of gender equity initiatives in their workplaces.
The Ministry for Women welcomes the report, adding that it contributes to understanding the drivers of gender pay gaps within organisations.
The report was co-written by Professor Jane Parker from Massey University, and Ruth Weatherall, now at the University of Technology Sydney, alongside Victoria University’s Dr Noelle Donnelly, Dr Julie Douglas and Dr Katherine Ravenswood from AUT.