30th Anniversary of Appointment of First Female Secretary

30th Anniversary of Appointment of First Female Secretary

Office for Women Leadership
Thursday, 05 November 2015

The ACT Division of the Institute of Public Administration Australia

The ACT Division of the Institute of Public Administration Australia hosted an event at the National Portrait Gallery on Monday night to mark 30 years since the appointment of the first female secretary of an Australian Government department.

Ms Helen Williams AO was appointed as Secretary of the Department of Education and Youth Affairs in 1985. She later served as Public Service Commissioner as well as Secretary of the following portfolios: Tourism; Immigration and Multicultural Affairs; Communications, Information Technology and the Arts; and Human Services.

Ms Williams retired from the Australian Public Service in 2009 after an extraordinary career spanning nearly 40 years.

She paved the way for women in the public service so it was fitting last night's event involved all five current female secretaries:

  • Ms Glenys Beauchamp PSM, Secretary of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science
  • Ms Kathryn Campbell CSC, Secretary of the Department of Human Services
  • Ms Lisa Paul AO PSM, Secretary of the Department of Education and Training
  • Ms Renée Leon PSM, Secretary of the Department of Employment
  • Ms Jane Halton AO PSM, Secretary of the Department of Finance (who delivered a video address)

The secretaries discussed the important role female leaders play in the public sector and shared their views on how departments can better support women in leadership.

The importance of mentoring, normalising flexible work and eliminating unconscious bias in the public service were some of the common threads that emerged from the discussion.

Much has changed since 'a bit of tension' accompanied Ms Williams first joining the public service back in 1979, and Monday night's event reflected a commitment to build on her trailblazing work in the years and decades ahead.