Who Represents Australia Internationally? A Case Study of Women Leaders in Australian International-Facing Agencies Across Foreign Affairs, Defence, Policing and Immigration.

Ms. Elise Stephenson

Women in international-facing agencies play powerful and influential roles in shaping laws and policies, negotiating on subjects of war, peace and security, and representing national interest in international fora. Recent years have marked significant successes for Australian women, whom are reaching the highest echelons of international governmental representation for the first time. We now have more women in Australian Public Service (APS) leadership than ever before, more women holding ministerial portfolios of international-facing agencies, and more women in other portfolios rising to senior APS positions. Following suites of gender reviews, strategies and policies, diversity and inclusion are now cornerstones of government service, including within our international-facing agencies. But how deep does diversity go? Given the significant gains for women leaders and the strategic importance now placed on gender inclusion: who are the women leading international-facing agencies? This paper explores emerging themes from a PhD study into women’s leadership in Australian international-facing agencies. The research is based off a comparative case study analysis of four of Australia’s premiere international-facing agencies: the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Defence; Department of Home Affairs; and the Australian Federal Police. Understanding whom represents Australia overseas in diplomatic and security relationships establishes a benchmark during governmental gender equality change projects, highlighting enduring challenges in leadership. Although all agencies have made specific efforts to increase gender equality and inclusion, there remains little diversity in our international relations. Further, while Australia exhibits highly developed equal employment opportunity policies and gender equality initiatives, women in our core international-facing agencies continue to experience worse sexism and gender-based discrimination in Australia, not overseas in countries they may be posted. Findings suggest that firstly, the under-representation of women across the agencies poses key implications for the durability and strength of Australia’s diplomatic and security interests internationally. Secondly, that only certain women have the opportunity to represent Australia. And thirdly, that even for those women who do get this opportunity and are well received in the international arena, they are still experiencing gendered barriers at home, which places limitations on Australia’s ability to gain truly diverse and representative leadership in the first place.