The Department of Justice and Community Safety (DJCS) set up a governance structure and created a detailed plan for Gender Equality Action Plan consultations, which allowed a wide range of staff members to have their say.
The DJCS vision is for a justice and community safety system that works together to build a safer, fairer and stronger Victoria. Its extensive service delivery responsibilities range from managing Victoria’s prison system, to providing consumer protection and enforcing court warrants, together with the development and implementation of a range of laws, regulations and policy in areas across the portfolio (such as gaming and emergency management).
With a 24/7 workforce, comprising 10,389 full-time equivalent staff spread out geographically and working across a broad range of roles and workplace cultures, DJCS needed to ensure its Gender Equality Action Plan consultations were accessible and meaningful for staff, whether they worked in an office-based or frontline operational role.
The Inclusion and Intersectionality branch at DJCS leads this work in collaboration with People and Workplace Services. It was clear from the outset that getting a robust governance structure would be critical for success.
The team established the Gender Equality Steering Committee, comprising representatives from areas that are driving and supporting the department’s obligations, such as Learning and Development, Transformation, Workforce Data and Reporting, Evidence and Insights, and Strategic Communication. The Committee meets regularly to coordinate action and monitor progress against key deliverables, thereby ensuring quality outcomes are achieved within milestones.
Alongside this, a Gender Equality Working Group was established. The standard membership consists of 36 people, but additional requests to attend the group often results in up to 50 attendees at each meeting. Members represent the broad range of classification levels and business areas of DJCS, as well as representatives from various diversity and inclusion networks. The popularity of the group reflects the commitment of DJCS employees to support this work and enables critical insight into tailoring strategies into effective, localised action.
Planning consultation activities
The team at DJCS drew upon key guiding principles to inform consultation activities, including thinking deeply about people’s voices that are not heard or difficult to capture, and being deliberate about how to engage to ensure accessibility and inclusion.
The team contacted key areas that usually have difficulty engaging in staff consultations due to workplace requirements, such as shift workers in frontline service delivery and operations. They ensured that consultation opportunities accommodated a 24/7 workforce.
They also engaged with departmental diversity and inclusion networks, including the Pride Network, Enablers Network, African-Australian Network and Women of Colour Network, to incorporate their expertise and lived experience in a co-designed consultation process so it was safe and accessible. The team was mindful that the networks are operated by volunteers and that there could be competing priorities and consultation fatigue, so included representatives from the networks in the Working Group and arranged individual consultation when appropriate. This shows how existing networks can be respected and used effectively.
DJCS also established key relationships with the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) early on to engage with their delegates throughout the process.
The first round of consultation included targeted focus groups with members of the Committee, Working Group, and diversity and inclusion networks. ‘Drop-in’ focus groups were also run online for any staff who wished to attend. These 90-minute sessions were spread across days, weeks and times to account for shift workers. Interactive whiteboards were a positive feature of these sessions as they enabled people to actively share their feedback and collaborate in an online environment. 65 staff members participated in these focus groups providing invaluable insights into data gathered from the gender audit and documenting the vision they had for attaining gender equality in DJCS.
An online survey was used to support consultation with staff who were unable or who did not wish to participate in the focus groups. The anonymous survey was designed to elicit new information that complemented the People Matter Survey, and people could volunteer their name if they wanted to engage further with the team. 50 people completed the survey with results offering new and insightful information to deepen DJCS’ understanding of people’s experiences of gender inequity.
To create a baseline for participation rates in reform activities, gender data was collected through the focus group registration process and a data point in the survey. Unsurprisingly, more women participated in both activities. Increasing participation of people of other genders will continue to be a focus as this work progresses.
Communications were also distributed across the department inviting people to contact the team for one-on-one meetings (online due to COVID-19 restrictions) as well as an email address if they preferred to send a written submission. This approach accommodated people who preferred individual or written engagement to participate in the process.
Due to major COVID-19 outbreaks when Phase One consultation commenced, the team had to quickly adapt. For example, one-on-one online sessions with the department’s Senior Executives were changed to providing written feedback instead. This meant that people were able to manage their contribution amidst competing priorities according to their schedules. This agility was welcomed.
Phase Two consultations have been completed offering similar opportunities for staff participation. The team re-engaged with staff from the first consultations and promoted opportunities for new staff to participate. Diversity and inclusion networks and the CPSU were also re-engaged to seek feedback on the case for change and strategies and measures, which were informed by the audit findings and Phase One consultation insights.
During this phase Senior Executives were also engaged through individualised sessions and covered Phase One and Two consultation topics. They were also able to contribute through the department’s formal coordination process which collects information from business areas which the team collated into the Gender Equality Action Plan.
DJCS found that people were enthusiastic to participate in consultation. Offering accessible and inclusive options allowed more people to participate which captured a greater diversity of perspectives. Early engagement of staff, diversity and inclusion networks and the CPSU also resulted in commitment and willingness to be involved in future consultation activities.
Critically, consultation has been vital to gathering personal stories and lived experience. This is essential to drawing out a holistic story about workplace gender equality to add to quantitative data and, as research tells us, people’s stories are at the heart of driving culture transformation.
Meaningful engagement is an ongoing process. DJCS is mainstreaming a people-centred approach to this work using strong governance and building on the positive engagement that has happened to date. This is a critical lever for success.