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Gender parity “constrained” by Police Act: SAPOL Commissioner

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SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens says the Police Act has placed a roadblock in his quest to promote more women to senior leadership positions.

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Stevens told a Committee for Economic Development “Women in Leadership” event yesterday that while SAPOL has about 34 superintendents, women fill just two of those positions.

“South Australia Police, like most other male-dominated organisations, has a significant challenge ahead of it to achieve gender parity,” Stevens told the Adelaide audience.

“We have an additional challenge that makes it somewhat different for us, and that is the constraints of the Police Act that we operate under.

“The Police Act prescribes that I can only promote people to leadership positions who are currently employed under the Police Act.

“For me to choose another superintendent who’s female, I can only choose from the officer cohort who are currently employed by the South Australian Police – I can’t go outside, I can’t recruit laterally into these positions.”

Stevens, one of the Equal Opportunity Commission’s “Chiefs for Gender Equity”, introduced SAPOL’s 50/50 gender parity recruitment target at the start of 2016.

He told the audience that since introducing the target, SAPOL has seen a 20 per cent increase in the number of females applying to become police officers.

“As good as that sounds, the reality is if we maintain that target, I’m going to increase the number of women in policing by about 250 over a 10-year period and that’s to me clearly unacceptable, but it’s a good start,” Stevens said.

“I’m probably doing the work that will enable others to take those next steps in terms of achieving equity across our executive group and senior management group.”

Stevens said he had received significant backlash from both male and female police officers for introducing the target in 2016, adding he would be “deluded” to think the negativity surrounding the target had since subsided.

“The experts came out of the woodwork complaining about the reduction in public safety as a result of this intention to recruit more women,” Stevens said.

“We had men, South Australian police officers and community observers criticising the decision because it would mean good men would miss out on jobs.

“We had women who were also complaining about the decision to allow more women into policing because the perception was we were lowering the standards.

“We’ve weathered that storm and I’ve seen a reduction in the level of negativity but I’m not so deluded to think that I’ve dealt with it and it’s gone.”

SAPOL came under scrutiny in late 2016 after an independent report found evidence that “known predators” and sexual harassers had been promoted within the force.

The review, conducted by the Equal Opportunity Commission, found 45 per cent of respondents said they had been discriminated against because of their gender and 36 per cent had been the victim of sexual harassment in SA Police.

Stevens said he had been naïve to think the police force wasn’t plagued by serious incidences of sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

“When I saw the final report it caused me to stop and take a breath,” he told yesterday’s audience.

“Most disappointingly was the incidences of predatory behaviour within the South Australian Police – senior members of the organisation, not just senior in terms of rank but senior in terms of years of service, preying upon junior (and) vulnerable members of the organisation – police cadets, probationary constables, civilian employees – who were targeted because they were easy targets.

“I was resolved at that time to do all that I could as commissioner to make a lasting difference.”

Department of Treasury and Finance chief executive Daniel Reynolds, who also spoke at yesterday’s event, said since he had been appointed to his role, he had presented more speeches on gender equity than on the state’s economy or Budget.

“I actually quite like that – this is a topic I enjoy speaking about and it’s something I can go to businesses and talk about,” he said.

“Even when I go and talk about the economy and I go and talk about the Budget, I make sure I talk about some gender equality issues as well.

“It’s important we continue to expand the number of people that we talk to about this and make sure it stays on people’s agenda.”

Reynolds said society needed to start thinking about “naming and shaming” companies who are not looking to achieve gender parity, introducing quotas and regulations to encourage a higher female participation rate, creating incentives for superannuation companies to invest in businesses interested in diversity and reducing company taxes for businesses that achieve gender parity.

“That, I think, would fix this issue full stop.

“There would be no more discussion about this – this issue would be resolved, the economy would be much better for it and we can all move to therefore talk about other issues.”

Both Stevens and Reynolds said they were speaking at yesterday’s event as individuals, not as representatives of their agencies.

The audience also heard from Eldercare chief executive Jane Pickering, who said despite aged care being a female-dominated industry, in South Australia she was the only female CEO out of 10 major aged care providers.

“I consider myself to be a good negotiator and a fairly assertive woman but recently my board did a formal pay remuneration review of my (pay) package and it revealed, to my surprise and horror, that I was paid nearly $50,000 less than my peers in that top 10 group.

“That was very quickly rectified, but you have to ask the question – why did that happen?”

Equal Opportunity Commissioner Niki Vincent said addressing gender equality needed to start at an early age.

She said practical steps – such as introducing gender-neutral school uniforms or allowing girls to wear pants or shorts to school – could help reinforce a message that women should be treated equally.

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