The Devil is in the Implementation: Sources of Sex Discrimination in Queensland Public Service Employment 1859-1959
The career service model of public sector employment was introduced in the 1850s. The cornerstone was the merit principle, designed to enhance efficiency through appointments based on merit rather than political connections. In theory, the merit principle should have offered equal opportunity to all citizens. However in practice, the workplace socially constructs and reproduces gender relations, and merit was interpreted in ways that maintained and reinforced male dominance in the workplace and society. This paper considers the ways in which merit can be a gendered concept, and then reviews the implementation of the merit principle in an historical case study of the Queensland public service. The paper draws several conclusions. First, the case study confirms the inequitable implementation of the merit principle. Political patronage was not replaced with open competition, but rather with a form of societal and administrative patronage that favoured men, and excluded or occupationally segregated women. Second, the case study confirms that the locus of discrimination was generally at less formal levels, in policies, administrative decisions and practices rather than in legislation. Third, the personnel agency that most strongly supported the merit principle also introduced the most discriminatory practices. Merit was implemented in ways that increased opportunities for males at the same time as it decreased opportunities for females. Far from being a "good employer", the state played a significant role in maintaining discriminatory employment patterns. The case study confirms that legislative remedies are only a starting point in the elimination of discrimination. Merit and equity principles need to be strongly supported by policies, detailed implementation guidelines, and the monitoring and auditing of practices by an independent central agency.
Proceedings of the Australasian Political Studies Association (APSA) Conference