Blazing a Trail for Women - Joan Smith

Joan Smith has been a trail-blazer for women in the public service in a career that has spanned five decades.

Joan was one of the first women in the male-dominated public sector when she joined the Department of Agriculture as a farm advisory officer in 1969.

She says that being one of few women in the sector, there were always opportunities for training and advancement, and she actively sought out and made the most of those opportunities.

“I joined the public sector at the time of the women’s movement, with women coming into the workforce and seeking equality, so I determined quite early on that I wanted to help further women and that I would seek management positions.”

She says that the only way to get promoted as a woman at the time was to move — and move she did! From Agriculture, to Lands and Survey, to the Forest Service, to Ministry of Transport, Land Transport Safety Authority  then the Ministry of Education, holding senior economics and leadership roles and leading programmes of national significance — before moving to the not-for-profit sector as Chief Executive of Presbyterian Support Central, and later back to the public sector in contract roles (while also chairing a private farming company).

She says her career has been filled with amazing opportunities to make a difference for New Zealanders (such as ushering major policy and legislative changes to the land transport acts designed to save thousands of lives on our roads). It’s also given her invaluable opportunities to develop her own skills and to move into leadership roles — and she hopes for the same for women in the public sector today.

With more women in the workforce now, she’s not sure the same support and opportunities are there to specifically help women to get ahead — but it’s something she continues to actively champion in her role as a Board member with IPANZ.

Joan has served IPANZ on and off for close to 50 years — starting out as a local committee representative while working at Lands and Survey in the 70s. She has served twice as President of IPANZ, first in 1985 and then in 1999 and 2000. In 2006 Joan was made a Life Member of IPANZ. Today she is Treasurer of IPANZ.

She says she enjoys being on the IPANZ Board for the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives, and to develop and inspire public sector professionals.

“It’s good being able to help develop public servants by giving them training opportunities and providing a neutral and safe place to debate issues of the day and emerging trends in public administration and public policy issues.”

“We are also able to make submissions to ensure that the values that the public sector was initially set up on are adhered to, like political neutrality and professionalism. It’s important to me that the public sector stays neutral, is professional and is able to provide free and frank advice to the government of the day.”

Making a difference is a big part of Joan’s life. Since retiring from full-time employment in 2012, she has had a big focus on using the skills that she’s acquired in her career to give back.

As well as serving on the IPANZ Board, she is Deputy Chair of the JR McKenzie Trust, a Trustee of the Dowse Foundation, a Trustee of the Rotary Club of Wellington Trust and an interview skills tutor for the Victoria University of Wellington’s Skilled Migrants Programme — while also quilting and knitting in her spare time!