Posted: 12 Sep. 2019 03 min. read

Leading by example

An interview with Kevin Corcoran, Department of Communities & Justice

Custodial Corrections Centres, or jails as they are more informally called, might not come first to mind as places trying to tackle gender bias.  And yet this issue is top of mind for Kevin Corcoran, Assistant Commissioner for Custodial Corrections, New South Wales Department of Communities and Justice. Kevin is responsible for maintaining the safety and security of all staff and inmates of 37 correctional centers across Australia’s most populous state. Kevin is a champion for inclusive leadership and extraordinarily passionate about increasing diversity in leadership positions across his workforce. Changes he made to the promotion processes resulted in a 15% increase in applications by women and ultimately greater diversity in appointments.  

We spoke to Kevin to understand why he is so focused on inclusive leadership, his efforts to reduce gender bias in the Department’s recruitment practices, and the outcomes he has achieved.

Q: Where did your journey with inclusive leadership begin and what has it been like so far?

Kevin: For the last 3 years I’ve been running an initiative called the Leadership Development Steering Committee. The aim of the committee is to ensure we were able to identify high potential people at lower ranks and give them a jump start into leadership positions through development opportunities. From the outset we were very interested in making sure we had a good mix of diversity in the candidates that were coming through.

In particular, we were finding it really difficult to get women to apply for management roles. The feedback we get is that some aspiring women leaders want to be certain that they are 100% across every aspect and capability required for the job [before applying].

We’re all about making sure the people who get these jobs are worthy of the jobs. The last thing we want is tokenism. And we should be gender blind about that. But, because we only have 10%-15% female middle managers compared to 30% females in our entire workforce, we’ve really got some work to do to get female participation rates higher.

Q: What prompted you to focus specifically on addressing gender bias in your recruitment process?

Kevin: I was reading some of the articles on Deloitte’s Diversity, Inclusion and Leadership blog and some internal research performed by the Public Service Commission recently which said that some male leaders (around 20%) have a view that women don’t have what it takes to be a leader… 1 in 5 men may think that! It struck me that people doing our recruitment may unconsciously or unintentionally think like that, culling applications based off a judgement or bias.

Through a recent department-wide engagement survey, we found out that 80% of people think that recruitment practices are not transparent. The perception is that people getting jobs who might not be the best person or most meritorious candidate and the perception is that it skews towards men. To tackle that, we went through Deloitte’s Inclusive Leadership program and one of the things I was very concerned about was to try and remove as perception bias as much as possible from the recruitment process.

Q: Talk to me about your new recruitment process, what have you changed and what have you seen as a result?

Kevin: We trialed a new state wide recruitment process to build a talent pool talent pool for all the vacancies that come up over the next 12 months. Our key aim was to reduce gender bias. The outcome? We received around 200 applications (which is a lot for us!). In the past, only around 10% of those applications would have been female, but the new process has dramatically improved this and has increased to around 25% of the application pool!

How did we do this? We didn’t cull anyone from the outset (to reduce bias). We put every candidate through a series of assessments including; cognitive skills tests, personality tests and scenario testing to test their analytical abilities, planning and problem solving and identified the top 60 candidates. Each candidate was assessed on different capabilities by a different person in a round robin style process. This allowed candidates to reset with confidence after every section or not have a slip-up tarnish the rest of their interview. Furthermore, the day was run centrally and not at local centres, with lots of checks and balances between people.  

The fascinating thing is the top 10% of candidates were females or individuals with non-English speaking backgrounds. So we saw a massive amount of change in the success profile of people who probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to apply previously. It was quite remarkable and very exciting to think that this has happened!

Q: For you personally as a leader, what prompted the change in your hiring process? Was there a catalyst?

Kevin: Attending the Inclusive Leadership course by Deloitte was a catalyst. When I first heard about inclusive leadership I thought ‘What the hell is this about?’ Admittedly, I’d been thinking about it for a while now, ‘How the do we get more females into management positions?’ I’ve got an executive team of all males, I try so hard to get female executives, but it’s not about tokenism, they need to have the right skills. As you can imagine the skills required to manage a prison are very different than sitting on an executive team – it’s a very different set of skills.

To combat that and give our female leaders the exposure they need to progress, I have begun to rotate one of the female governors onto my executive team for 3 months at a time. This way they can participate as an executive but also enrich our decision making because they’re actually running a prison, bring a new perspective, they’re in the field and can give us insight into things we would not know otherwise. And that’s proven to be really valuable!

Q: What’s your key take away from this process?

Kevin: At times, it’s been very hard and very stressful. The most difficult thing is to identify the vision, see where you want to go and work out how to get there as a team. And ultimately for me, it’s about getting the best leaders in place for our staff and the ones that are living the organisational values and treating people with respect and recognising that they’re there to support the people doing the work.

For more information about this interview, please contact Kevin Corcoran or Vanessa Sykes, Risk Advisory (Sydney – Australia)



Public Sector Commission (2014).  Advancing women: Increasing the participation of women in senior roles in the NSW Public Sector. 

Meet our author

Vanessa Sykes

Vanessa Sykes

Senior Manager, Risk Advisory

Vanessa is a manager within Deloitte’s Operational Risk, Risk Advisory practice. Since joining the firm, she has gained experience on risk culture assessments and large-scale risk transformation projects within financial services, telecommunications, education, and health industries. Vanessa is a member of the Board of a small charity who provide education for underprivileged children in Uganda. Vanessa has a passion for understanding the cultural context of an organisation, its strategic objectives and assessing the way risk is managed to ultimately help or hinder execution of strategy. Her key interests lie in risk culture assessment, strategic risk, risk appetite, learning and development, and large-scale transformation.