While there have been significant improvements in the last 20 years, women are still under-represented at the highest levels of the civil service. While just under two-thirds of civil servants are female, only 21 per cent of those at Secretary General level and 33 per cent of those at Assistant Secretary level are female.
This new research from the ESRI points to a need for greater availability of flexible working arrangements, the importance of addressing high work pressure and a long-hours culture for senior levels which are among the key issues deterring women from seeking senior positions in the Civil Service.
The study draws on a combination of administrative data, reanalysis of the Civil Service Employee Engagement Survey conducted in 2015, in-depth work history interviews with 50 civil servants across 4 Departments and 11 interviews with people working in HR in the Civil Service.
Barriers to promotion
The study highlighted a number of potential barriers to promotion that are likely to impact on women as follows:
Implications for policy and practice
The Civil Service Renewal Plan launched in 2014 contains a commitment to improve gender balance across the Civil Service. The study points to a number of potential policies and practices that would facilitate this goal. These include:
Speaking at an event to mark the publication of the study, Robert Watt, Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said:
“We need to ensure that women who wish to progress to the most senior roles in the Civil Service are fully supported and in this regard a range of initiatives are currently being implemented under the Civil Service Renewal Plan. These include the target of 50/50 gender balance in appointments at senior levels, Leadership Programmes including strong representation from women, unconscious bias training, and coaching and mentoring. In delivering these programmes, we will build on the key findings from this important study today.”
Helen Russell, one of the authors of the report, said
“Greater gender balance in senior positions in the Civil Service is not only important in terms of equity for those employed in the sector but also for public confidence in the decisions made by policymakers”.
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