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UK scores top marks for percentage of women in senior government roles

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The UK ranks fourth in the G20 and first amongst European members for the number of women in top public sector jobs. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) the only department where women paid more than men. Italy and Germany hot on the heels with largest increase in female representation in their civil service in 2015.

The UK is one of the top performers among its international competition when it comes to the proportion of women in the country’s top Civil Service jobs, according to new research by EY released today. The UK ranks fourth in the G20 on the proportion of women among its senior central government officials, with 38.7%. Canada tops the table, while Australia comes second and South Africa third. Compared to the other European country members of the G20, the UK leads the way with Italy in 8th place and France and Germany falling behind in 12th and 13th place respectively.

The research notes that despite the UK’s positive performance so far, Italy and Germany saw leading growth of 4% in the number of women in top public sector jobs in 2015, while the UK had the lowest growth of all the G20 European nations (2.5%). Bjorn Conway, Head of Government and Public Sector at EY, comments: “For some years, the Civil Service has been working to increase the gender diversity of its senior management and it is great to see these efforts paying off. However, it is crucial that we maintain momentum.

“Our European neighbours are catching up fast through the introduction of policies that address the gender pay gap and increase female representation and the UK cannot afford to lose ground.” 

The Whitehall gender pay gap

The research also looks at how departments fare when it comes to pay. Across central government, women are, on average, paid 6.3% less than men. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) comes out on top as the only department where women are, on average, paid more than men. The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has the biggest pay gap with women in DECC’s senior team paid, on average, 16.7% less than their male counterparts.

Bjorn comments: “Despite the introduction of the Equal Pay Act, which was intended to tackle gender pay inequality, our research shows that there is still a lot more work required within central government to achieve pay parity.

“Legislation alone isn’t enough – there needs to be a concerted effort across the civil service to tackle the hidden economic and social barriers that stand in the way of equal pay for women.”

Gender parity varies widely across departments

There are only two departments where there is 50/50 split between senior women and men in Whitehall according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics. These are the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and the Department for Communities and Local Government. The Department of Health follows closely behind with 49% of women in senior roles. At the other end of the scale, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence have the poorest representation with 26% and 27% of women in senior roles respectively.

The average across the Civil Service in England is 39% which is up from 35% in 2011. Bjorn comments: “The increase in representation is good news and with initiatives such as the 30% Club calling for a minimum level of women on FTSE 100 boards, 40% of women in senior roles in the Civil Service is a great indicator of progress. “There is, of course, always more to do. By working to tackling unconscious bias, placing greater accountability on Permanent Secretaries for delivering diversity plans, and engaging by senior leaders in mentoring and coaching, we can ensure the Civil Service continues to lead the way, in the UK and across Europe, in promoting gender equality.” 

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