UK revealed as leading performer in public sector gender equality

21 Jan 16

The UK has scored top within the EU and fourth within G20 nations for the number of women it employs in senior government roles, global advisory firm EY has found.

In a report released today, EY revealed that the UK is a top performer for gender equality in the public sector, beaten only by Canada, Australia and South Africa within the G20. It did however note that gender and pay parity varies widely across government departments.

“For some years, the civil service has been working to increase the gender diversity of its senior management and it is great to see that paying off,” said Bjorn Conway, head of government and public sector at EY.

“However, it is crucial that we maintain that 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 report found that the UK has the slowest growth in the share of women in top public sector jobs of all of the G20 European nations, however within the G20 as a whole its 2.5% growth remains the fastest among the top six nations of the index.

Italy, which comes second amongst the European G20 nations, and Germany, which lags far behind in thirteenth place, both have leading growth rates of 4%.

Conway also noted that, despite top performance in gender diversity of senior management and the introduction of the Equal Pay Act, EY research had found more needed to be done in central government to achieve pay parity.

The report found that the average gender pay gap within the UK government is 6.3%. Individually, the Department for Energy and Climate Change is the worst offender, paying men on average 16.7% more than women. This is followed by the Cabinet Office (13.9%), the Ministry of Defence (10.1%), the Treasury (9.6%), and Department for Education (9.3%).

The smallest gaps are at the Department for Communities and Local Government (0.2%), the Scottish government (0.6%) and Revenue & Customs (2.5%). The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was the only department that was found to pay women more than men, by 1.5% more on average.

“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,” said Conway.

The percentage of women in senior roles was also found to vary widely across departments. There is a 50/50 split between men and women in only two – the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Communities and Local Government – according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

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.

This follows the common theme that women tend to be excluded from roles in government traditionally reserved for men, such as in defence, security and finance.

Overall across the civil service, the number of women employed has increased from 35% in 2011 to 39% last year.

While Conway said the increase in representation is good news, more needs to be done to tackle unconscious bias, place greater accountability on those who delivery diversity plans and to engage senior leaders in mentoring and coaching. 

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