UK claims fourth spot for senior civil service gender equality

15 Sep 17

The UK has been ranked fourth among the G20 for the proportion of women working at senior civil servant level, according to research.

Data produced by the Global Government Forum shows women make up 40.1% of senior civil servants in the UK, above the 26.4% average for the G20.

This year the UK’s score increased by 1.4% in the Women Leaders Index, a global league table tracking gender equality among senior public servants. However, relatively poor growth in South Africa ­– just 0.3% – suggest the UK could regain its third place which it lost to South Africa in 2014.

The top five G20 countries in the 2016-17 Index are:

  • Canada (46.4%)
  • Australia (43.3%)
  • South Africa (41.1%)
  • UK (40.1%)
  • Brazil (37.8%)


Canada has held the top spot since the foundation of the Women Leaders Index in 2013. Since then the mean score for the top six countries has risen from 36% to 41% while the average score of the six middle ranking nations jumped from 18% to 31%.

Melanie Dawes, permanent secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government and current UK civil service gender champion, said: “We are making good progress, but we still have got further to go at the top, and these things can slip away from you if you don’t keep up consistent pressure.

“It’s still the case that some departments are not nearly as gender-balanced as others. So we’ve still got work to do there.”

However, the UK is lagging behind many of its European counterparts, when considering the proportion of women in the top two civil service grades in EU (level 1 and 2 administrators). The UK only ranks 16th out of the 28 EU countries with a score of 35.1%.

Topping the rankings among the EU are the Balkan and Baltic nations of Eastern Europe – Slovenia 56.9%, Romania 53.4%, Latvia 53.3% - higher rates than those seen in G20 nations.

The report states that strong political leadership is important in making progress, as are changes to workplace cultures.

It also finds evidence that quotas have often proved effective in driving up women’s representation.

Commenting on the findings, Kevin Sorkin, Global Government Forum’s managing director, said: “As our interviews reveal, this kind of progress produces big rewards in terms of better decision-making, bigger talent pools and, ultimately, stronger public service delivery for the public.

“But there is more work to do: we hope that publishing this data will help senior officials both to make the case for change, and to identify the best ways to make progress.”

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