International Women’s Day: civil service launches consultation on priorities for gender equality

Written by Richard Johnstone on 8 March 2019 in News

Whitehall gender champion and MHCLG perm sec Melanie Dawes launches drive to “ensure opportunities are available to women from all backgrounds”

Melanie Dawes Photo: Paul Heartfield

The government has launched a consultation to develop its future priorities for improving gender diversity across the civil service, with Whitehall gender champion Melanie Dawes urging contributions to help “work out where next to focus our collective efforts”.

Launching the consultation on International Women’s Day, Dawes, who as well as being civil service gender champion is the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, said she was “proud to be a leader in a civil service that takes that diversity seriously, and when it comes to gender diversity we have much to be proud of”.

She told CSW that the civil service has a strong track record in pursuing gender equality, which compares well to both the private sector in the UK and other governments internationally.


However, she said there “is still more we need to do to ensure that opportunities are available to women from all backgrounds”, highlighting in particular the need to boost opportunities for women from ethnic minorities.

"Our success as a civil service depends on people who bring different perspectives, who feel included and valued, and who feel safe to challenge when they know we can do better,” she added. “That is why we are launching this consultation, to tell our story to date and ask for help working out where next to focus our collective efforts."

The consultation document, which will be available on departmental intranets, asks staff to contribute views on whether the current priorities – defined as getting the basics right, bringing on female talent and building a more inclusive culture – remain the right ones. They also seek views on whether government is missing anything that should be included and how people feel about the opportunities available to them.

In a question and answer document provided by the Cabinet Office to mark the start of the consultation, the government highlighted that there are now a greater proportion of women than ever before in the civil service – nearly 54%, while representation of women working as senior civil servants has improved from just over 35% in 2010 to 44.2% last September.

“A great deal has changed since our first female permanent secretary [Evelyn Sharp at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, a predecessor to Dawes' department] was appointed in 1955,” according to the document. “Many departments across government have achieved a balance at most grades. Across the civil service, teams are working together to promote gender equality and level the playing field for women.”

Examples of policies to promote gender equality include flexible working, shared parental leave and gender-neutral recruitment practices.

“We have great policies in place to support the women who work with us, but we won’t make more progress if we don’t focus our efforts on what is really going to make a difference,” the Q&A document said. “We are launching this internal consultation to identify what is most important to staff and help us get there.”

About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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