Labour: put Antonia Romeo on the Civil Service Board to boost female representation

Written by Civil Service World on 13 January 2017 in News

Labour calls for opening up of “narrow, closed circle” at the top of Whitehall by including new Department for International Trade chief

Labour is calling for the government’s newest permanent secretary, Antonia Romeo, to be given a seat on the civil service’s top management board in a bid to improve Whitehall’s gender balance.

The Civil Service Board is the organisation's top collective leadership body, and is chaired by cabinet secretary and head of the civil service Sir Jeremy Heywood. Its membership includes civil service chief executive John Manzoni and senior departmental permanent secretaries.

There are currently three women on the Board — DCMS perm sec Sue Owen; Defra’s top official Clare Moriarty; and Melanie Dawes, the permanent secretary of DCLG.

Interview: Antonia Romeo
Confirmed: Antonia Romeo is new Department for International Trade perm sec
Editorial: On CSW's December cover and BAME representation in the civil service

But the rest of its twelve members are men, and Labour has pointed out that there are now more men with knighthoods on the team than there are women.

“When ministers have appointed more knights of the realm than women at the top level of government, it doesn’t say much for the Tories’ record on equal opportunities,” shadow minister for women and equalities Paula Sherriff told The Guardian.

It was announced this week that Romeo, currently the UK’s consul general in New York, is to step up to become the new perm sec of the Department for International Trade, and the opposition party is calling for her to be represented on the leadership board in order to open up what it called a “narrow, closed circle”.

Romeo’s appointment will take the total number of departmental permanent secretaries to four, including Moriarty, Dawes and Owen.

Other key women in senior posts include Scottish government permanent secretary Leslie Evans, chief medical officer Sally Davies, and the Home Office’s second-in-command Patsy Wilkinson.

The incoming Welsh perm sec, Shan Morgan, will also bolster the number of women in the civil service’s top tier as she replaces Sir Derek Jones.

However, the representation of women at the top of Whitehall some way off its 2011 high point, when 50% of the major departments were run by female chiefs.

Responding to Labour’s call, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The civil service is committed to being a place where everyone can thrive regardless of background, with the aim to become the most inclusive employer in the UK.

“Currently, over 40% of the senior civil service are women. But there is still more to do, which is why we are determined to build on our progress to date by removing any remaining barriers for women and other underrepresented groups in the civil service.”

Ian Watmore, who, as first civil service commissioner, acts as the watchdog responsible for regulating recruitment to the organisation, told CSW recently that while he believed it was was  a “big disappointment” that the representation of women at permanent secretary-level had "fallen way back" from its 2011 high-point, he believed the organisation was now "acutely aware” of the problem.

"I think you might find, in the next year or two, more female appointments as perm secs," he predicted.

"I think the new wave of candidates coming through is stronger, after probably a lull of three or four years in which only people like [DCLG perm sec] Melanie Dawes and [Defra perm sec] Claire Moriarty have come through. I'm hoping — there's no evidence until its complete — that we will see more women coming through to perm sec posts, probably in the next two or three years, and then we won't be having this conversation in two or three years' time."

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