Labour warns glass ceiling has been "painstakingly reassembled" in wake of latest male perm sec appointment

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Louise Haigh tells CSW that government must provide more info on the perm sec appointments process, as final vacant perm sec post is filled by a man

By Matt Foster

11 May 2016

Labour has seized on the appointment of another male permanent secretary to warn that the civil service's progress on diversity in its top jobs is going into reverse.

Alex Chisholm was this week appointed as perm sec at the Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc), meaning all vacant posts at that level have now been filled.

In the last six months, two female perm secs have stepped down – Una O'Brien at the Department of Health and HM Revenue and Customs' chief Lin Homer. 

Jane Dudman: Where are the female permanent secretaries?
Decc picks competition heavyweight Alex Chisholm as new perm sec

But, with all the appointments triggered by those exits now made, no women have made it to the top posts – in stark contrast to 2011, when the civil service achieved a 50/50 split in the number of male and female perm secs.

At the time, then-Cabinet secretary Lord O'Donnell said the civil service had become a "genuinely meritocratic" organisation. But while the latest figures show that 39.4% of the broader Senior Civil Service is made of women – up from just 17% when the SCS was established in 1996 – there are now only four women at perm sec level.

Speaking to Civil Service World, shadow cabinet office minister Louise Haigh pointed out that prime minister David Cameron has been able to personally pick perm secs from a shortlist of appointable candidates since late 2014, and called for more transparency on the decision-making process. 

“When the prime minister changed the rules on top civil service appointments we all hoped women, BAME and working class candidates would be given a fair shot," Haigh said.

"But since he has had the power to choose from a list, he has chosen nine white men and only two women."

She added: "The top brass of the civil service is now more white and more male than at any time in almost two decades and the glass ceiling which was smashed in 2011 when women achieved parity has now been painstakingly reassembled and reinforced.

“It is time the prime minister published the list he chooses from in each of his appointments so we can see for ourselves whether under his leadership, women are being overlooked and shut out.”

Under the government's "Talent Action Plan" – aimed at improving the diversity of the civil service – departments must not use all-male selection panels or shortlists for recruitment to senior posts, except in "exceptional circumstances". A spokesperson for Haigh said Labour planned to file a Freedom of Information request in an attempt to gain access to the perm sec shortlists.

Share this page