UK civil service leads Europe on gender equality – but key departments lag behind

New report by consultancy EY reveals the state of gender equality among the senior civil service


By Civil Service World

21 Jan 2016

The UK is top in Europe when it comes to the proportion of women in senior civil service roles, according to a new report.

However, the data also reveals significant gender imbalances in key government departments, with women making up only 26% of senior Foreign Office roles. 

According to the UK Women Senior Civil Servants Leadership Index, carried out by consultancy EY, the UK ranks first among European G20 countries and fourth in the G20 as a whole with 38.7% of women in top jobs. Canada tops the table with 46.1%, with Australia coming in second and South Africa third.


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Despite the UK’s impressive international performance, the research also revealed that many government departments still have a long way to go to reach gender parity.  

Using ONS data, EY found that, of 20 government departments, only two have a 50/50 split between senior women and men; the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Communities and Local Government. The poorest performing were the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence, with 26% and 27% of women in senior roles respectively.

Pay gap

The research also looked at the gender pay gap among senior civil servants and found that women are, on average, paid 6.3% less than men.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs came out on top as the only department where women, on average, were paid more than men, while the Department of Energy and Climate Change was revealed to have the biggest pay gap.

Women in Decc’s senior team are paid, on average, 16.7% less than their male counterparts, the report found, prompting shadow energy and climate change secretary Lisa Nandy to accuse the department of "devaluation" the contribution of women. "The energy secretary ought to take a lead in taking on discrimination in her department and send a signal to the energy world it’s time they moved into the 21st century," she added.

Responding to the report's findings, Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock said: "We want to build a civil service that is representative of the nation it serves, in which nobody is defined by the circumstances of their birth. 

"We are making progress but there's so much more to do. As an employer, the civil service  must embrace the excellence that diversity brings in all its forms - including attitude, background, race, gender and disability."

That view was echoed by Maria Miller, chair of the Women and Equalities select committee, who said: “It’s important that governments lead by example when it comes to equalities issues, particularly around the employment of women in senior positions, and the research shows that the government is making huge progress, but there is still much more to do.

"Perhaps the comparison with other European countries just underlines how much many European countries have to do on this issue.”

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