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UK leads Europe on women in top Government jobs, but key departments fall behind


4 min read Partner content

New research by EY reveals the state of gender equality among the UK’s senior civil servants.

The UK is top in Europe when it comes to the proportion of women in senior Civil Service roles, new research by EY has found.

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 EY’s UK Women Senior Civil Servants Leadership Index, the UK ranks first amongst 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.

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.

The average across the Civil Service in England was 39%, up from 35% in 2011.

Responding directly to EY's findings, Matthew Hancock MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office, 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."

Chair of the Select Committee on Women and Equalities, Maria Miller MP, welcomed the report, saying, “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.”

‘Gender 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.

Shadow energy and climate change secretary Lisa Nandy MP said: “In the time I’ve been Shadow energy secretary I’ve been struck by how male the energy world is. It’s shocking that this extends to the most senior levels of the Department of Energy and Climate Change itself, especially as women are disproportionately affected by energy poverty and buy half the world’s energy.

"The challenges that we face in moving to a low-carbon economy, and helping the world to reach climate safety, require the broadest range of talent. The fact that the department responsible for ensuring we rise to that challenge devalues the contribution of women is damning. 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.”

Commenting on the findings Bjorn Conway, Head of Government and Public Sector at EY, said: “For some years, the UK Civil Service has been working to increase the gender diversity of its senior management and it is great to see these efforts paying off. However, it is crucial that we maintain momentum.

“Our European neighbours are fast catching up through the introduction of policies that address the gender pay gap and increase female representation and the UK cannot afford to lose ground.

“Despite the introduction of the Equal Pay Act, which was meant to tackle gender pay inequality, our research shows that there is still a lot more work required within central government to achieve pay parity.

“Legislation alone isn’t enough – there needs to be a concerted effort across the civil service to tackle the hidden economic and social barriers that stand in the way of equal pay for women.”

The full report is available here

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