Labour: Gender glass ceiling 'painstakingly reassembled' in Civil Service

Posted On: 
11th 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.

Only four departmental permanent secretaries are women
PA Images

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. 

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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," Ms 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, all-male shortlists for recruitment to senior posts and all-male selection panels are only allowed in "exceptional circumstances". A spokesperson for Ms Haigh said Labour planned to file a Freedom of Information request in an attempt to gain access to the perm sec shortlists.

This story appeared first on our sister site Civil Service World