Wednesday 20 June 2018

'A bleak picture' - Government under fire over lack of women in senior civil service roles

  • Just two Secretary Generals leading Government departments are women
  • Men outnumber women in higher paid role
  • Women's Council call for details of gender pay to be published by all state bodies and departments
The new cabinet at Áras an Uachtaráin. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
The new cabinet at Áras an Uachtaráin. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

Just two out of 15 permanent heads of Government departments are women sparking calls for the Government to publish gender pay data across all bodies.

The secretary generals of each of the 15 Government departments are civil service officials who earn between €171k and €190k per year.

Women hold the high-earning post in just two departments: The Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, led by Minister Frances Fitzgerald and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht under Minister Heather Humphreys.

The newly formed Department of Rural Affairs has also selected a woman as acting secretary general.

Across the wider civil service women make up just 23pc of roles of the equivalent grade to secretary general.

The figures show that in many of the higher paid grades men outnumber women across several departments - despite the number of men and women employed there overall showing parity or in some cases more women working in the department.

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, has said that his department are working to address the issue of gender equality, acknowledging that the department has “faced its own challenges in this area”.

In the department while a man holds the position of secretary general, of the five Deputy secretary generals (a job with a €157,000 pay packet) only one is a woman.

“This Department has faced its own challenges in advancing gender equality and ensuring that women are represented fully in our senior management teams at home and abroad,” Minister Coveney said.

Work is underway in the department he said including a working group, a sub committee and an action plan all focused on the issue of gender equality.

In the Department of Finance there are no women working at secretary general or assistant secretary roles. At principal officer level [a position with a salary scale of €77k to €102k per year) there are six women out of 25 people in that position.

Women only outnumber men in the lower paid executive clerical and staff officer roles.

Meanwhile, in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) women outrank man in all listed grades below secretary general level.

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone said she believes her department's policies are more progressive because they are informed by people from diverse backgrounds.

"More must be done to ensure not just our civil service, but all aspects of Irish public life reflect the communities which it is supposed to represent," she said.


The gender breakdown of top earning officials in each department was provided to Sinn Fein Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald in a raft of replies to parliamentary questions.

The Dublin Central TD said:

“Despite Fine Gael’s commitment to deliver 50:50 gender balance in appointments at senior levels figures from across the departments show that there is still roughly a 2:1 ratio of men holding senior posts across the civil service.

"The picture becomes even bleaker when you hit the top with just two women holding the post of secretary general across the all departments," she said.

"It is important that the discussion on gender balance in the public sector not be limited to those occupying the highest ranks. The lower you go down the chain of responsibility the higher the number of women employees with the majority of women working in the civil service holding Clerical Officers positions, the lowest grade and the lowest paid."

"Civil service reform on gender targets will not happen overnight but... you have to wonder how committed Fine Gael really is to delivering gender balance. 

"Where government had a chance to demonstrate a meaningful commitment to gender balance was amongst its own ranks just one in five of Leo Varadkar’s Ministers and Ministers of State appointments were women. ”

Orla O'Connor, director of the National Women's Council of Ireland, said the Government should be publishing a more detailed breakdown of gender figures.

"We are seeing the same kind of statistics each year so what its being done to change things? I know there is work being done but we need to look at the pace of change and then this also clearly feeds into the gender pay gap.

"All the research shows that when you have diversity at senior level you get better decision making.

"When you see the figures it makes it very clear why there is a gender pay gap," she said.

Glass ceiling

The glass ceiling is still "a realty", Ms O'Connor said.

Ms O'Connor said the issue of "gender segregation" which shows a lack of women in financial or economic portfolios in Government departments and on state bodies also needs to play a part in the gender pay gap review the Government is undertaking.

A dearth of women in top positions has an impact on young women who are entering the workforce or choosing their education, Ms O'Connor said.

"Each department should be publishing a clear gender breakdown of each of the grades within the department and the numbers of women at each grade and also stating clearly what actions they are going to take to get a greater gender balance,2 she said.

"It has to be more than just producing the stats."

The Civil Service Renewal Plan, launched in 2014, sets out targets for gender balance. Some of which have been exceeded such as a target of 27pc of principal officers to be women - at the moment 40pc of POs are women.

At present 23pc of secretaries general/head of office and equivalent grades

Minister Paschal Donohoe, whose department oversees the civil service acknowledged that there is "some way to go" to achieve gender balance in the civil service.

"There is  still some way to go and, in recognition of this, the Civil Service Management Board (CSMB) recently agreed proposals which include a range of new measures designed to ensure the composition of the workforce of the civil service reflects a better gender balance in the future, particularly at senior levels," he said.

"These initiatives include: supporting women during and after maternity leave, extending flexible working, encouraging career progression, raising awareness of gender inequality and unconscious bias, and monitoring trends as we progress towards a more equal workplace."

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