Female representation in public services senior leadership on way to parity

31 March 2017 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read

Gender disparity in leadership roles in the private sector has come under scrutiny in recent years as it became clear that the level of disparity, which stands at around 25% of senior leadership roles, remains relatively stagnant. A new report explores disparity in the public sector, finding that in most OECD countries there is parity or near parity. Of the 54% of organisations at which there is no parity, 34% say that their organisation will have achieved parity within ten years.

Gender diversity in the business world has made headlines recently, largely due to the low level of participation the further one travels up the corporate ladder. As it stands, around 5% of CEOs and 12% of CFOS at the top 1,000 largest US companies, with women held C-Suite positions largely not strategic in nature. A range of studies have shown negative business consequences arising from the disparity, including a tendency to fall into group think and a lack of perspective on key stakeholder groups – one study found that businesses in the S&P500 may be missing out on $567 billion in revenues to the phenomenon.

In a new report from EY, the accounting and consulting firm explores the current state of diversity in the public sector, as well as key factors holding women back from leadership positions. The report, titled ‘Think governments are achieving gender diversity in the workforce? Think again.’, is based on a global survey, across 17 countries, of 80 public sector leaders across 17 countries around the world.

G20 members with percentage of women in senior public leadership positions

The study shows considerable differences between countries surveyed. Canada, Australia, South Africa and the UK all perform strongly in terms of both women in public sector jobs as well as those holding senior level positions. In Canada, for instance, parity is almost reached, while in Australia and South Africa, around 40% of senior positions are in the hands of women – these levels represent parity according to EY’s own criteria of between 30-40%.

The US too performs relatively well, at more than 30% of women in senior civil servant positions female, with similar levels noted in Russia and at the European Commission. France and Germany fall slightly behind the rest of the pack when it comes to women at the top of public service, at 28% and 20% respectively – even while both countries are well represented in terms of women in public service in general -at more than 60% and 42% respectively.

South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia each perform poorly in terms of women in senior positions, even while the countries have a relatively large number of women in civil services in general.

Years to reach parity and expected change in coming five years

As it stands, around 46% of respondents to the survey note that they have already achieved EY’s criteria for gender parity at their organisations, while a further 15% say that they will be there within 5 years. 19% of respondents say that it will take another 5-10 years to achieve parity, while 16% say that it could take up to fifty years – 4% of respondents said that parity will never be reached.

In terms of the focus surveyed organisations expect to place on achieving parity, 11% say that they will be looking to significantly increase the number of women onboard, 60% say that they will seek a slight increase while 26% expects there to be no change.

Female leadership metrics and approach to female development

The survey found that organisations have a number of different strategies in place to attract and retain women for leadership positions, as well as metrics surrounding progress in the area.

In terms of metrics, 43% of surveyed organisations measure the proportion of women on leadership teams, 23% measure the proportion of female applicants to senior management positions, while 23% measure employee engagement by gender. A further 19% are active in measuring gender pay disparity and retention by gender.

In terms of programmes and initiatives focused on developing women leaders, 49% of respondents say that they have an existing training programme in place that trains men and womanly equally for management positions. 14% have a formal programme to support women progress in the organisation, while a number (6%) of organisations have informal programmes in place to encourage women into leadership positions.

Female pipeline development

Overall, respondents were relatively upbeat about their organisations’ ability to attract and retain women within their respective organisations. 71% of respondents, for instance, indicated that their organisaiton is effective at attracting women – which is reflected in many of the countries surveyed having more women than men in their civil service. Around 60% of organisations say that they are effective in promoting women into leadership positions, while around half of organisations say that they are effective in identifying future female leaders within their organisation.

What are the top barriers to women in leadership

In terms of the biggest barriers perceived by men and women surveyed from holding women back from leadership positions, some disparity between genders was noted. 57% of men believe that a lack of flexible working arrangements are a barrier to women into leadership, compared to 40% of women. A shortage of available female candidates is noted by 46% of men and 40% of men as a potential barrier, while around 39% of women note that conflict with raising a family is a barrier compared to 36% of men.

According to women that main barriers are a lack of support from senior leadership, cited by 40% of women and 29% of men, an organisational bias against women, cited by 31% of women and 29% of men, and an unsupportive public sector or civil service culture, as noted by 31% of women and 21% of men as a perceived issue.