Address by Minister John Moloney T.D., to a conference at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland on the theme of fostering women’s leadership and advancement in the Irish Civil Service
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
This morning, we are gathered together to have an open and frank discussion on the theme of “Fostering Women’s Leadership and Advancement in the Irish Civil Service”.
The Government took the decision in 2001 to foster women’s advancement in the Civil Service, with the publication of a Gender Equality Policy for the Civil Service. It was accompanied by guidance on the affirmative action to be taken on Gender Equality.
In June 2000, the percentages of women at AP and PO grades were at 26 per cent and 16 per cent respectively. By 2007, the percentages had increased further – to 33 per cent for APs and 24 per cent for POs – a very positive increase of almost eight percentage points in each case.
So while progress has been made in relation to women and management in the Irish Civil Service, the situation still falls short of what is reasonably to be expected in a modern working environment. We still have a disappointingly low level of women in the senior levels of the Civil Service.
CSO statistics show that only 12 per cent of Secretaries General and ten per cent of Assistant Secretaries were women, in 2005. We know that the situation with regards to Secretaries General has improved drastically over the past year or so, and that we now have six Secretaries General among the group of 21.
However, the small pool of female Assistant Secretaries means that it will be difficult to sustain this improvement unless we secure far more promotions for well-qualified women to the pivotal Assistant Secretary and Principal Officer ranks.
Why is it important to increase the percentage of women in the upper levels of the Civil Service?
International thinking now strongly advocates a better gender balance among decision makers at all levels. Both the European Union and the Council of Europe recommend that decision makers should include at least 40 per cent of each sex. In reviewing women’s participation in decision making at central government levels, the EU counts the grades from Secretary General to Assistant Secretary and in Irish terms we are still short of 16 per cent. So there is still much catching up to do to reach the 40 per cent target or even the current EU average which is just below 33 per cent.
Equally challenging is women’s involvement in politics here, where fewer than 14 per cent of T.D.s and Senators are women. Again, the EU and the Council of Europe recommend a 40 per cent target. Obviously, Presidents Robinson and McAleese blazed the trail and I understand that we are the European country with the longest history of female Presidency. But, despite their successes at home and abroad, our successful female Presidents and Ministers are not spurring on sufficient numbers of women to follow their footsteps.
At local government level, I believe political participation by women has been slightly higher than at national level. I hope that this tendency will be further enhanced in next year’s local elections.
The Government has already adopted measures to increase female representation on State Boards and we are beginning to see positive outcomes of those initiatives.
The Irish Civil Service has a very good record in relation to the availability of family friendly employee supports, with paid maternity leave and force majeur leave, a range of flexible working arrangements and options in relation to unpaid career breaks and term time leave.
Across the whole Civil Service, over five and a half thousand people – about 1 in six of all staff – availed of work sharing options in 2005. This appears very positive until the gender breakdown of the figures is examined. Some 94 per cent or those were work sharing were women. Many of those women would say that this option has enabled them to sustain a career and a family life but their men folk do not appear to feel the necessity to avail of this option.
The European Commission and Council have emphasised the need to review caring roles within the family in many policy documents. We accept that the sustained economic success of Europe depends on our maximising the contribution and potential of our well educated female workforce. It is in the interests of all our Member States to encourage both men and women to avail of family friendly policies and to continue to participate in developing the economy throughout our working lives.
Family friendly policies are only part of the story. Some recent research in the UK has found that there are other issues which impact upon women’s decisions to seek higher office. Among these were women’s understanding of their own leadership skills and competence, linked, quite possibly, to a lack of self confidence. The UK research also found that the “long hours culture” and a lack of networking opportunities for women impacted upon their advancement. We are not here today to find definitive answers – just to reflect on these points.
I was surprised to read some recent research, funded by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and carried out by our premier social research institution, the ESRI, which found that, across the entire workforce, the gender pay gap emerged very shortly after young graduates enter the workforce. The same piece of research found that male staff members were more likely to receive formal training in the workplace that their female counterparts.
I should stress that this study focussed on graduates and that the pay gap was most pronounced in hourly pay rates in the private sector. There is, of course, no hourly pay gap between men and women in the same jobs in the Civil Service.
Last year, we published the National Women’s Strategy to cover the period up to 2016. I will be working closely over the coming years with the Monitoring Committee which is bringing together Government Departments, Agencies and social partners to ensure that the Strategy is fully implemented. Among the three key themes of the Strategy is a commitment by Government to engage more women as equal and active citizens. This theme, and the actions set out to deliver it within the Strategy, are central to our discussions today.
It is clear that the research undertaken by Dr Valiulis and her colleagues in Trinity College gives us some insights into the issue of women and ambition. We are very privileged to welcome here this morning Sue Owen, a British career civil servant at the top of her profession in the Department for International Development in Westminster.
Sue has a particular interest in advancing women into the upper echelons of the British Civil Service and it will be particularly interesting to hear the view from the other side of the Irish Sea.
Finally, we will have the opportunity to discuss the issues which emerge and to hear the views of Ciaran Connolly, Secretary General for Public Service Management and Development, in the Department of Finance and Julie O’Neill, Secretary General in the Department of Transport, before the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Sean Aylward gives us an overview of today’s proceedings.
I am hopeful that each of you will enjoy this discussion and will actively participate in the dialogue on this important topic. With your help and continuing interest, we will ensure that the Government’s policy on gender equality in the Civil Service is kept to the forefront in human resource policies.
We must continue to foster the development of all of our staff, and especially our women colleagues, to ensure that we have a balanced, highly skilled Civil Service cadre to continue to serve the people of Ireland in the years to come.