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Significant under representation of women at executive level in Northern Ireland’s public sector

Professor Joan Ballantine, Ulster University Business School, launches the publication on Gender Equality at Executive Level in the Public Sector.
Rebecca Kincade on March 25, 2016 - 9:58 am in News

“The significant under representation of women at executive level in Northern Ireland’s public sector,” was the issue explored by a three year research project just completed by the Ulster University Business School on behalf of OFMDFM.

During the comprehensive three stage study data was collected from 143 NI public sector organisations, five NI public sector organisational types were examined, over 100 in-depth executive interviews were carried out and in excess of 3,180 survey responses were analysed.

Professor Joan Ballantine, Ulster University Business School explains, “Gender equality remains a significant political and policy issue and the debate on how best to improve it seems centred on the highly symbolic and visible issue of gender equality at executive level. The overall gender composition at executive level in the Northern Ireland public sector is currently 71% male and 29% female, thus indicating a level of inequality. Despite this, males believe that gender composition within their organisation is less of an issue than females.”

“The number of factors which seem to influence this inequality are wide ranging. These include, for example, the gender of the Chief Executive; caring responsibilities for children; long hours culture; and an unsupportive work environment. There also appears to be a considerable gap between the rhetoric and reality of flexible work arrangements at senior levels with most organisations expecting their senior managers to work on a full-time basis. Recruitment processes, performance appraisals and succession planning were also found to contribute to hamper career progression for women. On the plus side, interviewees employed within local government generally perceived their organisation’s gender culture as positive and having improved over the last ten years.”

Based on the findings, twelve recommendations have been suggested categorised under four key headings, namely strategic, policy, process and data analysis. Highlights include the identification of a Gender Champion at senior management level; the establishment of an Academy for developing professional executives/managers across the NI public sector; the development of a gender inclusive culture in organisations’ senior management level; linking performance management more clearly to career development; ensuring that data on gender equality is regularly collected, analysed and published by OFMDFM.

Welcoming the report Peter May, Diversity Champion in the Northern Ireland Civil Service, said, “The findings of this report will provide robust baseline information against which we can monitor change and the progress we are making towards our goal of achieving gender equality at executive level of the public sector. Two of the key objectives of the Gender Equality Strategy 2006-2016 are the achievement of gender balance on all government appointed committees, boards and other relevant official bodies; and ensuring the active and equal participation of women and men at all levels of civil society, economy, peace building and government. This research will add significant insights and act as a catalyst in helping us to achieve those goals.”

The findings and recommendations of the research project were published at a stakeholder Engagement Event held in Parliament Buildings, Stormont on 24th March 2016. A panel of experts which facilitated a question and answer session, comprised Peter May, Diversity Champion, NICS; Evelyn Collins, CEO, Equality Commission for NI; Adrian Kerr, CEO, Local Government Staff Commission; Judena Leslie, Commissioner for Public Appointments NI and Roisin McDonough, CEO, ACNI, representing Chief Executives’ Forum.

Detailed findings of the research can be obtained by contacting Professor Joan Ballantine () or by accessing the link: https://www.ofmdfmni.gov.uk/articles/ofmdfm-statistics-and-research


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