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'Striking' gender imbalance exists across Northern Ireland workplaces: Report

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Barriers: Dr Evelyn Collins

Barriers: Dr Evelyn Collins

Barriers: Dr Evelyn Collins

Women remain under-represented across a range of key sectors in Northern Ireland, a new report has concluded.

While the proportion of women in top public positions has increased in recent years, there remains a striking imbalance compared to the demographics of the working population.

The details emerged in a briefing paper published by the Assembly.

Who Runs Northern Ireland? A Summary of Statistics Relating to Gender and Power in 2020 includes a gender breakdown of elected representatives, public appointees, judges, those in various positions in the health, education sectors, and in private employment.

Among the working population, there remains a vast gap between the genders in the numbers working part-time, with women making up 82% of that grouping - 1% up on 2014.

In total, around 780,000 of people in Northern Ireland are in employment, 48% of them women. Of the self-employed, 30% are female, an increase of 6% from 2014.

In terms of politics, the number of female MPs in Northern Ireland's 18 seats dropped from five to four (28% to 22%) in December's general election.

However, the number of MLAs increased between 2014 and 2020, from 20 to 30, or 33% of its 90 members, while 100% of our representatives in Brussels are women - although they will be out of a job in two weeks.

Notably, the number of female councillors has barely budged in six years, according to the report.

Of the 462 local representatives, 26% are women compared to 24% in 2014. The proportion of female chief executives has nearly doubled to 27% in the period.

At senior Civil Service level, three of the nine permanent secretaries are female, compared to none in 2014.

The paper reveals that the number of senior staff has increased from 33% to 38%, while the 50-50 split in the Civil Service workforce almost reflects the actual make-up of the population.

Of the 1,298 people sitting on public bodies and boards, 28% of the chairs were filled by women while they made up of 42% of all appointees. The figures, as of the latest analysis in March 2017, compares to 19% and 33% respectively in 2014.

Six years ago, there were no female High Court judges, but the number has risen to 25% with the 2015 appointments of Justices Denise McBride and Siobhan Keegan. A third of county court judges are now women, compared to less 20% in 2014.

In the health sector, the number of trust chairs rose to a third from a fifth between 2019 and 2020, while the share of chief executives was 20%, a drop from a third in 2014.

In higher education, 27% of vice and pro-vice chancellors are women, as are 29% of further education and 60% of school principals. Some 77% of teachers are female.

Dr Evelyn Collins, the Equality Commission's chief executive, said women still face many barriers in society.

"It is good that women's participation is increasing in a number of areas, such as public appointments, although it is clear that challenges remain, particularly in relation to more senior roles across a range of sectors," she said.

"Women still face many barriers including negative perceptions and stereotypes, which impact on opportunities and their participation in senior roles.

"Women's caring responsibilities also remain a significant barrier to full participation in employment and public life and we need to improve the availability of appropriate, accessible and affordable childcare for families in Northern Ireland."

Rachel Powell, women's sector lobbyist for the Women's Resource & Development Agency, said that in almost every aspect of society, women are under-represented in positions of power and decision-making, and over- represented in low-paying and part-time work.

"Even in sectors where women are the majority of the workforce, such as teaching or the health and social care sector, men still dominate the senior positions within these professions," Ms Powell said, adding that it was noteworthy that women's issues received no specific mention in the New Decade, New Approach deal to restore Stormont.

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