Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland public sector urged to act over inequality: Report reveals less than a third of top posts are held by women

By Rachel Martin

Calls have been made to tackle gender inequality at executive levels of the public sector, after a major report showed less than a third of top posts are held by women.

The report by the Ulster University Business School recommends that public sector organisations should aim to have 40% women on executive boards by 2023, and found that less than a third of public sector directors are women, despite many aspiring to take the top jobs.

The research, led by Professor Joan Ballantine, examined 143 Northern Ireland public sector organisations.

Its recommendations include appointing "gender champions" as well as establishing an academy for professional executives and managers.

The research examined local government, senior civil service, further and higher education, and non-departmental government bodies.

The findings were drawn from more than 100 in-depth executive interviews and over 3,180 survey responses.

Local government was found to have the lowest rate of female directors; out of 721 directors, just 180 were women.

High-profile female director Darina Armstrong, who is chief executive of Progressive Building Society, said: "The more diversity we have in our boardrooms, the more it enriches an organisation. In my view, diversity within senior management significantly strengthens organisations.

"Any leader of standing is only as good as the sum of his or her parts. This is true not only of the team he or she builds but also the experience, expertise and qualifications he or she has amassed. Gender should not be an issue."

Professor Ballantine said: "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 study showed that organisations with larger management boards were more likely to have a higher proportion of women as directors. However, even in organisations with larger boards, men typically held most executive positions.

The most commonly reported barriers were limited acting-up opportunities and limited advancement opportunities. One woman who was aspiring to reach the executive level in the civil service said that there were issues in the practical application of flexible working hours, saying there was "no such thing" as reduced hours or part-time working once at senior level.

The gender inequality report was commissioned by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

Belfast Telegraph