Belfast Telegraph

Gender inequality in Northern Ireland: 3,000 top jobs but just a third held by women

By Adrian Rutherford

Less than a third of Northern Ireland's most important jobs are held by women.

Despite making up just over half of the population, women remain significantly under-represented in senior positions in society.

A study by this newspaper, examining over 3,000 high-ranking jobs in business, public life, health and education, found just 31% are held by females.

In some areas men are outnumbering women by as much as 19 to one.

It has led to fresh calls for action to address gender inequality in the workplace. However, others say attitudes need to change, with caring for a family still seen as a woman's primary responsibility.

Our survey looked at 3,040 senior positions across 10 key sectors.

Among the main findings were:

  • 35% of senior civil service posts are held by women, with men occupying 150 of the 231 positions in the top five grades;
  • Just five of our top 100 businesses are led by women, with the 2011 census also showing nearly two-thirds (63%) of managers, directors and senior officials at Northern Ireland firms are men;
  • The PSNI's senior ranks are male-dominated, with women holding only 16% of positions at superintendent level and above;
  • Only 15% of QCs – the most senior barristers – are women;
  • Men also dominate senior positions in the judiciary, politics, health and education.

Our Assembly has the lowest representation of women in any of the UK's devolved or national legislatures. Women hold just 20% of the 108 seats, trailing behind Westminster (23%), the Scottish Parliament (35%) and the Welsh Assembly (42%).

Ulster Unionist MLA Sandra Overend – one of just 22 female representatives at Stormont – said a lack of confidence was holding back some women in society. "With women making up 51% of the population of Northern Ireland, it goes without saying that there should be more women in high-ranking positions," she said.

"Personally, I believe that things are improving, but there is still some way to go.

"I have spoken to women held back, not by the glass ceiling but by the sticky floor – whilst they may have had the skills to compete for the top jobs, a lack of confidence prevented them going forward.

"It is incumbent upon us to help and encourage more women to have the confidence to put themselves forward, and with that begin to address the imbalance."

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, the head of the Equality Commission, Evelyn Collins, said that while progress has been made in narrowing the gender gap, serious inequalities remain.

She also said accessing affordable, quality childcare remains a significant barrier to employment for many women.

"Northern Ireland continues to have one of the lowest levels of childcare provision in the UK. That has to be addressed if participation by women in our economy and our institutions is ever to reach its full potential," she said.

"The provision of flexible working arrangements by most employers has brought great benefits but the fact that these measures are accessed mostly by women points up an underlying truth – that caring for a family is still seen to a great extent as primarily a woman's responsibility."

In many cases attempts are being made to address the balance. For example, 45% of GPs are female, compared to just 20% in the 1980s.

It is a similar situation in the legal profession, with a near 50-50 split in new barristers.

However, in both cases, the senior positions are overwhelmingly dominated by men. Senior business positions also tend to be filled by men.

This year was the first time that Northern Ireland's top company, as identified by the Belfast Telegraph, was headed by a woman.

Janet McCollum became managing director of poultry processor Moy Park in January. She was one of only five female CEOs in our top-100 list.

Katja Hall, who is deputy director general of business lobby group, the CBI, said: "Although business has come a long way in recent decades, it is critical that business continues to drive the diversity agenda, which is something that the Belfast Telegraph's Top 100 reflects."

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