Platform by Michael McGimpsey MLA on the need to tackle the gender imbalance in the Senior Civil Service

The following Platform piece by Michael McGimpsey MLA, appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on Monday 31 March.

"Today the Assembly debates a motion designed to both highlight and call for action to remedy the current gender imbalance in the Senior Civil Service.

In my view this is a straightforward equality issue. 51 per cent of our population is female, but to look at our senior civil service, you certainly would not think it.

The Sex Discrimination Act came into force in the UK in 1975 and the Northern Ireland Order in 1976. Devolution was restored following the 1998 Belfast Agreement with its Section 75 commitments to promote equality and good relations, yet we still have a huge distance to travel.

We have eleven permanent secretaries as the most senior officials in our Executive departments. None are female. The next level is grade three, where of 39 officials, only nine are female. Below that we have 163 grade fives, of which 69 are female.

This situation simply is neither right, fair, nor acceptable. The senior civil service should reflect the society it serves and we should be working to build a society which does not tolerate discrimination against any group or individual, be it on the grounds of race, religion, age, sexual orientation, political opinion or country of origin.

When devolution was restored following the Belfast Agreement, we had an opportunity to bring about real change. As DCAL Minister I worked with the first ever female Permanent Secretary in the Northern Ireland civil service, Aideen McGinley. Even she was recruited from outside the civil service.

That was in 1999 and in the fifteen years since, only one other female has been as been appointed as a Permanent Secretary in Northern Ireland. Now there are none, so if anything, rather than make progress we have gone backwards.

I know from my experience as a Minister that there are many talented female civil servants, eminently capable of fulfilling a Permanent Secretary’s role. How does if affect morale when they see the top positions be handed to men time after time?

Reading the myriad of consultation documents which Government departments produce, it is quite clear that they have bought into the language of equality. What we need now is a plan with targets to remedy the situation over the next five years. Nothing less will do."

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