Women remain significantly underrepresented in senior public sector leadership roles across most G20 countries, as well as similarly underrepresented in parliaments and ministerial positions, according to EY’s latest Worldwide Index of Women as Public Leaders report.
- Only five G20 countries have over a third or more women in senior positions.
- European Commission increases women in public leadership roles from 20.5% to 27.5% year-on-year
- Russia sees the largest increase of women in leadership roles from 13% to 23.4% during same period
The report maintains that although women account for around 48% of the overall public sector workforce, they still represent less than 20% of senior public sector leadership roles across the G20.
This year’s Index, which classifies senior leaders as non-elected senior executives across federal or national governments, and the executive ranks of the core civil service, shows that only five countries in the G20 have over a third or more women in senior leadership roles across the public sector. Canada (45.9%), Australia (39.2%), South Africa (38.1%), the ), the UK (36.2%) and Brazil (33.8%) — occupy the top slots respectively, though South Africa has moved up one place to number three. The USA ranks sixth (33.5%).
Uschi Schreiber, EY’s Global Vice Chair for Markets says:
“In 2014 and moving forward, governments need innovation more than ever. After five years of stagnation, the world economy is on the brink of bouncing back. Meanwhile, as long-term demographics shift, diversity has been shown to improve innovation and creative problem solving. Governments will require a diverse group of people devising and implementing policies to put themselves at an advantage with their constituents. Unleashing the talent of women can bring powerful positive change and increases the likelihood of better outcomes for us all.”
Application of quotas
Despite a limited scope of representation of women in senior positions, overall, the 2014 Index shows a moderately encouraging picture — in all but five of the countries surveyed, the proportion of women in public sector leadership posts has increased. While ratios of women represented in the public sector overall are generally higher in developed markets, the proportion of these women in leadership roles varies widely across developed and emerging markets. This is partially due to an influx of policies encouraging affirmative action in developed markets.
Canada, which leads the Index, with women making up 45.9% of senior leaders in government, has a long history of taking positive action to promote underrepresented groups in public services. Since the early 1980s there have been voluntary affirmative action programs in both public and private sectors. In the 1990s, these were given legislative force in the public sector, and later in industries regulated by federal government.
In France, quotas on the number of women in senior posts introduced in 2012 are already having an impact as the number of female senior public leaders has increased from 21% to 25%. In Germany, the federal government introduced a 30% quota for women on the boards of DAX-listed companies in November 2013. But while there is no equivalent quota for their own civil service, the percentage of women in senior public leadership positions has increased from 13% to 17% in the last year.
Correlations to the private sector
The Index also considers data on the representation of women on private sector boards and in each country’s parliament. There is some broad correlation here – countries that are in the top half of EY’s Worldwide Index of Women as Public Sector Leaders report tend also to be in the top of the other tables that measure women representation on private sector boards and in country’s parliaments. It’s notable that South Africa is relatively high in all three categories, a testament to its strong framework of targets and affirmative action.
Turkey, however, has seen a long-term drop in women’s full labor market participation rate – from a high of 48% in 1980 to just 29% in 2013 – a rate significantly lower than most G20 countries. The country has in fact seen a decrease in senior public women leadership positions in the last year from 13.6% to 9.4%. Broadly, poor childcare options and a shift away from a traditional agricultural economy, in which women are well-represented – have contributed to this low participation rate. As Turkey continues to negotiate entry to the European Union, there will be continued pressure on the country to improve its gender equality track record.
Social barriers to leadership
The report also highlights the growing discrepancy that despite an underrepresentation of women in the leadership posts of all the governments, women are conversely well-represented in more junior posts across the public sectors in those countries. In many countries, the barriers come from outside the government itself.
In Japan and South Korea, for example, social expectations and norms which deter women from focusing on their careers, and implicit or active discrimination which prevent them from being fairly promoted, mean that despite equal access to education and broadly equal participation in the labor market overall, women are not reaching leadership levels at the same rate as their male counterparts.
“If we are to see improvements in the representation of women in public leadership positions, we need a pipeline of talented women in more junior posts – or even outside governments. For without talented women to promote, even the best laid gender diversity policies will flounder.
“Demographic concerns and public sector workforce composition will vary from country to country, but the underlying message is that if diversity is to be achieved and maintained, governments must consider the pipeline of talent coming into an organization as well as how to retain those who do make it to the top.”
World Economic Forum Global Gender Report 2014
Visit our Knowledge Bank for more reports/statistics