Check Against Delivery
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen.
I would like to thank the Public Appointments Service firstly for organising such a wonderful event and secondly for inviting me to speak. Encouraging, supporting and facilitating women to take on leadership roles is taken very seriously by the Tánaiste and by me and so I’m particularly impressed with the theme for this years’ event “BeboldForChange”. It says it all, doesn’t it! If you want something enough, and all here present clearly do, well it does require taking bold steps, trying new ideas, not being afraid to change the status quo, getting up after being knocked down and saying loudly that the time has come for women’s equality in all areas of life including leadership.
International Women’s Day is a day dedicated to acknowledging women’s achievements throughout history and across nations, celebrating the social economic, cultural and political achievements. Although much work needs to be done to gain full equality, I think it is important to recognise and acknowledge the successes and efforts being made to bring about gender equality in the Civil and Public Service. It is a good place to lead by example.
The Tánaiste and I have strongly advocated for the participation of women in decision-making whenever the opportunity has arisen. For this reason, advancing women in leadership is one of the high-level objectives proposed for the new National Women’s Strategy 2017-2020.
It is no secret that although women account for 60% of all staff across the Civil Service, they are under-represented at senior levels. The proportion reduces at each step along the hierarchy, with 38% at Principal level, 31% at Assistant Secretary level, and 22% at Secretary General or equivalent. Both the Tánaiste and I want to see improvement in these figures and we want to send a strong message to women that have ambition and talent to reach the senior levels that we will address any barriers that may serve to prevent them applying for those positions. Gender balance is not just for the benefit of women alone but of society as a whole.
The Civil Service Renewal Plan which was launched in October 2014 is an ambitious “Beboldforchange” programme to create a more unified; professional; responsive and open and accountable Irish Civil Service. The actions in the Plan are aimed at supporting the future development of the Irish Civil Service and at its heart is a vision to provide a world-class service to the State and to the people. Significant progress has been made in implementing many of the actions including those related to enhancing governance, reforming our HR approach and enhancing our systems.
The Plan commits to improving gender balance at each level by reviewing supports and policies to ensure these are impactful and measurable.
A key commitment in the Plan is to maximise the contribution of all staff, by nurturing and rewarding talent and by encouraging civil servants to develop their potential in a workplace committed to equality, diversity, and mutual respect. New gender balance policy measures endorsed by the Government and announced in January 2017 are framed around practical HR and organisational considerations. The practical steps that will be taken include a target of 50/50 gender balance in senior level appointments, research projects by the ESRI, a new Senior Public Service Executive Leadership Programme, and a Principal Officer Level Leadership Programme. There is a strong expectation that nominations for these Leadership Programmes will be balanced 50/50 from a gender perspective.
In relation to my own Department, I am pleased to say that we are currently funding the ESRI to investigate the factors associated with gender imbalance at the higher level of the Irish civil service using the data from the Civil Service Employee Engagement Survey. The survey was undertaken in 2015 and contains responses from just over 15,500 civil servants. The ESRI will undertake further analysis of the Survey results to investigate potential barriers to women’s equal advancement in the civil service.
It will also conduct field research which we hope will identify why women do not go forward in greater numbers for Top Level Appointments Committee (TLAC) competitions.
It is hoped that the report will be published around June this year.
More generally, occupational segregation contributes to gender inequalities in the labour market, impacting on many outcomes including promotion opportunities. Sometimes, women are more concentrated in jobs /sections with shorter promotion ladders or where there is a lower ratio of senior to junior positions. The segregation of women and men into different roles at lower levels within an organisation can also prevent women from obtaining the job-specific skills, training and experience that are valued for promotion. Previous research in the Irish civil service and public sector suggested that women are less likely to occupy roles that involve high profile activities, financial decision making, or policy development and are more concentrated on the operational side, which is less visible to senior management and Ministers. The gender difference in the take up of part-time work and other flexible options because of caring responsibilities is also associated with lower access to training and opportunities for advancement.
Women’s aspirations and self-confidence can contribute to gender inequality in promotions. A number of studies have found that women apply less frequently for promotion even if they are eligible.
As regards political life, I am pleased to say that a gender quota for general election candidates which applied for first time to the February 2016 general election appears to have contributed to a significant increase in the proportion of TDs who are women. In that election, 35 women, 22% of the total, were successful. This compares with 15% in 2011 and is the highest number of women yet elected. And, still, we are well behind comparable countries in the level of women’s representation. So, we have a lot more to do.
I have already mentioned advancing women in leadership as one of the proposed objectives of the National Women’s Strategy. The other objectives we proposed are:
- Advance socio-economic equality for women and girls;
- Improve women’s and girls’ physical and mental health;
- Promote women’s and girls’ equal and active citizenship; and
- Embed gender equality in decision-making.
In the course of the public consultations on the Strategy, we were strongly urged to designate combating violence against women as an objective, separate to the improvement of women’s and girls’ health, and I would propose to do that.
My aim is that the new Strategy will work for women across all ages, classes and situations, and that it will add value to what is already being done.
One of the big obstacles to gender equality is the unbalanced sharing of caring roles between women and men. Rectifying this is key to greater labour market participation by women and their advancement into decision-making roles.
In September 2016, paid paternity leave was introduced in Ireland for the first time through the Paternity Leave and Benefit Act. The Act creates an entitlement to two weeks leave and benefit for new fathers. The leave can be taken at any time within the first six months following birth. The Department of Social Protection pays the benefit at a rate of €230 per week. There is no statutory obligation on an employer to continue to pay the normal salary during paternity leave, but employers can provide a top-up to the father's Paternity Benefit if they so choose.
The benefits of Paternity leave
- Promotes a fairer sharing of parental responsibilities
- Has a positive impact on fatherhood. Fathers who take paternity leave are more likely to take an active role in child-care tasks as the child grows. Even a short amount of Paternity Leave can equip a new father with the skills and confidence that are instrumental in caring for his child.
- Increases the bond between father and child in a way that would not happen in its absence.
- Evidence also shows that paternity leave has longer-term benefits for a child’s development and learning abilities.
- Research also indicates that mothers who are supported at home in the weeks following a child’s birth tend to be healthier and to have lower incidences of post-natal depression.
- In general, investing in a child’s early years leads to better outcomes for both the child and wider society.
- Simply put, the more time that fathers can spend with their babies - the better.
The introduction of paternity leave will bring Ireland into line with most other European countries and comes at a time when the European Commission is reviewing its policy options for better addressing the challenges of work-life balance.
The latest figures (January, 2017) show that one in every four new fathers is applying for the benefit. The experience of the UK and other EU Member States is that take up of paternity leave is low. For instance, paternity leave has been available in the UK since 2003 and take up of the full allocation is still only at 50% of eligible fathers with a further 25% taking some paternity leave perhaps combined with annual or other forms of leave. With this in mind, the Minister for Social Protection launched a national awareness campaign last autumn and the Department of Social Protection is continuing to monitor uptake closely.
There is a commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government to significantly increase paid parental leave in the first year of a child’s life over the next five years. Exactly how this is to be achieved has not been formally considered yet by Government, although at a departmental level work is underway on the examination of options. Possible approaches to expanding the leave include:
- An increase in paternity leave
- An increase in maternity leave that can also be transferred to the woman’s partner
- A new type of leave that can be taken by either parent
- A combination of different types of leave.
Proposals in this regard will be formulated in due course and the Department of Justice and Equality would be delighted to receive feedback and comments from anyone who has a particular interest in this field.
Of course, in addition to its better known role as recruiter of staff for the Civil Service and public bodies, the Public Appointments Service (PAS) has a vital role in filling vacancies on State boards. It does this from the standpoint of recruiting the best people available, thus ensuring good governance in the State sector, which is what the public expect and deserve in this day and age.
In the most recent returns, the gender breakdown of State board members shows that 38.4% are women. This is the highest proportion of female board members since the target was introduced and is very welcome. I believe that the Public Appointments Services (PAS’s) involvement in this work and its impartial and transparent approach has contributed significantly to progress towards the 40% target for each board, a target which is part of our Programme for Government, as it has been for successive Governments for some time.
However, it is not just State boards that we must be concerned about. Women are under-represented on private sector boards as well and we compare poorly at international level in this regard. This is something which I hope we will be able to address in the forthcoming National Women’s Strategy.
I have reviewed a few areas that I thought would be of interest this morning. What is clear is that we have to renew our efforts and bring together all the pieces of the jigsaw so we can as one community, private and public sector together, achieve the goal we are striving for - an Ireland where all women enjoy equality with men and can achieve their full potential, while enjoying a safe and fulfilling life. This is the Vision of our forthcoming National Women’s Strategy.
Again, I would like to thank the Public Appointments Service (PAS) for the invitation to speak at this event and hope the rest of the day goes well.