Women are severely underrepresented in leadership positions in the public sector across the G20, despite making up almost half of the public sector workforce, research has found.
The Worldwide Index of Women as Public Sector Leaders report, which was published by global accounting firm Ernst & Young, found women account for around 48% of the overall public sector workforce but represent less than 20% of public sector leadership across the G20 sector.
E&Y global government and public sector leader Uschi Schreiber, who is visiting Australia this week, tells SmartCompany the reasons for this are many and often occur in spite of equal opportunity legislation.
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“Governments in the G20 countries have had legislation and policy in place for some time around equal opportunity employment, but legislation alone doesn’t do it,” she says.
Australia, which has gender equality policies in place, is one of the best performing countries with 37% of women in leadership positions in the public sector, placing second in the G20 index after Canada, which has 45% women in leading roles in government departments.
Australia is one of just four countries in the G20 with a third or more of women represented at senior levels across the public sector, with 37% in leadership positions out of 57% female employees in the sector.
Schreiber says Australia’s high ranking can be attributed in part to its equal employment opportunities, but she warns we shouldn’t rely on legislation alone to ensure fairer gender distribution in senior government roles.
She says anecdotal evidence suggests the numbers of women in leadership roles in the government sector may actually fall further as the public sector suffers further job cuts.
“Anecdotally there seems to be talk of the numbers declining, which will be interesting when we start measuring this annually,” she says.
Issues of unconscious bias, a lack of female role models at the top and a reluctance of women to put themselves forward for senior roles all contribute to poor representation of women seen at senior levels, Schreiber says.
She says it is more important than ever to have increased diversity at senior levels of the public sector as governments are faced with increasingly difficult issues.
“Governments at this point in time are dealing with more complex issues than ever before and you need more diversity at senior decision-making tables in government departments,” she says.
“Let’s keep focusing on getting diversity in the most senior roles in government and let’s not rest on our laurels because it could mean that we go backwards. We can’t take our eye off the ball.”