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Despite nearly 40 years of government action on gender equality issues, there are still invisible and visible barriers that impede the career progress of women working in finance in the public sector. Research from EY shows that although women occupy a wealth of positions within public services, only 36.2% make up leadership positions in the UK.
However, in comparison to other countries, the UK has one of the best records for hiring women to top positions. For instance, in Germany women occupy only 18% of public sector senior positions. Yet, the statistics from EY demonstrate women still encounter significant difficulties in being promoted to the very top posts.
The reasons behind this glass-ceiling will be complex, but research from the Civil Service shines a light on some of the issues behind the gender imbalance.
According to the Civil Service, one of the main, and well-documented, challenges is that women often have greater care responsibilities in comparison to their male counterparts. This often leads to more women working part-time, where they then have less opportunities to network and receive development training. Other significant issues were identified, such as women often under-estimating their ability to carry out senior roles.
Although there has been action taken to address these issues, such as flexible working, shared maternity leave and quotas, unconscious biases remain. These can often be deeply ingrained, but considering there has been a significant shift in attitudes over the past 60 years, there is great hope things will improve even further.
In the coming months, CIPFA will be setting up a Women in Public Finance Network to explore these issues and provide support to its members. More information will follow soon.