Facing Up to Gender Inequality in The Public Sector

Now is the time for better representation of women in public sector leadership roles, says Natalie Campbell

The private sector gets a pretty hard time when it comes to women in leadership. There aren't enough women on boards. Whack! There aren't enough women chief executives. Whack! There aren't enough female senior managers beyond the human resources and marketing departments. Whack!

Well, I have a big stick for the public, social and third sectors. Wallop!

At present, 35% of public sector leaders are women. While we're ranked in the top five around the world for representation, this is still disappointing, given that 51% of the population is female. We rule in numbers, but that appears to be it.

Earlier in the year there was a major furore over the speaker lineup at an event for charity fundraisers (nine men and one woman) and the event was cancelled.

A quick scan of the boards I've had some interaction with, which include NESTA (five women out of 13), Big Lottery (three women out of nine) and Big Society Capital (two women out of nine) highlights that while representation is better than in FSTE 100 companies, it's still not equal or as representative as it should be, given their stakeholder groups and the work they aim to do. As a side note, I was also looking at their racial diversity. As a not-so-side note, the racial diversity on said boards is beyond appalling: it's offensive.

I know that gender inequality is not intentional, but as Professor Susan Vinnicombe, director of the International Centre for Women Leaders points out, the obstacle is that organisations have failed to "pull" women into leadership roles. As there are multiple pools to recruit from, I really don't understand the gap.

There are a growing number of opportunities for women with leadership ambitions in the public, social and third sectors to get the right development support and access networks of likeminded peers. As a Clore Social Leadership Fellow, I am proud and honoured to be in the company of talented people (men and women) who will go on to lead organisations and help solve some of the UK's most challenging social and environmental issues.

The Fellowship combines the academic rigour of an MBA with the reflective and ideological framework of a wellness retreat in Bali; without the sun and spa treatments, but with the added element of the formidable Dame Mary Marsh, a great example of a woman leading as a former headteacher, charity chief executive, NED and leadership development campaigner.

The fellowship instils three key points that any leader, particularly women leaders, should take on board: Know Yourself, Be Yourself, Look After Yourself.

Three simple statements, but a good reminder that as women, we bring a different type of leadership style to the table. We shouldn't have to be like men to get to the top and its OK to mix professional success with a life outside of work; be it having a family, a hobby or simply switching off to recharge.

Similarly, Cranfield runs an executive development programme to support women as leaders. The course aims to help women "think positively about ambition, power, impression management and career success".

Surely there are women leaving both leadership programmes chomping at the bit and ready to lead in any and all sectors?

So, a final slap on the wrist for the sectors I know and love. It's not enough to point fingers and say: "We're doing better than the private sector". Given the talent that is staring you in the face, I expect to see better representation of women in leadership roles sooner rather than later.


This article first appeared on The Guardian.


Natalie Campbell is founder and director of A Very Good Company, a social innovation consultancy.

Follow her on Twitter or connect with her on Linkedin.

Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
  • Twitter Basic Square