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There is a wealth of research that shows gender equality in leadership strengthens a country’s competitiveness and economic development efforts. But, while some progress has been made globally in advancing gender equality, the pace at which it occurs has been relatively slow within countries, especially in the public sector. There are a myriad of reasons from lack of political will to cultural challenges to motivational factors.

According to the Financial Times, financial services companies report the largest difference between what they pay their male and female staff. The European Commission also stated recently that the average hourly pay of women in Europe is 16.3% lower than that of men. Women also continue to be under-represented at top-level positions in the largest companies in the EU. Only 1 in 14 board chairs, and 1 in 20 CEOs, are women.

Organizations such as EY stated in their gender pay gap figures in October 2017 that they are making progress on gender diversity, in terms of both the occupations and seniority of roles. For example, EY set down targets to have at least 30% female representation in its new partner intake, measured on a 3-year rolling period; in 2017 those figures stand at 27%.

It is clear that women continue to face formidable legal, social, financial, and cultural barriers in labor forces around the world. Importantly, even if women do make up a high proportion of their country’s labor force, for example, in Russia, it does not necessarily lead to more women in leadership roles.

A collaborative effort between all services working in the public sector must be made to ensure the right long-term solution is made.

There are many global examples of initiatives that try to boost the gender diversity of certain departments within the public service workforce. For example, South Africa, a historically traditional and patriarchal society, has had employment equity in place for a decade, which requires companies with more than 50 people to hire and promote women.

Iceland has also recognized the gender pay gap and rectified this problem by introducing a new policy in the New Year, in which firms must now pay women and men equally when performing the same job.

As advocates for sound public financial management, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA) recognizes the need to strategically support all our members in the public sector. Our membership currently stands at over 14,000 public finance professionals in 176 countries, with an average 32% female representation. A number of our female members have broken the glass ceiling, moving into senior leadership positions, such as director generals of departments.

Interestingly, our students’ ratio is strikingly different—almost 50:50. They are the future of public finance and it is very important that equal access to opportunities and in leadership is available to them. Change is happening, but a lot more must be done. The time is right for us to take positive action. After all, it is imperative that the public sector harnesses this untapped workforce for benefit of all.

Gillian Fawcett

Head of International, CIPFA

Gillian Fawcett is Head of International at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). She is responsible for spearheading CIPFA’s international strategy and the Institute’s advisory services for finance professionals working in public services around the world.