More than just a numbers game: how – and why – to achieve gender parity in public services

December 14, 2023

Many countries are a long way from reaching gender parity in leadership positions in their national civil services. And even in those that have achieved it, or are close to it, it can be rare to find women in the most important and influential roles and departments.

As a number of top civil servants, both male and female, have told Global Government Forum in interviews – it isn’t just a numbers game when it comes to gender equity, it’s about what roles those women do and where, and whether they enjoy the same influence in decision-making as their male counterparts.

To mark the launch of the Global Government Women’s Network – a new community of women from civil and public services around the world – this webinar delved into the story under the surface.

Join the all-female panel to find out:

  • The barriers they and colleagues came up against and overcame as women in the public service – and what the challenges taught them.
  • Their views on what needs to be done to ensure women have an equal voice around the table when decisions are made – and the knock-ons for policy and public service delivery.
  • The recruitment, promotion and career development initiatives and processes that can help to ensure women have the opportunity to reach the highest and most difficult roles.


Zukiswa Mqolomba, National Commissioner (Deputy Chairperson), Public Service Commission, South Africa

Zukiswa Mqolomba is a senior Public Sector Executive with roots deeply embedded in strategy, economics, poverty and public policy work. She is a Mandela Rhodes Scholar and Chevening scholar. She has won international, continental and domestic awards for her leadership in public policy and governance. For instance, she has been awarded the Africa Youth Awards 2021, and Africa3535 leadership laureat award for Governance. She has also won the Humphrey Leadership award from the United States also for her policy contribution in the Public sector, as well as 2 time winner of the Mail&Guardian top 200 leaders award, running in the top 10 for Politics and Government. She is also a recipient of the Vice-chancellor’s award, University of Cape Town. She has a keen interest in finding solutions to public sector challenges, as well as public service innovations and transformations. She’s done research and policy work on public sector innovation and transformation. Her research work includes conducting research on the developmental state and the institutional architecture pertaining to building it. She has done some work on building meritocratic states, including recruitment in the public service, as well as strategies on how to deal with corruption and to professionalise the public service. She’s also done work on the National Development Plan and how to build a professionalised and transformed public service. She has recently been appointed by the President of the Republic of SA to be a National Commissioner (Deputy Chairperson) for the Public Service Commission of South Africa.

Mehnaz Tabassum, IT Project Manager, Corporate Services Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat, Canada

Mehnaz Tabassum is a true embodiment of multipotentiality. With over 6 years of full-time work experience as a certified Project Management Professional (PMP), Mehnaz possesses a unique blend of business acumen and social awareness. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) and a Certificate in Public Policy from Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Currently serving as the IT Project Manager at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat’s Corporate Services Sector, Mehnaz excels in agile project management practices and promotes agile leadership through her work. Mehnaz has a track record of leading digital transformation initiatives across various branches, including the Canada Revenue Agency’s Security Branch (ASB), Human Resources Branch (HRB), and Assessment, Benefits, and Services Branch (ABSB).

Mehnaz is also the co-founder and Director of NL Eats Community Outreach Inc., a rapidly growing social enterprise dedicated to addressing food insecurity for individuals facing barriers. Her leadership has created project opportunities for 165 youth and benefited over 1500 community members.

In addition to her professional work, Mehnaz is deeply committed to people development and servant leadership. She runs her own consultancy, where she coaches individuals to achieve their career development goals and mentors’ new immigrants in partnership with Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization – OCISO.

Alice Lundsten, Head of Demand and Capacity Programme, NHS England

Alice is a values driven leader in the National Health Service (NHS), dedicated to promoting equality and fostering an inclusive environment. Her journey towards advocating for equity began early, sparked by a project exploring the Suffragette movement’s place in history. This passion led her to serve as the Equal Opportunities Officer for her Students’ Union, demonstrating a commitment to equality from a young age. Alice has been a trustee for Kiota (registered charity number 1101316) since 2007. Kiota’s vision is a world in which women, children and young people can determine their futures, free from harm and exploitation. Alice’s commitment to equality and empowerment resonates through her professional and philanthropic work.

Alice’s professional journey spans over two decades, starting in the third sector and then moving into healthcare. Her expertise lies in nurturing stakeholder relationships and steering large-scale projects to fruition. In recent years, Alice has grown into a senior leadership role, directing The National Demand and Capacity Programme. Supporting the NHS to better understand demand on its services and plan sufficient capacity, so that patients do not wait longer than necessary for treatment. Alongside her leadership roles, Alice is an accomplished coach and mentor. She emphasises creating a psychologically safe space conducive to personal and professional growth, encouraging individuals to break free of old habits and embrace new challenges.

Webinar chair: Siobhan Benita, Facilitator, Global Government Forum

Siobhan Benita was a senior civil servant with over 15 years’ Whitehall experience. She worked in many of the major delivery departments, including Transport, Environment, Health and Local Government. She also had senior roles at the heart of Government in the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury, including supporting the then Cabinet Secretary, Lord O’Donnell to lead work on Civil Service reform and strategy. Siobhan left the Civil Service to run as an independent candidate in the Mayor of London election. She subsequently joined her alma mater, Warwick University as Chief Strategy Officer of Warwick in London and Co-Director of the Warwick Policy Lab.