Proportion of women civil service leaders improves internationally – but only one G20 country has achieved gender parity in top jobs

By on 23/11/2022 | Updated on 23/11/2022
Canada is the only G20 country to have reached gender parity in the top five grades of its public service (at 51.1%), and just four more are within 10 percentage points of doing so. Graphic by Jack Aldane

Less than one in three senior civil servants across the governments of G20 countries are women, new research from Global Government Forum has found.

The latest Women Leaders Index found that only one G20 country – Canada – has reached gender parity in the top five grades of its public service (at 51.1%), and just four more are within 10 percentage points of doing so.

However, there has been improvement – the G20 mean (29.3%) has increased by 1.6 percentage points since our last Index in 2020 and by 6.0 points since our first 10 years ago.

The long-running Women Leaders Index is a league table ranking G20, EU and OECD countries on the proportion of women in senior roles within their national civil services. As well as tracking progress over time, it includes comparisons with women in government, women politicians, and women on private sector boards, alongside interviews with public service leaders in two of the top performing countries – Canada and South Africa.    

Read the full Women Leaders Index 2022 report here

Those leading the G20 pack behind Canada, are Australia and South Africa – which tie in second place – the UK, Brazil, and Mexico and the European Commission, which tie in fifth place. Mexico has increased the representation of women in civil service leadership positions the most of all G20 nations, by a dramatic 24.3 percentage points over the last decade, while South Africa has made the most improvement in the two years since the last Index – a jump of 7.2 points.

Bringing up the G20 rear are Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea, China and Turkey, in which representation of women in the senior civil service is between 2.5% and 11.7%.

Countries including Germany, Italy, France and the US reside in the middle of the G20 ranking, with women accounting for between 32.0% and 38.0% of top roles in each.   

EU and OECD countries faring better than those in the G20  

Though the G20 has traditionally been the main ranking in the Women Leaders Index, it also analyses representation of women in the highest grades of national civil services in EU and OECD countries.

The Index found that overall, EU and OECD countries are doing better on representation of women in senior positions in government departments and agencies – for which the mean proportions are 42.7% and 36.2% respectively – than those in the G20*.

The mean across the European Union’s member states has improved by 0.8 percentage points since 2020, and by 7.5 points since 2012, with nine of the EU’s 27 member states having reached gender parity in the top two tiers of their civil services. Bulgaria tops this ranking, with women accounting for 59.5% of those running government departments, followed by Croatia, Slovenia, Greece, Finland, Latvia, Romania, Lithuania, and Portugal.

Read our Canada perspective from seasoned public service leader Yazmine Laroche, including transferable lessons on how to make progress towards gender parity

Croatia has made the most improvement of all EU nations since 2012 – a rise of 21.1 percentage points, while Bulgaria has made the greatest improvement since the 2020 Index, of 7.8 points.

Latvia, where women account for 56% of the top tiers of its civil service, tops the OECD ranking, while six more – Sweden, Iceland, New Zealand, Greece, Canada and Slovakia – have reached or exceeded gender parity.

Regression in some countries – but public services performing better overall

While most G20, EU and OECD countries have improved the representation of women in the highest grades of their civil services in recent years, some have regressed.

The G20 data shows that in Russia and Argentina there are fewer officials in senior positions now than in 2020, while China, Turkey and South Korea have regressed since 2012.  

Six EU countries – Sweden, Poland, Cyprus, Italy, the Czech Republic and Luxembourg – perform worse in terms of representation of women in the top two tiers of the civil service since 2020, while Hungary is worse off now than 10 years ago.  

However, on a positive note, when looking at the means across the G20, EU and OECD, it is clear that civil services are doing better on representation of women in leadership roles compared with ministerial cabinet appointments, elected politicians and the boards of publicly-listed private sector companies.

Read our South Africa perspective from Zukiswa Mqolomba, deputy chairperson of the country’s Public Service Commission, on why making real and positive change isn’t just a numbers game

“Many governments have made impressive gains on representation of women in leadership positions in recent years as a result of concerted efforts to make change and should be applauded,” said Mia Hunt, author of the Women Leaders Index report and editor of globalgovernmentforum.com.

“However, while it is widely accepted that civil services with diverse workforces that resemble the populations they serve turn out better policies and better outcomes for citizens, the mean proportion of women in top civil service positions across G20 nations is still less than 30%. Clearly, there is much more work to be done.

“We hope this Index gives the countries that have made progress the recognition they deserve, whilst serving as a wake-up call for those most in need of improvement. Let us see what’s changed when we publish the next in this Women Leaders Index series.”

*Please note that grade definitions vary between the G20, EU and OECD datasets. Caution should be exercised when making comparisons – see methodology here.

Delve into the Women Leaders Index 2022 data here

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