The power of a diverse civil service, Mexico’s first female president, and more

By on 06/06/2024 | Updated on 06/06/2024
Hannah Cameron, deputy commissioner in New Zealand's Public Service Commission

Welcome to the latest edition of the Global Government Women’s Network newsletter.

This month, international leaders discuss the strategies they are using to embrace diversity in the workforce in all its various forms. As Hannah Cameron, deputy commissioner in New Zealand’s Public Service Commission, put it: “Maybe 25 years ago, people were happy to accept that the public service didn’t look like them. Now, people do have that expectation, just as they also expect a greater degree of consultation and empowerment than they used to. That’s a change, and we have to rise to the challenge.”

Kadie Philp, commissioner and chief administrative officer, Pay Equity Commission of Ontario, shares a new research paper on the gender pension gap in Canada and highlights what’s driving this and how it could be addressed.

We also look at the issues that Claudia Sheinbaum, who has been elected as Mexico’s first female president, will need to address. While this is a historic victory, Sheinbaum faces major challenges such as cartel criminality, drugs and surging violence against women. What does her election mean for the women of Mexico?

Thanks for reading, and please share your thoughts and news stories with me for future editions.

Sarah Wray
Global Government Forum

In this edition:

The power of a diverse civil service

Top civil service leaders from 16 countries discussed leadership and diversity at the 2024 Global Government Summit

At the Global Government Summit, top national civil service leaders from around the world discussed the importance of diverse leadership and teams, and how they’re working to build them.

A matter of trust: “If people look at the public service and it reflects their community, they feel more trust and engagement,” said Hannah Cameron, deputy commissioner in New Zealand’s Public Service Commission.

She detailed how support provided by local Māori leaders during Cyclone Gabriel in 2023 to remote communities that had been cut off showed “the power of community organisations who really understand their communities and how to connect with them”.

Business sense: As well as there being a social justice argument for diversity, it also brings hard business benefits, said Gordon de Brouwer, Australia’s Public Service commissioner. “Having a range of perspectives is really valuable for the insights you get, for both policy and delivery. And it’s really important for recruitment and retention: people won’t go to a place where they feel they’re not valued for who they are.”

Reality check: While there are plenty of strong reasons to ensure diverse civil services, achieving this is not an easy task. One summit participant gave a lengthy list of the initiatives, policies and offices established to promote equal opportunities and workforce diversity in their country, before explaining that 80% of their 300 most senior officials are men.

Gender pay gap: New Zealand has worked hard to close both gender and ethnic pay gaps, Cameron explained – collaborating with unions and employee networks, and giving people a right to request salary reviews: some 175,000 have secured pay adjustments.

Organisational leaders were tasked with ensuring that the public service “reflects the makeup of society”, and agencies’ performance was monitored. Government took “a very data-driven approach, where agencies identify the data and plan out how they need to make a difference, but we don’t set them targets”, Cameron explained. Since 2018, the public service’s gender pay gap has fallen from 12.2% to 7.1%, and its Māori pay gap from 11.2% to 5.4%.

Australia’s public service pay gap is similar at 5.2%, said de Brouwer. It persists because there are more women than men in more junior roles, he explained: there is gender and pay parity among the country’s most senior 3,000 officials.

The talent is there: Senior leaders plan carefully and well in advance in order to maintain this balance, de Brouwer said, “proactively looking for talent throughout the structure” and building pipelines of rising female stars. “The talent is there, but sometimes you’ve got to look for it,” he added.

Read more: Read the full event summary for a discussion on diversity in areas such as LGBT representation and neurodiversity, and the need to collect hard evidence of the benefits of a diverse civil service.

UK’s recruitment ‘attraction strategy’: At a separate event run by the Institute for Government, Cat Little, the permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office and civil service chief operating officer, outlined a plan for an “attraction strategy” to get the best talent into government. She said that good recruitment is vital to the work of government, commenting: “We do really diverse things in the civil service, so it matters that we have diverse skills, diverse experience, and diverse expertise.” Find out more about the plan.

The other gender pay gap: pensions

A photo of male and female figures sitting on piles of piles of coins to represent the gender pay gap
Photo: Shutterstock

In this guest article for Global Government Forum, Kadie Philp, commissioner and chief administrative officer, Pay Equity Commission of Ontario, introduces a new research paper on the gender pension gap in Canada.

The paper: ‘Understanding the Gender Pension Gap in Canada’ is published by Ontario’s Pay Equity Office with Dr Elizabeth Shilton, long-time feminist litigator, labour lawyer, and pension expert.

Unequal benefits: The research finds that although Canada’s retirement income system is recognised as one of the strongest in the world, not all Canadians are benefitting equally. While retirement incomes have increased substantially for all Canadians, men have consistently fared better than women and a persistent gender pension gap remains.

The gap: In 1976 – the first year for which meaningful statistics are available – the gender pension gap (GPG) in Canada stood at 15%, and it has stubbornly refused to close despite substantial increases in overall retirement income and massive advances in women’s labour market engagement and earnings since then. In fact, the GPG has increased: it currently stands at about 17%, which means that for every dollar of retirement income men receive, women get only 83 cents.

In 2020, approximately 200,000 more women than men aged over the age of 65 were living below Canada’s low-income cut-off. Further, 21% of women aged 75 and over had incomes below this threshold – 51% higher than their male counterparts of similar age. “This underscores a deeply entrenched inequality that demands urgent attention,” Philp writes.

Contributing factors: Factors that contribute to the gender pension gap are identified as childbearing and rearing, caregiving, unpaid domestic labour, the existing gender wage gap, historical bias, and the make-up of the pension system itself.

Now what? Read the full article for a closer look at these factors and, crucially, what can be done to address the gender pension gap – starting with comprehensive gender-based analysis of the retirement income system as well as ongoing monitoring.

Training: Women into leadership

Global Government Forum is running two stand-alone but complementary seminars that look at a wide range of issues affecting women who are either looking to move into leadership roles, or who are already in such roles, and who wish to equip themselves for a further upwards move.  

Find out more about session one on 2 July and session two on 9 July.

Claudia Sheinbaum elected as Mexico’s first female president

EneasMx, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Following a landslide victory on June 2, Claudia Sheinbaum, the former mayor (and first female mayor) of Mexico City, will become Mexico’s first female president. What are the major issues she faces?

Historic moment: “For the first time in the 200 years of the republic I will become the first woman president of Mexico,” Sheinbaum said of her victory, which saw her win around 60% of the votes.

Reactions: World leaders including US president Joe Biden, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, French president Emmanuel Macron and Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva have welcomed Sheinbaum. “I congratulate Claudia Sheinbaum on her historic election as the first woman President of Mexico. I look forward to working closely with President-elect Sheinbaum in the spirit of partnership and friendship that reflects the enduring bonds between our two countries,” Biden said.

Seismic shift, massive challenge: Amalendu Misra, professor of international politics at Lancaster University, called Sheinbaum’s election “a seismic shift” in “a society that has long treated its women unfavourably”.

However, he noted that she “inherits a very challenging responsibility” as “the second-best performing economy in Latin America risks being overwhelmed by cartel criminality, the growing threat of narco-politics, and surging violence against women”.

Misra cited statistics that Mexico has seen more than 30,000 murders per year for five years and the total number of people that have gone missing in Mexico since records began in 1962 now exceeds 100,000. Every year, more than 3,000 women in Mexico are murdered and around a quarter of these murders are counted as femicide, where women are killed because of their gender. Girls and women also form the bulk of kidnapping, disappearances and human trafficking in the country.

Violence has marred the election campaign itself, with dozens of candidates killed. This week, just a day after the election, Yolanda Sánchez, mayor of the Mexican town of Cotija, was shot and killed. 

Upshot for women: The question for many now is what the impact of Sheinbaum’s election will be for women in Mexico.

During her campaign, Sheinbaum said she sees herself as a feminist and does not agree with or accept violence of any kind.

On the campaign trail, Sheinbaum and her rival Xochitl Gálvez championed women and shared their experiences as women. “But in the closing stages of the campaign, neither Sheinbaum nor Gálvez offered much more than the ‘historic first’ argument to potential voters. As a result, the extension of women’s rights under the new government remains uncertain,” said Xavier Medina Vidal, associate professor of political science and director of the Center for Mexican American Studies, and Christopher Chambers-Ju, assistant professor of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington.

“Aside from front-line politics, women’s rights in Mexico have moved forward when leaders have committed to substantive change.”

Priority issues: The authors highlighted the work of Norma Lucía Piña, the first woman to serve as chief justice of Mexico’s Supreme Court, who has declared all federal and state laws prohibiting abortion unconstitutional.

“When Piña took office, she promised to take on women’s rights in her agenda. So far, she’s delivered,” they wrote, urging Sheinbaum to follow Pinã’s lead by focusing on the issues that most affect women in their day-to-day lives, “beginning with rising femicide rates”.

Rising power: “Women may be gaining political power in Mexico, but the question now is whether they’ll use it to fight for the women they represent,” the academics concluded.

The case for specific laws against femicide

Image: Rad Pozniakov on Unsplash

Many countries around the world are making the killing of women a specific crime. Madhumita Pandey, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Sheffield Hallam University, makes the case for countries to back up regulation with wider measures.

Pressing global issue: An average of five women or girls are killed every hour by family members, according to UN data. “And often their murders are intrinsically linked to them being women,” says Pandey.

Legal changes: Following a 2013 UN resolution, many countries, particularly high-income ones, have enacted femicide laws. In 2022, Cyprus and Malta incorporated femicide into their criminal codes, enhancing penalties for gender-related killings. Croatia recently made femicide a standalone offence carrying a prison sentence of 10 years or more. Latin America, with high femicide rates, has seen 18 countries classify it as a distinct hate crime. Costa Rica was the first to legally define femicide in 2007, imposing severe punishments for spousal murders and other related abuses.

Regulation not enough: Despite these legal advances, a Queen Mary University of London report on Mexico indicates that laws alone are insufficient to reduce femicide, highlighting issues like misclassification and under-reporting. Costa Rica sought to address this by broadening the definition of femicide to include murders by those in positions of trust or authority. This has contributed to a lower femicide rate compared to neighbouring countries.

Pandey argues that effectively combatting femicide also requires addressing issues such as ‘toxic masculinity’ and promoting gender equality.

State role: She also notes that the idea of femicide emphasises state culpability and the need for adequate responses to this gender-based violence. “Clearly, we need to go beyond the legal framework to combat violence against women and girls. It will take advocacy and active participation of community members to create long-term solutions to curtail femicides,” she said.

Read more: Read the full article on Global Government Forum

Webinar: Hybrid working and women civil servants

Wynn Pointaux from Pixabay

3 October: Online

This webinar will look at the benefits of fitting work around caring responsibilities at home and the potential risk that women who are not in the office as often have less influence in team decisions.

Register now

The Global Government Women’s Network is a free network for women in civil and public services around the world. Find out more and sign up.

About Sarah Wray

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