UK civil service improves diversity, but gender pay gap remains

By on 29/07/2021 | Updated on 04/07/2023
Credit: Suad Kamardeen/Unsplash

The UK civil service has improved overall diversity but the gender pay gap – while smaller than in 2020 – remains, new workforce statistics show.

In 2021, representation of female, ethnic minority and LGBO (lesbian, gay, bisexual or those who identified their sexual orientation as ‘other’) civil servants rose across the workforce compared with the previous year.

The average gender pay gap across the civil service also fell year-on-year, though women are still under-represented in the highest pay bracket.

The insights come from Civil Service Statistics 2021, published yesterday. The data is sourced from the Annual Civil Service Employment Survey.

“Today’s statistics show a welcome increase in diversity amongst civil servants and a narrowing in the median and mean gender pay gap,” a Cabinet Office spokesperson said.

“We recognise that there’s more to do and we have recently introduced blind recruitment applications, advertising all jobs as flexible and piloting a senior sponsorship team for under-represented groups including women,” they added.

Better represented but underpaid

More than half (54.2%) of the UK civil service are women, up from 53.8% in 2020, according to the figures. Representation of women has also increased at senior levels. In 2021, 46.7% of the senior civil service (SCS) are women, up from 45.5% in 2020 and 34.7% in 2011. Meanwhile, 48.4% of those at grades six and seven are women, the data shows, up from 47.5% in 2020 and 40.7% in 2011.

This compares favourably with the majority of G20 and EU nations, according to Global Government Forum’s latest Women Leaders Index. However, it remains the case that women are under-represented in the senior ranks of the UK civil service and over-represented at more junior grades.

The average gender pay gap for the UK civil service fell from 9.3% in 2020 to 7.8% in 2021 but persists at all levels, the stats show.

The most significant gender pay gap is at the most senior level. Across all employees at SCS level, men earned an average salary of £92,520 (US$129,078) in 2021: this figure dropped to £88,270 (US$123,149) for women.

Even in the grades where women are over-represented, the pay gap remains. For example, in 2021 56.4% of all administrative officers and assistants were women, but the average salary for men at this grade was £1,640 more than the average salary for women.

The gender pay gap also differs between department. For example, the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate has the biggest gender pay gap, with a 27.6% difference in the average salary for men and women. The Food Standards Agency, on the other hand, has the lowest with women’s average salary £3,410 more than men’s.

Improving representation

Of the civil servants who shared their ethnicity in the employment survey, 14.3% are from an ethnic minority background – an increase from 13.2% in 2020, according to the data. Indeed, the release notes that the civil service has “a higher proportion of workers from an ethnic minority background than the working age population in the UK (13.6%).”

As with women, representation tails off in the SCS. In 2021, 10.6% of the SCS are from an ethnic minority background – this was the lowest percentage across all grades. However, it is an increase from 9.1% in 2020.

The picture is more mixed when considering professionals with a disability. This year, 13.6% of all civil servants (and 7.8% of the SCS) say they have a disability. While both these percentages are an improvement on last year, it is still below the proportion of the national working age population who identify as having a disability (14.7%).

As for sexual orientation, 5.6% of all civil servants identify as being LGBO – this is up slightly from 5.0% in 2020. The SCS has the highest proportion of LGBO civil servants at 6.5%.

Location, location, location

The findings of the survey shed light on the government’s commitment to relocate civil servants away from London.

In 2021, while headcount increased across all regions, the largest uplift was in London. Indeed, the proportion of civil servants in the capital increased by 11.2% between 2020 and 2021.

There is also a seniority aspect to London focus. Some 34.9% of civil servants outside the capital are administrative officers or assistants. In London, this proportion drops to just 12.7%. Meanwhile, the percentage of senior officials (those in the SCS and at grades six and seven) in London is 32.2% – outside the capital this drops to 10.1%.

“Decision makers need to be closer to the communities they serve and this government is moving thousands of civil service roles outside of London,” the Cabinet Office spokesperson said. “Departments have already announced roles in cities across the UK, including Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Darlington and Wolverhampton.”  

About Kate Hodge

Kate is a journalist and editor, holding roles at both the Guardian and the Financial Times. She specialised in education and combines writing, commissioning and editing with social media and audience engagement. If you have any ideas you would like to pitch, or suggestions to improve the website, feel free to email her on [email protected].

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