The Women in Public Service Project is pursuing the goal of 50x50: 50% representation of women in policy and political leadership by 2050. This ambitious vision is only achievable through data-driven solutions and partnerships to understand the reality of women’s leadership in government and to advocate for meaningful change. Explore the numbers at data.50x50movement.org.


Women in Civil Service Decision-Making

Women in Civil Service Decision-Making
Source: United Nations Development Programme Gender Equality in Public Administration Initiative

 

Public administration is the foundation of functioning government. Civil servants plan, prepare, and execute the policies that impact the daily lives of the citizens they serve. Historically, women have played a significant role in the civil service due to factors such as lower barriers to entry, job security, and cultural norms. UNDP Gender Equality in Public Administration data from 111 countries reveals 45 of those studied have reached parity or majority representation in civil service positions. Yet a closer look at where women are within the civil service tells a familiar story: women are less likely to be serving in decision-making positions than men. 


Country Breakdown: % Women in the Civil Service vs. % Women Leaders in the Civil Service

Women in Civil Service vs Women Leaders in Civil Service
This scatter chart shows the relationship between the percent of women in the civil service overall versus the percent of women holding decision making positions. There is a statistically significant positive relationship (with an r2 of .558 and p-value of 5.07099 x 10 -7), yet large gaps still remain for women at the top. In fact, the percentage of women in the civil service only predicts 24% of the variation of women serving in decision-making positions. This shows us that simply recruiting women into the civil service is often not enough to ensure they are fairly represented an leadership.

Is Civil Service a Pipeline to Leadership?

Women hold an average of 43% of civil service positions within countries. However, women in decision-making positions averages 29% globally, just short of the 30% cited as the “critical mass” for impactful decision-making.

Highest Proportion of Women in Civil Service Leadership

Despite persistent gaps globally, a number of Eastern European countries boast 50% or higher participation of women in decision-making positions. In Slovenia, Poland, Montenegro, Moldova, and Belarus, women hold at least 52% of decision-making positions. Other European nations including Sweden and Denmark boast large proportions of women in the civil service but still have room to grow before women are equally represented at the leadership level. 

Highest Proportion of Women in Civil Service

Other countries still have not yet reached 50% of women at top positions in the civil service, but have managed to reach the same proportion of women in leadership positions as that of women serving in public administration overall. In Bangladesh, 11% of civil servants as well as civil service decision-makers are women. This is a similar story in India and Greece at 18% and 46%, respectively.

By comparison, the US civil service boasts  43% of women in the civil service with only 34% of women at the leadership level, a gap of 9 percentage points. Canada is also experiencing a similar gap of 9 percentage points, however women make up 55% of the civil service overall.

It is true that, compared to other sectors of government, representation in civil service is relatively high. However, the gap between overall representation and representation in decision-making indicates barriers to leadership still remain. These factors must be identified and addressed in order to ensure women leaders are engaged in shaping this important sector.