Citizen Today: women in leadership

Worldwide Index of Women as Public Sector Leaders

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Our Worldwide Index of Women as Public Sector Leaders analyzes women’s representation in public sector leadership positions across G20 countries. It is intended to stimulate a global conversation about the policies, measures and role models that are needed to promote and retain the female talent that abounds in the public sector.

Women make up 51% of the population. But our survey shows that only four G20 countries reached even 30% representation of women in leadership roles.

What can be done?

We have identified four streams of action, which when taken together seem to lead to greater representation of women in leadership roles.

1. Legislation to address visible barriers

Research from Carleton University, Canada, suggests that legislation and political reform can reverse women’s under-representation. Legislation is also important to deal with:

  • Equal employment opportunity
  • Address open discrimination
  • Safeguard maternity leave
  • Ensure other protections of women in the workforce

2. Cultural transformation to address invisible barriers

Unconscious bias, in both men and women, is powerful and pervasive. Leaders need to send a consistent message to achieve greater equality at senior levels.

Part of the solution is to embed accountability into the performance targets of every leader. It is also crucial to lead by example and address inappropriate behaviors and attitudes. There is a need to continuously improve public sector recruitment practices and departmental cultures, entrenching respect for diversity.

3. Role models and leadership

Attention needs to be paid on how policies and legislation get implemented in practice. The following questions should be asked to determine a department’s practice:

  • Does everyone have the opportunity to progress, even if they work part time?
  • Is progress against gender and other diversity targets measured in a meaningful way, or is it merely a routine compliance exercise without efforts being actively refocused when progress has stalled?

Decision-makers must take a long-term view of an employee’s potential contribution, and support re-entry of employees after maternity leave.

4. Actions for future women public sector leaders

  • Have a go — put your hand up. Let others know that you are ambitious.
  • Be assertive — understand the options available to you and speak up for yourself.
  • Learn to negotiate effectively — your manager will not offer you the right role and coach you into leadership positions unless you can articulate what you want.
  • Tell your employer what you want — be clear about the type of role that will work for you at this point in your life and the role you aspire to in the future.
  • Play the long game — accept it’s ok if your career takes a back seat while you start a family.
  • Respect that flexibility goes both ways — be flexible where and when you can to support your team and organization.
  • Agitate for change — as women leaders, public sector employees and board members gender equity is not only a social justice issue, it improves productivity, engagement and decision-making.
  • Ask for advice — talk to people about their experiences.

Download our full report at