Big drop in women working in top Whitehall roles

A drive to recruit more women to top jobs in Whitehall has stalled. The proportion of government departments headed by females has fallen from about half to about a quarter since last year.

The Institute for Government think tank has expressed concern over the reversal of women's fortunes following recent changes among the civil service's senior posts. It says the proud claim by Lord (Gus) O'Donnell, the former Cabinet Secretary, that half the permanent secretaries were women during his time as head of the civil service may now mark a high point. Only five of the 19 posts are currently held by women.

"In early 2011, it was possible to claim that half of the people in charge of departments were women, and that marked a real change with what had gone before," said Jill Rutter, the institute's programme director and a former senior Treasury official. "But then there was regime change at the top. Despite David Cameron's early promises, no woman or ethnic minority was deemed to be up to the position of cabinet secretary or head of the home civil service." She said the departures of Gill Morgan from the Wales Office and Moira Wallace from the Department of Energy and Climate Change risked "leaving the top of the civil service 'maler and paler' than it has been for some time".

Although there is no evidence that Sir Humphrey and his political masters are deliberately blocking women, Ms Rutter added: "One of the criticisms of Gus's changes was the progress of women at the top was not so well reflected lower down. The new leadership of the civil service will not only need to be seen to be champ- ioning the cause of people beyond the usual stereotypes to make it to the top of the civil service, but help them succeed when they get there."

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