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Civil Service

Championing gender diversity

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Civil Service Leaders, Diversity and inclusion

I am delighted to announce that the new Permanent Secretary gender champion is Melanie Dawes. She will start in this role at the same time as taking up her position as Permanent Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government in March.

Sir Simon presenting the Diversity Award to the Disability Confident Campaign Team, DWP
Sir Simon Fraser presenting the Diversity Award to the Disability Confident Campaign Team, DWP.

Melanie takes over the role from Sharon White in HM Treasury who will join Ofcom in March. I’d like to thank Sharon for the progress she has made on this agenda and know she has been a committed ambassador for female civil servants since March last year. While I am sorry to see Sharon go, I know that Melanie also has a strong track record on diversity. Indeed, she won a Civil Service Leading Change in Diversity and Equality award for her work as HMRC Disability Champion and has been a proactive sponsor of the new Cabinet Office Women’s Network.

Louise Casey, Melanie Dawes, Sue Owen and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson at Civil Service Live 2014
Louise Casey, Melanie Dawes, Sue Owen and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson at Civil Service Live 2014.

I look forward to working with Melanie, particularly with the new emphasis through the work of the Talent Action Plan.

Melanie Dawes says:

I am delighted to be the new Civil Service gender champion. In 25 years in the Civil Service I have seen great progress for women in the workplace.  When I started my career, if you aspired to the Senior Civil Service it was hard - and in some departments impossible - to get promoted unless you could work full-time. Job sharing and flexible working are now common - indeed I have benefited from this myself in recent years, as I have balanced work with being mother to my 11-year-old daughter.


But I also know from first-hand experience that we cannot take the progress we have made for granted; and there is plenty more to do.  We should be proud that we have increased the representation of women in top management posts by 50 per cent since 2003, to reach 38% today. But if we want to be a truly inclusive employer, we need to go further.  There is good practice across departments on issues such as maternity leave, job design and mentoring. But our standards aren't consistent, and in some cases they aren't high enough.


I welcomed last year's Hay Report on senior women in the Civil Service, and I believe that its conclusions and recommendations are important to men and women at all grades. The Talent Action Plan which accompanied it is now being taken forward actively, and Sharon - with help from Sarah Healey in the Department for Culture Media and Sport and the Diversity Strategy team in the Cabinet Office - has already made great progress on gender.  I look forward to playing my part in its implementation and to meeting many of you in the months to come.

The Talent Action Plan is prioritising the following areas of work on gender:

  • standardising and improving our approach to maternity leave and returning to work, using experience of the very best practice
  • developing innovative approaches to how we design teams and job adverts so that they are truly flexible and work for both the postholder and line manager
  • developing women’s networks, including a Civil Service wide one, and increasing mentoring
  • improving the data that we have on how women are doing in each department and across Whitehall, so we can track progress and hold leaders to account.

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  1. Comment by Bloo posted on

    how about all you guys, at all levels, getting on with the job, rather than fighting over internal BS jobs for the boys/girls.

  2. Comment by Terry C posted on

    So a 'gender diversity champion' defines someone who wins in the role of advancing the cause of women so that we can achieve true diversity in the workplace ? It looks like males have also been awarded such honour, so all good by me 🙂

  3. Comment by Darren posted on

    Perhaps Paul W, the focus is on women because the 'target' has already been met. I must agree equality should be based upon competence to do the job not statistics!

  4. Comment by Andrew posted on

    Nicola the worst thing you can do for diversity or equality is to set quotas. The organisation will say we have got our quota of women/disabled/transgender/black etc members in this grade or on this board and the work will stop. Recently the government wanted women on every FTSE 100 board and it was accomplished but now few women will be appointed because they have the token woman. The best way any group should be represented in any organisation is to apply for a post and appoint the 'best person for the job based on ability,skills, competances, experience and knowledge. If that is a black woman then so be it, but why can't it be a white disabled man or indeed a white able bodied man? The answer of course is it shouldn't otherwise you are discriminating on grounds of colour,sex, disability which are of course unwanted.

    • Replies to Andrew>

      Comment by Terence posted on

      The answer is simpler than that .

      Quotas based on gender would almost always unlawful. Discriminating in favour of one group of people would involve unlawful discrimination against another group who are treated less favourably in comparison.

  5. Comment by Paul W posted on

    I wonder if Melanie will also address why there are so few men in the grades up to and including Executive Officer these days? I currently work in a Unit where less than 15% of the staff in these grades are male. Can you imagine the outcry if it was the other way round?

  6. Comment by Terence posted on

    Somehow I don't see Melanie's role as being confined solely to advising on the Talent Action Plan, nor is it necessarily implied in the article.

  7. Comment by Peter W posted on

    Given that the "gender champions" opening remarks talk only about 1 of the 2 genders, perhaps she should be renamed?

    • Replies to Peter W>

      Comment by Darren posted on

      You're assuming there are only two genders. Many feel otherwise.

      • Replies to Darren>

        Comment by Peter W posted on

        I'm talking scientifically. XX and XY.

  8. Comment by Rachel Evans posted on

    Surely what's important is that everyone is able to reach their potential, irrespective of their gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation etc?

    I think having a gender champion is a good thing. And I don't think it should only be about supporting women. An example is flexible working arrangements. We know that openness to these arrangements help working parents and others to balance their commitments outside of work with a stretching and fulfilling career. This benefits the organisation as well as the individual.

    But we also know that in some places, men are made to feel uncomfortable about applying for flexible working arrangements - the suggestion being that they are somehow less committed to their careers. That isn't good for men. Nor is it good for their partners, who might end up shouldering more of the childcare responsiblities than they would otherwise choose. It's just one example of the sort of area where a gender champion can make a difference.

    We might think that we have made good progress on equality and diversity issues in the Civil Service but I, for one, think that there is much more we can and need to do.

  9. Comment by Val Hollylee posted on

    I think that the entire Civil Service has a smug, introspective attitude regarding diversity/equality or what ever is the latest trendy name for it. The fight should be for all those women OUTSIDE the Civil Service who don't have anywhere near the privileges available within. For example, my daughter was a manager within a leading supermarket chain but when she had her son she had to give up her position simply because she was unable to get childcare for one day, a Friday, and this was seen as an insurmountable problem so she had no option than to be demoted back to a newcomer's level of store assistant despite all her experience of working across many areas in the store. She also only received basic Maternity cover and allowances. To be honest, we don't know we're born in the Civil Service and it's while it's fine to be a 'champion' in a real arena I think the title's risible where we're concerned. She needs to take her talents to where they could really do some good - but then she would lose her pension - and her bonuses - and her pay rises (I'm assuming her increments are more bullet-proof than ours have turned out to be!) and she'd probably find it a sight harder (and less well paid) in the real world than the cushy number she's used to in the CS.

  10. Comment by Steve posted on

    We're all supposed to be equal, but it appears that some are more equal than others..............

  11. Comment by Paul posted on

    All valid points raised here I think, and I'm not just saying this a man within the Civil Service. The very essence of this role simply seems to smack of quota setting rather than catering for diversity. Another excellent point raised was one about maternity leave being one of the main focusses here. What is being done about new fathers wishing to take extended paternity leave should the new mother in question wish to get back to work sooner? Issues like this do work to reinforce steriotypes rather than to diffuse them. And as it has been stated countless times already- the sole focus should be competency when it comes to selecting people for job roles and nothing else if true diversity is to be achieved.

  12. Comment by Anthony Brown posted on

    I never thought that I would see the day when Mark’s antiquated views on women’s equality would be supported by so many. I truly despair………..

    • Replies to Anthony Brown>

      Comment by Gareth Wren posted on

      Never mind that Mr Brown I want to know who Melanie beat to become Champion!

    • Replies to Anthony Brown>

      Comment by Paul posted on

      I think Mark's views are more to do with the paradoxical abomination we know as positive discrimination. As someone previously mentioned the situation with HMRC earlier, the office in which I work also has a lot more women in managerial positions than men. And fair play too, I know that they have worked hard for their positions and it has been recognised. But can you imagine the uproar if a man was to say that according to statistics, our office needs more men in management? The glass ceiling for women in the Civil Service is a myth going on what I see and as someone else previously stated- diversity should be celebrated not forced down your throat on a statistic fuelled selection process.

    • Replies to Anthony Brown>

      Comment by Peter W posted on

      I truly despair that you read a comment in which the writer doesn't state his views on "women's equality" and interpret it in a way which is completely counter to it's plain meaning.

      I also dispair that you would dismiss your colleagues' sincerely-held views as "antiquated" solely because they differ from yours. I thought diversity was supposed to be healthy?

      • Replies to Peter W>

        Comment by Anthony Brown posted on

        Peter W I truly despair that you think I am dismissing a colleagues views on the assumption that I havent worked with that person for 6 years and I havent heard this gripe at any time over those said years.

        • Replies to Anthony Brown>

          Comment by Peter W posted on

          It's almost as if you think that it's ok to dismiss his views because you know him and have heard them before. Very odd.

  13. Comment by Andy Gibbons posted on

    Scotland recently hosted the first gay pagan wedding in Britain. With a lot of Britain's returning to their Celtic pre Christian roots isn't it time that pagan weddings in groves or covens were recognised as a legal ceremony throughout Britain.

    • Replies to Andy Gibbons>

      Comment by Val Hollylee posted on

      What in blazes has that to do with anything here?

  14. Comment by Chris S posted on

    No mention of the fact that, as I understand, across all grades in HMRC women outnumber men, what's being done re that inequality. Alex, I don't feel it's a crime to be male, just unimportant. Carolyn, well said, it's not about gender, sexuality etc but ability

    • Replies to Chris S>

      Comment by Carly posted on

      Lots of the comments here make me really despair. I think the civil service clearly has a long way to go in terms of training on diversity issues if these opinions are common. I would like to remind many of you that women (*insert many other groups too) do not get the job when they are equal to men. All the evidence points to the fact that for a woman to be juged as equal to a man in most interview/selection/promotion environments she must, in fact, be better. So it is not about 'the most compentent' being rewarded when peers and superiors (men and women) will judge certain groups less competent by default.

  15. Comment by Phil Kelley posted on

    Tsk,tsk Vince - women and children first

  16. Comment by Glen R posted on

    With all the "buzz words" floating about and the Civil Service pushing equality for minority and all other groups im begining to feel the odd one out.

  17. Comment by Carolyn Richardson posted on

    Like Mark I am very disappointed this role just seems to be about women.... and I am a woman! Such a shame, and about a 10 year backward step for me I am afraid. Until we truly believe it's not about gender, background, sexuality (or anything else), but really focus on ability we will never be a Civil Service which reflects the population. We have HR policy and processes which should ensure we focus on competence rather than anything else.

  18. Comment by David posted on

    This seems to be about 'senior' women. What about those of both genders in lowly grades with few prospects for advancement, who is championing their cause?

  19. Comment by Joel Stothard posted on

    Finally someone who makes some sense in this crazy place. We've all just agreed with your point on my team Mark (men and women alike may I add). However this counts for nothing as the powers that be are determined to continue to highlight peoples differences. Equality? Theres no such thing in the Civil Service, well not unless you happen to tick a few of the boxes. If you don't then you're fighting an uphill battle. There should only be one criteria when measuring someone for a job and thats 'who is most deserving of that job ability wise' be they black/white/man/woman/able bodied/disabled. The thing that they're missing is that alot of women don't want to be treated in this manner. I should be proud that I work for an employer who cares about equality/diversity, unfortunately though the way its treated here does nothing but wind me up. We all know that you have much more chance of winning a disciplinary or appealing against a promotion not going your way if you happen to be able to play one of the equality/diversity cards, now how is this helpful in the long run? I definitely want to work in an environment where we are all treated the same and race/disabilty/gender doesn't come into it, but until this type of thing stops nothing will ever be truly 'equal'.

    • Replies to Joel Stothard>

      Comment by Belinda posted on

      I agree entirely Joel. The language and, more importantly, the thinking needs to change if we are to see equality within the Civil Service. We are constantly being told that we need to improve professionalism and efficiency; to achieve this surely the key should lie in identifying key qualities such as 'ability', 'skill', 'knowledge', 'ambition', 'eagerness', 'talent', 'aptitude' and 'competence'. Gender, or indeed sexuality, race or age should be immaterial when finding the right person to achieve the goals. Too often we still see 'round pegs in square holes' syndrome in the Civil Service workplace thanks to archaic and blinkered policy making.

    • Replies to Joel Stothard>

      Comment by Union rep posted on

      Perhaps because you're far more likely to be on a disciplinary/fighting a PMR appeal/arguing a lost promotion opportunity etc in the first place, if you're "fortunate" enough to tick one of the equality boxes, Joel. A very dubious advantage indeed. Statistics bear this out year after year.

  20. Comment by Sarah Whiting posted on

    Surely making paternity leave a more accepted thing and challenging peoples perception that it should be the women who scarafice their careers to have children should be more inportant to this role?
    The bigest problem for women in the work place is gender stereotyping, people assuming they are fit for being PA's, not logicaly minded and not being considered for the seinior jobs because they *might* want children one day, not lack of maternity leave!

    Also how is diversity or inclusion being addressed when the new champion seeing gender as a two option tick box??

  21. Comment by Vince posted on

    Every man for himself Mark!

  22. Comment by Nicola Lavin posted on

    I would welcome hearing Melanie's views on setting quotas for women in senior roles within the CS.

  23. Comment by Aleemah Yasmin posted on

    I agree with Mark Mavin. I also feel that the role should include trans men, trans women and intersexed staff members. I suppose that someone is going to tell me that this is covered in the LGBT Networks but in BIS we've logically separated the two since gender doesn't relate to sexuality. I'm also interested in these issues since I was apppointed as BIS Transgender and Intersex Champion in October 2014.

  24. Comment by Mark Mavin posted on

    Honestly, why the title is Gender Diversity champion is beyond me. It should be the Advancement of Women Champion. Don't call it Gender Diversity when it only affects one gender. It feels like a crime to be male in the Civil Service these days. I want to develop as well but am too afraid to say anything because apparently I was born with all the tools to succeed. Anyway isn't this actually equality rather than Diversity? If we are supposed to respect each other's differences then who is respecting or representing me?

    • Replies to Mark Mavin>

      Comment by Jonathan Weaden posted on

      I agree. That's an excellent point, and you end with a very good question, to which I would appreciate someone giving me a candid, no-frills and acceptable answer.

    • Replies to Mark Mavin>

      Comment by Alex Scott posted on

      It feels like a crime to be male everywhere these days.

    • Replies to Mark Mavin>

      Comment by Mark Johnson posted on

      In 2015, with more women than men going to university, graduating in medicine, law and other lucrative professions, the role of gender diversity champion (read as "campaign for the advancement of women") is an anachronism. There is no glass ceiling for women in the civil service should they have the ambition and willingness to make the sacrifices required to rise the slippery pole. In their 30s and 40s many women begin to prioritise their families above the workplace, while expecting their men to strive harder to bring-in the bacon, so it is largely female choice that pushes men upwards into senior positions and certainly not some patriarchal conspiracy.

      • Replies to Mark Johnson>

        Comment by S posted on

        In 2015 it is disheartening to see that people still believe women/anyone should have to "make sacrifices" to succeed. The continuation of the human race does require adults to raise children. Perhaps if these old-fashioned attitudes were abandoned and jobs were reshaped, and salaries more gender-equal, more men would step up to the plate of family responsibility and no gender would be expected to disproportionally make sacrifices (of either career ambition or family time).

    • Replies to Mark Mavin>

      Comment by Emma Thompson posted on

      Mark, the answer to why you are not getting on in your career is in your response.

      • Replies to Emma Thompson>

        Comment by Andrew posted on

        Emma, surely you’re not implying that stating the truth can impede one’s career prospects?