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Civil Service

International Women's Day – celebrating the 'Wonder Women' in public service

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: A great place to work, Civil Service Leaders, Leading and managing change
Melanie Dawes
Melanie Dawes, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, and Civil Service Gender Champion

This week, we mark International Women’s Day (8 March). It has felt like a year of big progress for gender equality. With women speaking out about sexual harassment and discrimination in new ways, the debate is changing about what is acceptable.  The publication of comprehensive data on the gender pay gap is shining a new light on how workforces are structured, and the remaining differences of representation among women and men.

The theme of this year's International Women's Day in the Civil Service is 'Wonder Women'. This doesn’t mean comic-book superheroines in red boots – it's about celebrating the women working in the public sector across the UK who do amazing things, at work or at home.  In the run up to International Women’s Day there have been some great tweets and blogs where women have been celebrating those who inspire them or have helped them in some way.

The women who inspire me

I've been thinking about my own Civil Service Wonder Women. I have only ever had one female line manager – the wonderful Dame Lesley Strathie, who so sadly died in 2012, shortly after stepping down as Chief Executive of HM Revenue & Customs. Lesley is still one of my role models.  She was always ambitious for the organisation and clear about her expectations. She could be steely when she needed to be, but was a very warm and kind boss with a wicked sense of humour.

Some of the other great women I have worked with in my career include Sharon White, formerly Second Permanent Secretary at the Treasury and now head of Ofcom; Liza Barton, who developed our strategy to support disabled members of staff in HMRC; and Anita Charlesworth, who led new approaches to analysis and welfare reform in the Treasury. Dame Louise Casey is an inspiration, too, for her leadership and plain-speaking on complex issues such as homelessness, integration and families.

I am lucky right now to work with some brilliant women in my role as Civil Service Gender Champion. They include Keela Shackell-Smith and Ellie Binks, who created the cross-Whitehall women’s network and have mobilised such a fantastic Civil Service campaign to celebrate the suffrage centenary. You can follow the suffrage flag relay on Twitter at @SuffrageFlag.

Graphic with legend 'A great place to work'At our recent suffrage centenary celebrations launch, Emily Miles, Director of Strategy at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, shared her story – one of the most powerful speeches on gender equality I have heard. Joanna Roper and many colleagues in the Foreign Office do amazing work that makes a real difference to women across the world. These are just a handful of the inspiring women I have encountered over the past few months who work for the Civil Service.

Who has inspired you or helped you?  Join in on #IWD2018 and celebrate the great women you know on International Women’s Day. Or find out about events being held by your women’s network - @CGWomensNetwork.

Follow Melanie Dawes on Twitter: @dawes_melanie.

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  1. Comment by Gloria Dick Udoh posted on

    Rebecca Brigden inspires me as a professional and a mother

  2. Comment by Taz posted on

    For me there have been many inspirational women in the Civil Service, but all have been in DWP. I note many of the women mentioned here have worked in DWP. No surprise then that our very own Ursuala Brennan did too.

  3. Comment by Andrea Kirkpatrick posted on

    For me it is Sue Owen the now Permanent Secretary at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
    However, I knew her from her days at DWP when she was Director-General for Welfare and Wellbeing. Sue was always charming, personable and was usually the most intelligent person in the room, asking the most pertinent questions.
    She once gave a conference speech explaining why she left the private commercial sector to join the public sector - it was both interesting and inspirational. A brilliant leader.

  4. Comment by Chris Ironside posted on

    My wife works in a senior management role in the private sector and it's been a bit of an eye-opener in terms of (some of) the issues women face in the workplace.

    Some men seem to follow a set of guidelines like:
    Any good idea brought to you by a woman must have originated from a man;
    Any woman in a technical type role can't be trusted to know what she's talking about;
    Women will be unreliable at work if they have children;
    If a woman doesn't have children she's likely to take an exorbitant period of time-off to have a baby
    etc. etc. etc.

    I have also witnessed scinicism and envy amongst other women should someone achieve success: probably because they feel they are subject to insurmountable prejudices.

    I admire anyone who tolerates these sorts of hurdles just to do their job.
    Anyone who has managed to thrive in spite of obstacles like this deserves high praise indeed!

  5. Comment by Virginia Batty posted on

    I, too, had the privilege to meet Dame Lesley Strathie, on two occasions when I worked for Jobcentre Plus (& when it was known as the Employment Service). She was, indeed, as described as above. I found her very personable, warm, engaging and felt very comfortable chatting to her, despite the very big difference in our grades ( I was an AO at the time).

    Her style of leadership, should be an aspiration for all of our leaders, regardless of gender.