Bridesmaids revisited

9 January 2013

The appointment today of Mark Sedwill to replace Dame Helen (“Etonian clique”) Ghosh at the Home Office completes the latest round of permanent secretary moves. Whitehall’s reputation as the vanguard for women in leadership is the loser.

In the last year, since Jeremy Heywood and Bob Kerslake took over as the duumvirate at the top of the Civil Service, seven people have been promoted to head government departments. Not a single one has been a woman.

In that time, some of the most high profile women in Whitehall have decided they would rather pursue other options. Helen Ghosh, Moira Wallace and Gill Morgan have all moved on. They have all been replaced by men, as has Lin Homer who moved to head HMRC after the death of Lesley Strathie.

Bob Kerslake recognised at the end of the last year that this was beginning to look bad. Compared to ten years ago, there are now far more women in DG posts and on departmental boards. But the vaunted “pipeline” seems to have become blocked at the end and women are no longer emerging from it into the top jobs: there are now fewer women in leadership positions in Whitehall than when the coalition took office.

These are issues that both Sir Bob and First Civil Service Commissioner Sir David Normington will need to address urgently if they are to signal to women through Whitehall that the brief flirtation with women in top posts in key departments was not an exception, never to be repeated. They also need to look at other measures of diversity – the departure of Suma Chakrabarti in the summer meant there is no non-white in charge of a department.

There are unlikely to be many moves in permanent secretary posts in the next year or so. That gives some time to think and plan – to identify and nurture a more diverse talent pool both inside and outside the Civil Service (not a single appointment over the last year has gone to someone not already working in Whitehall). Then we might start to see a change in pattern that lasts.

Department Permanent Secretary May 2010 Permanent Secretary December 2011 Permanent Secretary January 2013
HMT Nick Macpherson Nick Macpherson Nick Macpherson
FCO Peter Ricketts Simon Fraser Simon Fraser
MOJ Suma Chakrabarti Suma Chakrabarti Ursula Brennan
Home Office David Normington Helen Ghosh Mark Sedwill
MoD Bill Jeffrey Ursula Brennan Jon Thompson
DfT Robert Devereux Lin Homer Philip Rutnam
Health Hugh Taylor Una O’Brien Una O’Brien
DWP Leigh Lewis Robert Devereux Robert Devereux
CLG Peter Housden Bob Kerslake Bob Kerslake
DECC Moira Wallace Moira Wallace Stephen Lovegrove
Defra Helen Ghosh Bronwyn Hill Bronwyn Hill
DfiD Minouche Shafik Mark Lowcock Mark Lowcock
DfE David Bell Chris Wormald
HMRC Lesley Strathie Lin Homer Lin Homer
DCMS Jonathan Stephens Jonathan Stephens Jonathan Stephens
BIS Simon Fraser Martin Donnelly Martin Donnelly
Cabinet Office N/A Ian Watmore (new role created) Richard Heaton
Scotland John Elvidge Peter Housden Peter Housden
Wales Gill Morgan Gill Morgan Derek Jones

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One Response

  1. Jill Rutter on 10 January 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Just heard from a Whitehall insider that picture is even worse if 2nd perm sec jobs included – 0/10 for women

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