Memorandum by The Women's National Commission
The Women's National Commission (WNC) is the
official independent advisory body to Government on the views
We welcome this inquiry. It is crucial that
people from different sections of society have an equal opportunity
to serve in public life. Account must be taken of women's experiences,
requirements and perspective, which may be different from men's.
These must not be hidden or excluded from decisions and agendas.
Greater numbers of women now realise that they have much to offer
in public lifeand that public life has much to offer them.
The public appointments system must support them in entering public
One of WNC's key priorities is to increase the
number of women in decision making in public life. The Government
has set a target to recruit women into 50% of national level public
appointments. These are key decision making roles. In order to
help increase the number of women who hold national public appointments
the WNC is setting up an e-network and mentoring programme. We
Regular e-mail postings of new national
public appointment opportunities;
Access to occasional workshops focused
on a variety of relevant issues such as: improving or updating
CV's; refining interview skills and also presentations from selection
Matching of mentees with a mentor;
Access to start up seminars which
will provide good practice guidelines;
Facilitation and advice for mentor
and mentee pairings.
The following information and views are based
on a collation of views expressed by our partners. These include
women's organisations, trade unions, pressure groups, and individual
experts from across the UK who together represent several million
women. A number of our partners are women who are seeking public
appointments. The concerns expressed by some of these women could
be summarised in four main categories:
This response therefore focuses largely on questions
13-18 in the PASC questionnaire, and offers comments particularly
from the perspective of women, including minority women.
The WNC believes that equality in public life
cannot be achieved unless we encourage women from all different
areas and sectors of society to make a contribution to public
life. This means that outreach work to raise awareness beyond
"the usual suspects" is essential.
At present, public bodies rely on informal networks
developed over a number of years to attract candidates, and these
networks consist overwhelmingly of white, middle class men. We
should like to see more resources invested in the wider advertising
of opportunities, and a long term strategy developed to attract,
recruit, and retain, applicants from a much wider pool that truly
reflects the make up of society. This would mean 50% of the posts
going to women and a pro rata percentage of minority ethnic and
Public bodies should ensure that they publicise
their childcare and eldercare policies in their recruitment publicity.
Appointments should routinely attract an appropriate fee; otherwise
only candidates of independent means will be able to apply. These
arguments were accepted more than a century ago in respect of
members of parliamentnow is surely the time for them to
be accepted for other sorts of public office. Until they are,
public appointees will continue to be drawn from an elite who
can afford to give pro bono service.
It is important that adverts for posts on public
bodies are widely published in both the broad sheet and the tabloid
press, as well as local press, women's magazines and those aimed
specifically at minority groups such as ethnic groups, faith groups
and lesbians. Our partners would also like to see a central point
on the Internet for these appointments to make online access to
information easier. This would broaden the range of people who
might consider participating in public life.
Frequently, however, advertisements can pose
a barrier for women in particular. Use of the term "chairman"
implies that the incumbent will be a man, sending out the opposite
signals to those we want to give.
Equally, advertisements that call for applications
from people who have "broad experience" or people who
have held "senior positions" can exclude women, who
may find it difficult to demonstrate broad experience in a particular
profession, or who may not have held senior positions, but who
may have all the relevant skills, understanding and competence.
These may have been developed, for example, in voluntary organisations;
in running a home, or in community activities. Specifying the
preferred source of experience, rather than the competence itself
deters and excludes women.
Equality statements in adverts, while welcome,
need to be carried through in more concrete ways if they are not
to be viewed cynically as paying lip service to diversity. Applicants
should be sent material that demonstrates the organisation's commitment
to attracting and welcoming diverse appointees. If all the recruitment
material shows white men exclusively, or refers to all candidates
as "he", or is clearly written to attract a limited
group, minority applicants will be discouraged.
Application forms are often unnecessarily technical
and complicated. Applications that take this form are far less
attractive and accessible to possible applicants.
Very often, women's skills and experience may
not be recognised through the selection process. Skills required
are frequently described from a male perspective that ignores
or excludes the contribution that women may be able to make to
Recognition of non-traditional career patterns
and a commitment to fair selection procedures are crucial for
women. Relevant experience gained through unpaid work is as valid
as that earned in a traditional paid career. Women who have been
out of paid employment are likely to have developed a range of
skills as a result of running a home, raising children, or caring
for sick or elderly relatives. These skills might include managing
a budget, time management, negotiation, and conflict resolution.
Information about voluntary work and working
in the community should be specifically mentioned and requested
via application forms. Equally, experience of working with other
people, fundraising, managing teams of volunteers, arranging public
events, public speaking, and negotiating access to public serviceseither
as a user or an informal advisercan all be relevant. Experience
as a user of services is also valuable, particularly for some
of the appointments to consumer bodies.
The work of the Commissioner should be even
more widely known outside Westminster. The Commissioner does a
great deal to support the drive to appoint candidates from a wider
pool and her role needs to be better known to the public. Resources
need to be earmarked for this outreach activity.
Women applicants have serious and long standing
complaints about the transparency and ease of the current selection
system, which could appear to be designed to serve bureaucrats,
rather than the applicants, who are not defined as customers.
Throughout the process, they are not given information about progress;
anecdotally, we were told about instances of applicants hearing
nothing for months and then receiving a letter of rejection. One
well-qualified candidate told us she had been approached and invited
to apply, only to receive a letter of rejection months later,
with no feedback or explanation.
The process needs to be reengineered to ensure
that applicants are treated as valuable, rather than expendable,
parts of the process. Applicants must be given clear information
at each stage, with explanations for any delay and a contact point
for queries. Many women have indicated to us that they are unwilling
to make any further applications following this kind of experience.
All selection panels should include at least
Women's National Commission
20 May 2002