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Departmental Board (Gender Balance)

Volume 598: debated on Monday 20 July 2015

It is essential that we increase women’s representation across all areas of life, including UK boardrooms. I want my Department’s board to be as representative as possible. My one DFE board appointment so far as Secretary of State has been a woman—the excellent Marion Plant. We must, however, go further to make sure that women are represented in public bodies across the UK.

Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) exposed the Government’s appalling record on this issue, revealing that only 68 of a total of 200 members of departmental boards are women, with only two women on the Secretary of State’s own board. Will she agree to seek an urgent meeting with Scotland’s First Minister to learn from her of the Scottish Government’s success in not only achieving a gender-balanced departmental board, but making the Scottish Cabinet one of only three gender-balanced Cabinets in the world?

I thank the hon. Lady for that very tempting invitation. I look forward to meeting the First Minister to discuss a number of things, and this issue would certainly be one of them. May I gently point out to the hon. Lady that there are actually three women on the DFE board, because I sit on it, too?

The Secretary of State is also the Minister for Women and Equalities. Is she embarrassed at the lack of gender balance on the DFE’s board? Can she explain what steps she will take to rectify this situation, which does nothing to advance the cause of women or equalities?

Obviously, I refer the hon. and learned Lady to the exchange that we have just had. I certainly would like to see more women on all departmental boards, just as we have now seen that there are no all-male FTSE 100 boards—indeed, they have reached the 25% target. As she mentioned my other ministerial responsibilities, I might point out to her that the equalities board that has been set up has three men and eight women on it, so we are doing better in the equalities Department.

In this important issue it is not just the departmental boards that are important, but the senior ranks of the civil service. What progress has my right hon. Friend made, if any, on ensuring that there are more female senior civil servants in her Department?

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that question. He is absolutely right in what he says, and we have been talking about the executive pipeline. I am pleased to say that 45% of the DFE’s senior civil service are women, and 42% of our most senior management posts are held by women.