Almost 370,000 people are employed by the public service in Ireland, accounting for 14.4 per cent of the labour force in 2022. By the nature of its size you would expect it to be a diverse workforce but over the past number of years embedding equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) has been a priority. All public bodies are required to implement the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty to eliminate discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and protect the human rights of staff and people to whom they provide services.
The Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform (DPENDR) has responsibility for public service transformation programmes for the civil and wider public service. A spokesperson for the department told The Irish Times its 2030 strategy aims to ensure “that our policy and service responses are focused on equality, inclusivity and accessibility”.
A coherent top-down approach is necessary across the broad range of the public service, they said, adding: “It is also important that a consistent approach is taken, in line with equality legislation, to ensure that the public service is generally representative of society and respects and promotes human rights.”
However, there is room for variation and nuance across the different sectors.
“While DPENDR has responsibility for the development and implementation of EDI-related policies for the Civil Service, it engages across the public service as part of its policy development process to ensure, in so far as practicable, a one-public-service approach,” the department spokesperson said. “Policies such as blended working in the Civil Service have been delivered via a framework which allows for adaptation across the wider public service.”
Since 2019 the Public Appointments Service (PAS), which recruits for the public sector, has been making strides with the appointment of a senior EDI lead and the establishment of its own EDI team.
A spokesperson for the PAS said: “The key areas of focus in our EDI strategy are around getting better data about who currently is applying for roles in the Irish public sector and who isn’t and why; constantly improving our processes to ensure an equitable experience for all our candidates, and supporting our clients – Government departments, the HSE, An Garda Síochána, etc – on their inclusion journey, by leading by example ourselves.”
The PAS’s EDI Strategy 21-23 is nearing the end of its remit. Has it achieved the goals it set out?
“We have made good progress in all those areas,” the PAS spokesperson said. However, they added, this is just the beginning. After commissioning the ESRI to look at data from 2019-2021, the PAS, they said, has “a robust baseline from which to measure future progress”.
One area in which there has been significant progress is gender equality, according to the PAS. It said that in 2007 just 23 per cent of Civil Service departmental secretaries general were women, a figure that had risen to 40 per cent by 2022. At the principal-officer level of senior management the ratio of women to men is now 50:50, up from 26 per cent women in 2007.
Other public sector strategies include specified targets; for example, an increase from 3 per cent to 6 per cent of people with disabilities in the workforce (Comprehensive Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities) and 1 per cent of the workforce to comprise ethnic minorities (Migrant Integration Strategy, National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021).
The PAS has also long supported the Willing Able and Mentoring programme of disability advocacy body Ahead. The programme involves is a 10-month work placement for graduates with disabilities.
“For 16 years it was a work placement; last year we developed a route to a permanent job for people on these placements, which involved in-work assessments,” the PAS spokesperson said. “There was an 80 per cent success rate for candidates being kept in their placement roles on a permanent basis at the end of the programme.”
With respect to other equality categories, the Civil Service continues to collect meaningful data on the make-up of its workforce to build on for the future.
“This is because we know how important a data-driven evidence base is to deliver a more inclusive workplace that will drive the innovation needed in our public services, programmes and policies,” the spokesperson added.