Influential female voices in the Civil Service

In celebration of International Women’s Day 2023, Government Transformation Magazine spoke to a group of inspiring female civil servants about their experiences in the field, their advice to other women and what can be done to attract and retain the female workforce. 

Lien Bailey, Chief Data Officer at the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), on her advice for other women and the desire to see greater normalisation of flexible working

My advice for other women would be to believe in yourself and find something that you love doing! Obviously, we all know the elephant in the room is that government doesn’t always pay the best but they have great training and development. I think it's the best I've ever seen - and far better training tools than your old financial institutions! But don't get me wrong - you must always make a case for more training!Lien Bailey

In the public sector we have a lot of workplace benefits that are attractive to women in the workplace, but I would like to see more role shares as well as a greater normalisation of flexible working. I believe this affords greater freedom for those that are carers, or have other duties, to manage their time. While these benefits are offered, there is still a lingering stigma of not being a productive member of the team - this perception needs to change!

At IPO, we try and create a brilliant place to work and are focussed on providing efforts such as STEM returners, Girls who code, Social mobility plans, and we have really diverse team members who are made to feel welcome by staff. I, for one, was able to share my social mobility story which charted my story of being a Vietnamese boat person to where I am today.

Sue Bateman, Interim Chief Data Officer at the Cabinet Office’s Central Digital and Data Office (CDOO), on female allies in a male dominated industry

Achieving gender equality is essential in all professions, and particularly important in data, which is critical to modern organisations across all sectors. At senior levels still, it can feel a little male dominated at times, but that is changing and there are many talented women moving into leadership roles across all sectors and many allies who will be there to support you. 

sue batemanRegardless of where you may have started your career it is never too late to get on the path to a career in data. I started my Civil Service career in the policy profession, gradually moving into the digital and data domain. Data as an enabler to effective, digital organisations, needs a whole range of skill sets - some of the traditional roles of data analysts, data engineers and data architects are being joined by data ethicists, data strategists, data managers, data community and literacy leads. 

If I was to give any advice to those looking to pursue a career in the field I’d say choose a specific space as a starter, develop your understanding and experience - and it will increase your confidence and ability to look into other areas. That’s certainly how I started - in open data, more specifically the development of the Open Data Charter, before moving onto developing a cross government data science programme, and then data sharing legislation

Louise Sheridan, Deputy Director at Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI), on the importance of networking and removing algorithmic bias in recruitment

To anyone considering a career in data, no matter what your background, I say go for it! I don’t have a technical background, and I hold a humanities PhD, but there are so many diverse roles in data that really benefit from diverse skills, expertise and background.  On a practical level, I’d say network, network, network. Attend data conferences and seminars, reach out to people to grab a coffee to learn more about their work or opportunities to shadow them in their roles. There is a supportive network of great people who want to help more women to start their career in data and would love to hear from you!

We also need to ensure that girls and women are encouraged into tech roles from an early age, and that role models are championed and visible to enable this. SeniorLouise Sheridan-1 leadership needs to role model a commitment to diversity and inclusion, including ensuring women in senior leadership roles. 

Principles of fairness, human-centred value, and societal wellbeing are core to the CDEI’s work. Our projects focus on improving the fairness of algorithmic decision-making, mitigating against bias and other ethical and legal harms, and ensuring the benefits of innovation are enjoyed by all - especially groups who are more likely to be negatively impacted or miss out on the benefits of data and AI. In practice, if algorithmic tools are trained on historical data, patterns of exclusion can be repeated or even exacerbated. 

In a recruitment context this can result in algorithms ‘favouring’ male candidates in traditionally male sectors or roles. In a step towards remedying this gendered pattern, the CDEI developed a set of guidance on the responsible procurement and deployment of recruitment tech. It aims to give industry the mechanisms to effectively evaluate tools, ensuring that appropriate steps have been taken to mitigate risks (especially around inclusion) and maximise opportunities.

Internally, we have a ‘ways of working’ group to help drive Equity Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) considerations across our work, including practical guidance and workshops to help teams implement more inclusive practices across the lifecycle of their policy projects. 

Geraldine Devine, Deputy Digital Director at Northern Ireland's Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affair (DAERA) on celebrating female success and leadership

My biggest career achievement to date has been winning the Digital Leaders 100 Award for Big Data in 2021. In terms of advice I would you give to other women looking to grow and develop their career I would say have confidence in your own abilities – you are good enough and as data is such a new and emerging area – there are huge opportunities to get skilled up and bring your unique qualities and skills to this ever growing area. 

Geraldine DevineFor many women – work life balance is a huge thing especially around caring responsibilities. Having a supportive employer with flexibility and understanding would help keep more women at work.

Also encouragement around development programmes to encourage women (and all staff in general) to grown their own confidence and leadership skills.

Within the Northern Ireland Civil Service – Diversity Champions and a Diversity network is in place to support diversity and inclusion. There are also specific staff networks for Disability, LGBTQ+, Race and Ethnicity and a Women’s Network. Within the NICS we are very lucky to have a Head of Civil Service who is very supportive and vocal about the importance of difference and a champion of the various networks.

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