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Men occupy most senior positions in civil service but are 'more likely to perceive gender bias in promotions'

Over a third of workers believe that using flexible work options negatively impacts their chances of promotion, according to a new study.

MEN OCCUPY THE majority of senior positions in the civil service in Ireland, but they are more likely than women to perceive gender bias in promotional competitions, according to a study published today.

The ESRI research draws on survey responses from 904 civil servants within the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) from 2018, as well as administrative data from the department.

In an attempt to tackle gender imbalance at the DAFM, the 2018 survey was carried out as a means of determining what future actions should be taken.

The report examines gender differences in areas such as flexible working, promotions, training and networking.

Over a third of workers surveyed believe that using flexible work options negatively impacts their chances of promotion.

The study found that although women are significantly more likely to perceive that they had experienced gender bias within the department, men are more likely to believe that there is gender bias in promotional competitions that favours women.

However, analysis of administrative data on recent promotional competitions showed that there were no significant differences in the success rate of men and women who applied for various roles.

“This suggests a misperception among employees of how the gender balance initiative is implemented within the civil service,” the ESRI report notes.

Flexible work options 

The take-up of flexible work options is high in the department, with over a third of workers currently using flexible work options.

However, some specialist/technical grades have lower rates of participation. The use of these options differs by gender and childcare responsibilities, with women and those with children more likely to use these options.

The research also found that the use of flexible work options has a positive effect on perceptions of departmental support for work-life balance.

“Despite this, over a third of workers believe that using flexible work options negatively impacts their chances of promotion. The proportion was even higher among those who had availed of leave schemes and flexible options in the past,” the report notes.


A high proportion of workers in the DAFM participated in training in the two years prior to the survey. However, participation was highly gendered.

Women were found to be “significantly less likely to have participated in training compared to their male counterparts”.

“Although women and men felt equally encouraged to apply for positions in the department, women are significantly less likely to have applied for a promotion in the two years prior to the survey.”

The report notes that transparency with employees around how the gender balance initiative is implemented in the department “is needed to address misperceptions surrounding gender bias in promotions”.

The ESRI advises that regular surveys, similar to the one carried out by the DAFM, should be implemented in other departments to assist in identifying barriers to gender equality in the civil service.

The report also states that the use of flexible work options “should be normalised for both men and women”.

The ESRI also recommends that the availability of flexible work options should be extended to “predominantly male” jobs and that women should be encouraged and facilitated to participate in training.

Speaking about the report’s findings, author Helen Russell stated: “There is a widespread view that flexible working damages promotion opportunities.

Increasing the availability and take-up of such options by men would normalise this practice and may help to reduce the perception that take up of flexible work options signals reduced work commitment. It may also help dispel the view that actions to promote equality only benefit female workers.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, welcomed the publication of the report.

“While the challenges in achieving gender balance are acknowledged, it is heartening to see the work done to combat the challenges. I am committed to the principle of equal opportunities for all in the workplace as in society,” McConalogue said.

He added that his department will examine the report’s findings and what measures need to be implemented.

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