Dáil Éireann - Volume 469 - 03 October, 1996

Questions—Ceisteanna. Oral Answers. - Composition of Interview Boards.

4. Dr. Woods asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform whether he has examined the joint report of Dublin Corporation, IMPACT trade union and the Employment Equality Agency, published on 24 September 1996, which found that there are too many men on interview boards, that only three of ten Local Appointments Commission interview panels in 1995 had women on them and that there was a direct correlation between the gender of interviewers and successful applicants; and if he will make a statement on this matter and on its implications for interviews in the public service. [17304/96]

23. Mr. Clohessy asked the Minister for Equality and Law Reform his response to the IMPACT report on appointments to local authorities; the evidence, if any, which was found of imbalances working against women in the workplace; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17299/96]

Mr. Taylor: I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 and 23 together.

I have received a copy of the report entitled “Quality Through Equality in Dublin Corporation” and I welcome its contribution to furthering equality of opportunity in the workplace. The report, which presents the findings of an analysis of employment equality in Dublin Corporation, received the full co-operation of the management and staff of Dublin Corporation and of the main trade union, IMPACT.

The study was promoted by the Employment Equality Agency and cofunded by the European Social Fund with a view to establishing a model of best practice with regard to equal [1337] opportunities for Dublin Corporation, which would also be relevant and adaptable for use in other similar public sector employments.

While this report is first and foremost the work of Dublin Corporation and IMPACT I have brought the report to the attention of the Minister for the Environment and the Local Appointments Commission.

I understand from the Employment Equality Agency that the dissemination of the report among other local authorities is under way and it is expected that it will provide a valuable model for best practice as regards equal opportunities in this sector.

I am aware from my Department's contacts with the Department of the Environment that concerted efforts are being made across local authorities to pursue equal opportunities policies and plans. I am hopeful that progress in this area will be confirmed when a further survey of equal opportunities in this sector, planned for 1997, is undertaken.

The report is one of a number that deals with the subject of equal opportunities in the public sector. When I published the report on a survey of equal opportunities in the public sector in 1993, I indicated that I considered the level of inequality in public service employments to be unacceptable and I urged all public sector employers to adopt equal opportunities policies and practices. I am pleased that many local authorities and particularly Dublin Corporation, the country's largest local authority, are actively pursuing an equal opportunities agenda. More recently the Joint Committee on Women's Rights published a report on women in management in local administration in the local authority sector. I welcome the interest and commitment of the Oireachtas Joint Committee in this regard.

Of course there comes a point where action is needed to follow analysis. I am particularly impressed in the case of this most recent report that it was a joint report of management and staff [1338] interests. I understand from the Employment Equality Agency, which operates under the aegis of my Department, that there is a significant depth of commitment by both sides to progress the matters raised in the report.

In relation to the gender composition of interview boards specifically referred to by Deputy Woods, I am informed by the Local Appointments Commission that, to date in 1996, of 99 interview boards convened for managerial and professional appointments in local authorities, both sexes were represented on 86 boards. Furthermore, every in-house interview board in Dublin Corporation in the last year contained female representation. This is a major improvement on previous years and provides real evidence that the question of equal opportunities in local authority employment is receiving increasing attention.

While the report suggests that a direct correlation exists between the gender of interview board members and that of successful applicants, other variables involved such as the gender composition of the candidate pool to be interviewed can also affect the decisions of interview boards. However, in so far as the composition of the boards may affect such results, I am glad to note that Dublin Corporation and the Local Appointments Commission are committed to ensuring the participation by women on future selection interview boards.

Dr. Woods: Will the Minister agree there should be a 50:50 ratio of men and women on all future interview boards and that this target is readily achievable? I accept that may be difficult to achieve on boards where there is a chair and a certain number of interviewers, but if there were, say, four people on a board, the objective should be to have two men and two women on that board.

In his reply, the Minister stated that 86 out of 99 boards in 1996 had both sexes represented but there must be equal representation by women on these boards; I am sure if the Minister examines those figures he will find that there was not equal representation in [1339] those cases. We should take this matter seriously because various surveys have shown that in the public service, for example, there are just over 22 per cent of women at assistant principal officer level and only 12 per cent at principal officer level. Those are the broad grades where there should be major participation by women. I realise the percentage of women is much smaller at the higher grades but the grades to which I have referred are the most important. Will the Minister agree there should be a 50:50 representation of men and women on these boards as far as is possible?

Mr. Taylor: That is a worthwhile objective to work towards and I fully support it. The figures I have given, however, show a major improvement on the position that has pertained up to now where there was not any female representation on most of these interview boards. All the research indicates that to work towards the attainment of equal opportunities, the composition of interview boards is crucial and the presence of at least one female representative on those boards is vitally important. It is good to see that the work we have been doing is achieving results and that we are now beginning to make major inroads into this important aspect of equal opportunities. It is only one aspect of equal opportunities but I am sure the Members opposite will agree it is an important one. We must progress from here on and ensure we get representation from both sexes on all interview boards and, in due course, attain the ultimate proposed by Deputy Woods, which I wholly support as an objective.

Ms Keogh: The Minister is correct when he says we are at least moving in the right direction. He referred to the report of the Joint Committee on Women's Rights which painted a bleak picture of the number of women in management positions in local authorities. Unfortunately, the position is not improving although, it may when [1340] there is a better balance of women on boards. The Minister referred to other variables, for instance, the pool of women which may be drawn from. This is critical. Is the Minister aware that although there may have been a breakthrough in the Local Appointments Commission, internal boards within local authorities leave much to be desired, and very few women are ever on these boards? How might that be addressed?

Mr. Taylor: Deputy Keogh may have missed one comment I made in my rather lengthy reply when I said that every in-house interview board held in Dublin Corporation in the past year contained female representation. That is very satisfactory. I do not know what the position is in other local authorities.

Ms Keogh: It is very poor.

Mr. Taylor: I do not doubt it, but the fact that we have this report as a benchmark is extremely helpful. The Employment Equality Agency has taken it up with great vigour, is disseminating it to the other local authorities and working on it with the Department of the Environment. The arrangements I was involved in for the funding and preparation of this report were extremely helpful and worthwhile.

In the context of the Local Appointments Commission interview boards and their gender composition, Members will be interested to know that in 1996, 82 per cent of boards had a woman member compared with 30 per cent in 1995 whereas in 1994 and 1993 no interview board had a balanced gender composition. We are definitely moving in the right direction. The production of these two reports, the Oireachtas committee report and the Corporation's report, is a major benchmark which will provide a basis for continuing improvement in this regard.

Mr. Kenneally: The figures are impressive. It is good to know that some progress has been made. It is disturbing [1341] that there is a correlation between a gender imbalance on an interview board and the success or otherwise of applicants.

I understand that following the recent survey another survey will be carried out in 1997 to monitor progress. Obviously, there is a certain amount of monitoring at present if the Minister can tell us that 86 of 99 interview boards had a gender balance.

Mr. Taylor: It was gender representation, not necessarily a balance.

Mr. Kenneally: Is there any monitoring outside of the Local Appointments Commission? What about interview boards of school boards of management, health boards, vocational education committees, etc.? Are there plans to monitor those to achieve improved representation?

Mr. Taylor: I have no specific information about what other monitoring may be going on through the Department of Health. Perhaps the Deputy could put down a question on that and I could make inquiries of the Department of Health. The Deputy is right in saying that in 1997 a further detailed survey will be undertaken in the area of equal opportunities in the environment sector.