Improving and Influencing Gender Equality in the Public Sector

Submitting Institution

Glasgow Caledonian University

Unit of Assessment

Business and Management Studies

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Education: Specialist Studies In Education
Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration, Sociology

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Summary of the impact

Gender inequality affects workforce effectiveness. Our research has significantly increased awareness of factors which contribute to the paucity of female representation in the public sector. Notably it has shaped the policies and strategies of public sector agencies such the Scottish Government, Leadership Foundation in Higher Education, NHS and educational institutions such as universities and further education colleges. The research provided a platform for implementation of the Gender Equality Duty for the Scottish public sector.

Underpinning research

Research on gender equality has been on-going at GCU since 2003 with outputs from the followingprojects:

  1. Engaging with Leaders in Higher Education: Gender Balance in Higher and Further Education awarded by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE). Researchers: Duncan McTavish, Karen Miller and Emily Thomson. Period of award: 2005 to 2007. Value: £100,590.
  2. The Gender Equality Project awarded by the Scottish Executive. Researchers: Duncan McTavish, Karen Miller and Susan Ogden. Period of award: 2005 to 2006. Value: £25,000.
  3. European Social Fund Programme: A Sectoral Analysis of Gender Equality awarded by European Commission. Researchers: Duncan McTavish, Karen Miller, Susan Ogden, Rona Beattie and Gill Maxwell. Period of award: 2003 to 2005. Value: £225,000.

The research team investigated: (1) the level of female representation in public sectororganisations; and (2) barriers and enablers to female career progression. McTavish and Miller(2009) and McTavish and Thomson (2007) showed that New Public Management and public sector reforms (e.g. performance management) placed a value on stereotypical masculine normssuch as competitiveness, aggressiveness, decisiveness. These performance management systems created disadvantage for the female workforce since women were stereotypically perceived to contribute to the organisation through emotional labour (caring and support roles). Reforms created barriers for women in the public sector - a predominately female workforce (e.g. in education, health and caring sectors) - through the integration of private sector management systems which rewarded masculine norms. McTavish and Miller (2006) also showed that in the NHS although there were increasing numbers of female medical graduates, many were entering general practice careers. This career preference, based on the view that a general practice career was more conducive to a work-life balance, created horizontal occupational gender segregation.Research on the implications of the feminisation of the medical profession and increasing number of women entering general practice as opposed to acute clinical careers had not been undertaken before. The research demonstrated the implications for clinical labour shortages, cost-inefficiencies and patient care with fewer women entering acute surgical careers.

A new research approach was the disaggregation of data which enabled the analysis of the number and level of female representation by sector and comparatively (see for example Miller and McTavish, 2009). The main impact of the approach was raised awareness of vertical and horizontal occupational gender segregation in the public sector. For example, women are concentrated often at lower levels of the organisational hierarchy, on part-time contracts, lower pay levels, and within stereotypically feminine roles such as administrative, secretarial, pastoral and support roles.

Fyfe, Miller and McTavish (2009) also found variances in the formulation and implementation of equality policy practices in the UK's system of multi-level governance resulting in policy divergences. Miller (2009) showed unintended policy outcomes of implementing gender equality mainstreaming which gave scope for flexibilities in the labour market. Flexible working policies such as part-time employment, accessed mostly by women, further entrenched existing stereotypical perceptions of women as 'less committed to the job' which disadvantaged their career

References to the research

Key outputs:

McTavish, D and Miller, K. (eds.) (2006) Women and Leadership, New Horizons in Management Series (Cary L. Cooper, series editor), Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

McTavish, D. and Thomson, E. (2007) 'Managing Scottish Higher and Further Education: A Comparison of (Re)Gendered Organizations', Public Management Review, 9 (3): 421-433.


McTavish, D and Mil er, K. (2009) 'Gender Balance in Leadership,' Education Management Administration & Leadership, 37 (3): 350-365.


Miller, K. (2009) 'Public Policy Dilemma - gender equality mainstreaming in UK policy formulation,' Public Money and Management, 29 (1): 43-50.


Fyfe, G., Miller Johnston, K. and McTavish, D. (2009) ' Muddling Through' in a Devolved Polity: implementation of equal opportunities policy in Scotland,' Policy Studies, 30 (2): 203-219.


Miller Johnston, K. and McTavish D. (2011) 'UK Public Administration Scholarship: Equality of Opportunity for Women?', Public Administration, 89, (2): 681-697.


Details of the impact

The main impact of the research is the improved understanding of barriers and enablers to female career progression and the influence on the gender equality policy agenda and public debate. The Scottish Government drew upon the commissioned final research report, to formulate gender equality policy for Scotland. This impact, the influence on the policy agenda, is evidenced in the Scottish Government (2010) policy document.

In the further and higher education sectors the research informed colleges and universities on gender equality; barriers and enablers to career progression of female staff; and the Gender Equality Duty, which is a legal requirement on all public authorities to pay due regard to eliminate unlawful discrimination and harassment on the grounds of sex, and promote equality of opportunity between women and men in policy-making, decision-making, service provision, employment matters, and statutory discretion. The research informed the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education's Diversity Strategy for 2007-2012; greater awareness of gender inequality in the education sector (see LFHE In Practice, Issue 9); and stimulated public debate of the enablers and barriers to female career progression within the education sector. This was achieved through a series of presentations of research findings to members of the Association of Scottish Colleges; Universities Scotland, and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education; and broader dissemination through media for example by the Times Higher Education Supplement which publicised the research in an article on 30 July 2009 that stimulated reader comments via blogs and twitter.

A further impact of the research was the support to public sector organisations, as participants in the research, in preparation for the implementation of the Gender Equality Duty. The organisations included NHS Health Boards; Royal College of Nursing; Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons; Police; Fire Services; colleges; universities; Scottish Government, Association of Scottish Colleges; Chartered Institute for Secretaries and Administrators; Equality Opportunities Commission; and Office for the Commissioner of Public Appointments. For example, the workforce audit conducted for the organisations provided a benchmark of the representation of female staff at various levels of the organisations, which was not undertaken before, and provided data to meet the regulatory requirements of the Gender Equality Duty.

The research stimulated the debate and created awareness beyond Scotland. The research findings were included in other projects e.g. in a major research study on the NHS in England (see UK NHS Midland and East 'Releasing Potential: Women Doctors and Clinical Leadership' by P. Newman). The research also informed the UK Commission for Employment and Skills by providing evidence for its policy documents on gender occupational discrimination and segregation (see Beyond the UK, the research was included in other policy documents such as the major trans-European research project entitled, 'Meta-Analysis of Gender Science Research, Topic Report:Horizontal and Vertical Segregation' by F. Sagebiel and S. Vazquez-Cupeiro (2010) as commissioned by the European Commission (EU Project RTD-PP-L4-2007-1); and The Council for European Studies, Montreal, Canada, 'New Blood: The Interaction of Enlargement and Gender in the Changing Composition of the European Commission Staff' (2010). Importantly, the United Nations Development Programme adopted the research by Miller and McTavish on the representation of women in the public sector in a presentation of Gender and Public Administration by Soma Chakrabarti Fezzardi the UNDP consultant for Gender Equality in Public Administration (GEPA) (see based on Miller and McTavish (2011).

Sources to corroborate the impact

  1. Scottish Government (2010) 'Reporting on Progress Towards Equality of Opportunity for Women and Men made by Public Authorities in Scotland: Ministerial Priorities for Gender Equality: Tackling Occupational Segregation: A Review of Key Evidence and National Policies'
  2. Times Higher Education Supplement publicised the research, 30 July 2009
  3. The Centre for Public Policy and Management (2006) Gender Balance in Management: Scotland's Public and Private Sectors,
  4. Miller, K (2005) Gender Balance in Management: The Health Sector in Scotland, Report, ISBN: 1903661919
  5. Scottish Government
  6. Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board
  7. Leadership Foundation for Higher Education
  8. Chartered Institute for Secretaries and Administrators
  9. Glasgow Clyde College
  10. UNDP adopted the research recommendations in a presentation of Gender and Public Administration by Soma Chakrabarti the UNDP consultant for Gender Equality in Public Administration (GEPA) (see