23rd June 2016 - Update to Commissioner's Code - Ministers to be informed of gender breakdown of Board membership
The Code of Practice for Ministerial Public Appointments in Northern Ireland has been updated to ensure that Ministers are made aware of the details of the gender breakdown of the current membership of the board to which they are appointing. Ministers will receive this information at the outset of the competition and again before any appointment decision when they receive the list of candidates suitable for appointment. In addition, the appointing Department must make the Minister aware of the agreed NI Executive targets on Diversity in public appointments.
This update will ensure that Ministers are in possession of all the facts before initiating any public appointment process and making decisions on which candidates to appoint. This new approach will ensure that the issue of diversity on the boards of our public bodies is at the fore during the entire appointment process.
Ministers agree ground breaking targets for achieving gender equality on Public Body Boards
The Northern Ireland Executive recently agreed targets for equal representation of men and women on public body boards. The target to achieve an equal number of women as Chairs of public bodies by 2020/21 sets a new standard for the UK. Such a target is also without precedent in the Republic of Ireland.
Ministers agreed the following timescales for achieving gender equality in aggregated public appointments:
- by 2017/18 for appointments made in-year;
- by end-year 2020/21 for all appointees in post, with equality reflected both in board membership and at chair level.
Whilst these targets relate to gender equality, in order to establish a reliable database in relation to participation by ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and young people, it is also intended to collect monitoring information on a voluntary basis from current public appointees.
To achieve these challenging targets, Departments will continue with a range of initiatives to broaden the pool of applicants, identify obstacles to participation and success in the appointment process and to identify and eliminate unintentional bias. To this end, the Executive has also agreed that
- departmental sponsored bodies will be required to review the culture and practice of their Boards and to ensure that these are conducive to women and other under-represented groups;
- Departments will need to consider, for each of their sponsored bodies, whether the absence, or level of remuneration is a factor in deterring applications to Board positions from women and other under-represented groups;
- Departments will have to consider whether there is an ongoing need for statutory nominations to the Boards of their sponsored bodies.
Commissioner Commends the Department of Regional Development (DRD) As It Shows It’s Commitment to Diversity in the Belfast Harbour Commission Competition
The Department initiated the process to appoint nine Non-Executive Members to the Board of Belfast Harbour Commissioners. One of my Independent Assessors was involved from the outset and the Department took up the offer of obtaining ongoing advice and support from my office. The previous balance of the Board was 23% female. One area worthy of comment was the emphasis placed by the panel on using all possible media opportunities to ensure diversity; geographical locations were included.
Due to the outreach efforts of the Department the competition attracted a large number of applicants from a wide range of backgrounds. The applicant pool had a good gender balance and reflected the desired diversity and geographical spread. The outcome of the competition was a new Board with 43% female representation.
The good work carried out by the team ensured a large and diverse applicant pool. I would like to pay tribute to all the staff involved in the competition for Belfast Harbour Commissioners for achieving this positive outcome.
Commissioner commends DARD Minister for commitment to Diversity
Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill has announced the appointment of seven new members to the Board of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI).
They are Dr Michelle Costello-Smith, Theresa Cullen, Fiona Hanna, Dr Richard Horton, Joan Houston, Sharon Smyth and Richard Solomon. Their appointments are effective from 1 April 2016 for a term of three years.
Minister O’Neill said: “The role of the AFBI Board is to provide strategic direction and to promote good governance including the highest standards of financial management. These new Board members are from a diverse range of backgrounds. They bring with them skills and experience acquired in the agriculture, food and financial sectors and in science and technology environments. The new members’ collective commercial and business development acumen will make a major contribution to the role of the Board in advancing the work of AFBI. There are many challenges and opportunities for AFBI ahead and I wish them every success in supporting AFBI towards achieving its ambitious goals.”
Commenting on the new AFBI Board appointments, the Commissioner for Public Appointments in Northern Ireland, Judena Leslie said: “I am delighted to see such a diverse range of well qualified individuals appointed to the AFBI Board. We know that more diverse boards lead to better outcomes for the organisations they serve. These latest public appointments demonstrate that if Departments and Public Bodies focus on improving diversity and ensure that principle underpins an inclusive process, then it really can be achieved. Minister O’Neill is to be commended for her commitment and for providing an important step change in this area.”
DETI rising to the diversity challenge
The Consumer Council for Northern Ireland (CCNI) is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment (DETI). It was established in 1985 and has a statutory remit to promote and safeguard the interest of consumers and has specific functions in relation to energy, water, transport and food. These include considering complaints and enquiries, carrying out research and educating and informing consumers.
In April 2015, DETI began the process to appoint five new CCNI Board members, with effect from 1 January 2016, by drawing up an ‘Appointment Plan’. As required by CPANI, every Appointment Plan must include “a section on diversity which sets out what steps – in outreach and process – will be taken to achieve the best possible spread of applicants and, ultimately, appointees”.
Measures taken to enhance the diversity of applicants
The Department consulted with the Chair of the CCNI on the size, skills and composition of the Board going forward. Because of the many issues which particularly affect consumers in rural areas, it was clear we needed to attract applications from those in the rural and agricultural communities. Secondly, we wanted to attract individuals who could bring a 'grass roots' perspective and help to maximise the relevance of the Council to all of our citizens; individuals with a background in, for example, the voluntary and community sectors. From this, the selection panel devised the selection criteria and a set of measures to help broaden the pool of potential applicants. These included:-
- the use of “welcoming statements” in all of the competition literature and publicity;
- offering applicants a choice for their fourth criterion - either ‘Governance in an organisation’ or ‘Practical experience of consumer issues and representation’ and re-working the wording of some of the criteria;
- providing applicants with guidance of the criteria-based application process which requires them to demonstrate their personal role and contribution within their examples;
- providing applicants with examples of the types of evidence the panel were looking for;
- emphasising the Department’s wish to recognise less traditional career patterns and experiences such as community involvement or voluntary work, as well as those experiences found within the employment field;
- the issue of a targeted mailshot to relevant groups and organisations;
- the issue of a Ministerial press release on the same day as the public advert to maximise publicity throughout Northern Ireland; and
- anonymising the sift and short-listing process.
The selection panel also considered the three main under-represented groups on Boards (women, people with a disability and those from an ethnic-community background), and took additional measures, including:-
- employing the use of the Guaranteed Interview Scheme (GIS) which allowed those applicants with a disability who met all of the essential criteria, to be guaranteed an interview ie they were not subjected to short-listing;
- issuing a large targeted mail-shot to a number of umbrella groups and organsiations;
- interviewing a larger number of candidates than usual in order to give more people the opportunity to experience the public appointment interview process and also to provide the Minister with a wider selection of individuals to choose from; and
- providing feedback to those unsuccessful at interview to encourage them to pursue public appointments in the future.
The design of this competition, the criteria used, the publicity and positive action taken to attract people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences all contributed to a successful outcome.
A total of 71 applications were received compared to 29 in the 2012 Board member competition and 40 in the 2014 Chair & Deputy Chair competition. The panel welcomed the greater interest shown in this particular competition and noted the gender breakdown of 44% female / 56% male, as this also represents an increased percentage in female applicants and is more reflective of the gender breakdown of society within Northern Ireland. (This compares with 38 % female applicants in 2012 and 31% in 2014).
The breakdown in applications shows other achievements such as 48% rural / 52% non-rural and 32% from a voluntary/community sector background. There were six applications (8%) under the Guaranteed Interview Scheme and the ethnic-communities were also represented.
The selection panel invited 25 candidates to interview on the basis of their application form and 22 subsequently attended. As a result, the Minister was presented with a pool of 14 candidates considered suitable for appointment. From this list he appointed the 5 new Board members.
Find out who was appointed by following this link to the press release:
Department for Education
Shortly after taking up my appointment as Commissioner for Public Appointments for Northern Ireland I highlighted the fact that only a third of government appointees to public boards here are women.
I said at the time that government departments needed to do more to promote women in public life. As 50% of the population are female, departments should be aiming to have 50% of their public appointments held by women.
I am pleased to be able to report that the Department of Education has recently advised me that 53% of it's current appointees to public boards are women. In addition, two out of the three Chairpersons they have appointed are also women.
This is a positive development and one that I hope the Department will be able to sustain in the long term.