Earlier this year we interviewed Karen Carlton in her position as Commissioner for Public Appointments and our discussions led to the organisation of a forum of leading women to consider why there are so few women in public office. The interview with Karen is reprinted in the3rdi magazine this month.
Public bodies are involved in a huge range of activities from legal aid to education, sports, the arts and social care. Some provide independent advice to government while others actually deliver public services, like healthcare. While they are set up by government and board members often appointed by Ministers, they are independent in carrying out their day-to-day work.
Public appointments are non-executive posts and, therefore, appointees are not involved in the day-to-day operations of the public bodies. They do normally involve appointees making judgements about strategy, supporting the management team and monitoring their performance on behalf of the public.
Public appointments are open to everyone and there is an open application process. Contrary to popular opinion, public appointments are not given as rewards, you don’t need to be well known or politically active. You don’t need to be invited to apply and all applications are treated on an equal basis. If we agree that the boards of our public bodies should reflect the whole of our society, then why are there so few women on the boards of public office.
In order to explore this issue, in association with Karen Carlton, we spoke to several senior women to get their views on why they took up a role on a public body and what can be done to encourage more women to apply.