My Department is fully committed to ensuring that our staff are representative and reflective of the people and society we serve. The Department’s Management Board Sub Committee on Gender Equality, Equality, and Diversity was first established in 2012 to provide momentum and leadership to efforts to improve gender balance in the Department. In 2017, the Sub Committee’s remit was formally expanded to include broader diversity and equality issues as outlined in the Employment Equality and Equal Status Acts, together with the issue of discrimination on socio-economic grounds.The Sub Committee (supported by a Gender Equality Action Plan Working Group and a Working Group on Equality and Diversity) is the governance structure for the consideration of equality and diversity issues; policy on these issues is of course led and managed by the Department’s human resources team and informed by central Civil Service policies. The Department also works closely with the Civil Service Management Board in the development of new approaches to gender equality. Work on gender equality is structured through the Department’s Gender Equality Action Plan which sets out a number of key objectives to help improve gender balance at all grades, at home and abroad. Important initiatives taken under the Action Plan include the roll-out of unconscious bias training, mentoring and coaching for women in leadership roles, and the establishment of a Gender Equality Network which organises seminars and discussions on gender open to all staff.
Efforts have specifically been made to ensure gender balance in promotions and particularly at senior positions where inequalities are historically most evident. In 2012, at the establishment of the Sub-Committee, 27% of Counsellors/Principal Officers in the Department were female. As of 2018, the percentage of female Counsellor/Principal Officers is 34%, highlighting the success of efforts made by the Department to address inequalities, while also evidencing the need to continue efforts already being implemented.
The Working Group on Equality and Diversity has now developed a complementary Action Plan which will be launched shortly and which will drive initiatives around inclusion, equality, and diversity in our human resources approach and in our external and internal communications. As part of the Action Plan, I will shortly be launching the Department’s LGBT+ Staff Network. This Network aims to be a supportive space for LGBT+ staff, secondees and their spouses at home or overseas.
There are regular events at the Department’s Headquarters to promote gender equality, equality and diversity. In 2017, six events were held and to date there have been four events on issues on gender equality, equality and diversity in 2018. Events have included topics such as ‘Inclusion and Disability’, ‘Gender Equality in Leadership’, ‘LGBT+ History’, and ‘Diversity in the Diplomatic Service’. As Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, I am committed to communicating our values to our partners around the world and to visible demonstrations of our support for human rights and equality. The Department’s diplomatic network and the Irish Aid programme work directly, and in cooperation with, other EU Member States to engage with Governments on a range of governance and human rights issues, including gender equality and the rights of the LGBT+ community. The Human Right Unit in my Department supports embassies in their engagement on these issues, including the provision of appropriate training to staff in advance of their postings overseas.
In March this year Ireland also chaired the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, leading to the adoption of Conclusions which focused on gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls.
In May 2018, to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, I launched a social media awareness campaign on Twitter reiterating Ireland’s commitment to the rights of LGBT+ individuals and encouraging our global network to show solidarity by supporting the hashtag #FollowTheRainbow.
Many of our embassies have also participated in annual Pride events including most recently Embassies Warsaw, Washington and Zagreb.