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Improving representation in public life

Black woman addressing an audience
Blog by Chris Jenkins, Senior Policy Officer, Equality Commission NI

Our work around participation in public life looks to analyse and identify opportunities to make NI public appointments more reflective of the community they serve.   

The roles need to be accessible to people regardless of age, gender, disability, race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation. 

Efforts needed to improve representation in public life  

Having a mix of people in public life from different backgrounds, including those protected by equality laws, will improve decision-making and outcomes. 

We want the NI Executive renew efforts to
  • increase the representation for people with disabilities.  
  • achieve the Executive’s targets for gender equality in board and chair appointments.  
  • improve data collection across equality grounds, especially for ethnic minorities. 

Underrepresentation in Northern Ireland 

We examined the make-up of government public appointments in 2021/22 to identify underrepresentation in public life. 

Disabled people not represented in public life 

 The information shows an underrepresentation of people with a disability in public life in Northern Ireland. 21% of the Northern Ireland population is disabled, but in 2021-2022 only 6% of public appointments are people with a declared disability. We want to see efforts to increase participation from individuals with disabilities. 

21%25 of people in NI have a disability6%25 of people appointed to boards have a disability

Women not represented in paid or chair roles

The number of women in government public appointments is improving, but they are still underrepresented in both appointments and applications. Women account for 52% of the population yet only 37% of applications to public bodies are from women.

51%25 of population are women37%25 of those applying for public appointments are women

Men hold 73% of 'Chair' positions within government public bodies.

73%25of Chair roles are held by women27%25 of Chair roles are held by women

Women make up just 29% of applications for the highest-paid positions over £10,000.

71%25 of applicants to roles paying over £10,000 are held by men29%25 of applicants to roles paying over £10,000 are held by women

We want to see action plan to achieve gender equality in board and chair appointments.

People from ethnic minorities not represented in public life

White people make up 98% of all applicants to government public appointments. Unfortunately, there is no data of the number of people from ethnic minorities in these roles. We want to see this addressed quickly, as it is vital we understand how to increase participation of ethnic minorities.

98%25 of people who applied for government public appointments are whiteNo data on the number of ethnic minorities in government public appointments

Our work to improve participation in public life

We will continue to monitor participation in public life across a range of equality groups as part of our ongoing Measuring Equality in Northern Ireland research.

We also continue to inform and challenge the government to take steps to address short comings in data collection and take steps to increase diversity in public appointments.


Posted on 30 May 2024 by Chris Jenkins