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How is our work influencing life in Northern Ireland and delivering equality? Learn more about our policy, legal and research work.


Participation in public life

What you need to know


Participation in Public Life in Northern Ireland

We have examined a range of data sources and insights to build a picture of how people participate in public life in Northern Ireland. We sought to understand representation and participation in government public appointments across the equality groups.

This information shows that:


  • people with a disability are underrepresented in public life 
  • whilst women's representation is improving, it is men who dominate ‘chair’ and higher paid positions 
  • there are gaps in data collection, especially for ethnic minorities.  

It is important that data collection is improved to better understand representation and participation in public appointments.  

Participation in public life is one part of our work to
measure equality in Northern Ireland.


Main findings 

Applying for public appointments 

In 2021-2022, 37% of applications received for government public appointments were from women. 9% were from people with a declared disability.
Applied for public appointments: 37%25 women, 63%25 menApplied for public appointments: 9%25 disability declared, 91%25 not declared

There is no data available on ethnic minorities in public appointments. Other equality groups with the high percentages of people applying for public positions were white applicants (98%), followed by heterosexual applicants (96%), individuals who were married or in a civil partnership (80%), and applicants without dependents (62%).

Government public appointments made 

In 2021/22, women accounted for 46% of public appointments made. People with a declared disability accounted for 6% of public appointments made. There was no data available for ethnic minorities.  

Appointed to public appointments: 46%25 women, 54%25 menAppointed to public appointments: 6%25 disability declared, 84%25 not declared

Other equality groups with the greatest shares of public appointments made in 2021/2022 were to applicants with a Protestant community background (46%) and age group of over 60+ (48%).  

Those equality groups with the lowest percentage shares of those appointed were those in the age group of 18-29 (10%).  


Chairs on a board

Women make up 46% of appointments to public bodies, Yet 77% of applications to Chair positions came from males, while 23% came from females.  

There is no information on disabled people or ethnic minorities in ‘chair’ and higher paid positions.

Applied to be Chair: 23%25 women, 77%25 men Held the role of chair: 27%25 women, 73%25 men

Data sources and limitations 

The data sources for the Participation in Public life strand of our Measuring Equality Framework was:

Overall, there is a lack of data collection across public appointments in relation to race and ethnicity. 

Recommendations to increase diversity on public life 

The insights from this data have formed our recommendations to government to improve participation in public life. They include calls to improve data collection, and measures to increase participation from underrepresented groups.  

Further information 

The full report goes into further detail on other equality grounds including LGBTQI+, people with dependents, age groups, carers, and relationship status.



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< Participation in public life
< Addressing inequality

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