How can Public Affairs become more Inclusive?

Much more work is needed to represent and retain women working in public affairs

When considering how public affairs can be more inclusive, it is important to acknowledge the historical exclusion of women in politics more broadly. Women make up just 27% of the Cabinet, 35% of the House of Commons, and until 1997, there had never been more than 10% of seats held by women. However, the narrative has been changing as MPs speak up about their experiences in Parliament. An inquiry was launched into Sexism in the City in 2023, and there are currently 226 female MPs, the highest number ever to sit at the same time. 

Whilst progress is being made in Parliament, the public affairs sector still has room to improve. Men continue to dominate senior roles in the industry, with just 22% of senior management teams with a higher proportion of women than men. Whether it is because of caring responsibilities, inflexible workplaces, or gendered ageism, women are underrepresented in senior positions and quitting at the peak of their careers. This trend exacerbates financial disparities, as women typically retire with average pension savings of £69,000, compared to men with £205,000. 

For these reasons, the public affairs sector must work towards bettering its flexible working and menopause policies, addressing sexism and ageism in the workplace, ensuring full transparency about pay structures, and offering benefits such as parental leave and childcare assistance. Gender diversity in senior leadership teams is imperative for representation, reducing the gender pay gap, and challenging gender stereotypes. It also provides young women aspiring to work in the sector with role models, helping them navigate the industry and the barriers they may face.

Public affairs is an exciting industry to work in. As Advisers, we enjoy working with a range of clients and seeing first-hand how politics sits at the heart of what businesses want to achieve. Equally, the challenge of developing the right support programme for clients and seeing the difference thoughtful policymaker engagement makes for them is fulfilling. 

Whilst we feel that progress is starting to be made in the industry to improve inclusivity, there is still a discernible difference between men and women in the sector, particularly when it comes to confidence, career progression, and pay. For these reasons, the public affairs industry needs to do better. As well as offering flexible working patterns, employers need to communicate inclusivity throughout the interview process, find mentors for women and provide but also highlight the wide range of support available. Women need to feel empowered, be listened to and well supported. By ensuring such changes are made will ultimately help with staff retention. 

To further diversify public affairs for all women, it is important for young people to have opportunities to consider a range of careers in politics and public affairs that may not otherwise be afforded to them. I Have a Voice brings professionals to the classroom so that young people from diverse backgrounds have the opportunity to get stuck into campaigns, paid internships and to access mentorship from professionals across the sector. We have found that IHAV’s programmes offer valuable insight into the public affairs sector – a sector we feel people don’t currently have much awareness of. We would encourage any young people who wants to get involved to explore their website