This article examines the patterns of gender representation in the UK Civil Service to interrogate the claim that there was a regressive change in the proportion of women in the most senior grades of Whitehall under the UK Coalition Government (2010–2015). It does so by analysing both quantitative data covering civil service employment patterns during the Coalition years, complemented by new, primary qualitative data drawn from interviews conducted by the authors. The article presents an original explanation of these shifting patterns, emphasising the crucial role of ‘critical feminist actors’ in driving forward gender equality and diversity agendas in Whitehall. It concludes by highlighting dilemmas and risks involved in this agency-based approach to equality and diversity, which relies on the personal drive and commitment of key, senior actors; and at the same time is subject to the vicissitudes of change in personnel and political environment.
- Gender diversity, UK civil service, Austerity, Coalition government, Representative bureaucracy