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‘We want to make sure we are as inclusive as possible’

Chief executive of the Public Appointments Service Shirley Comerford is passionate about achieving greater gender balance and diversity in the public service

Shirley Comerford: “Where you have an inclusive workplace, it’s proven that you get better engagement, better innovation, and better outcomes.”

Shirley Comerford: “Where you have an inclusive workplace, it’s proven that you get better engagement, better innovation, and better outcomes.”


The Public Appointments Service (PAS) is the centralised provider of recruitment, assessment and selection services for the civil and public services in Ireland. It also provides recruitment and consultancy services to local authorities, health boards, An Garda Síochána and other public bodies. Its publicjobs.ie website is the main recruitment facility for public-service recruiters and is the primary access route for candidates interested in joining the public service.

“What we try to do is attract top talent to the civil and public service,” says recently appointed chief executive Shirley Comerford. “We want to have a vibrant service with strong leadership. We have a code of practice and best-practice principles that we abide by and these underpin public confidence in the process both from a career perspective and State board appointments.”

PAS is also responsible for appointments to State boards. “We are strengthening accountability and capability on State boards,” Comerford says. “Achieving gender balance on State boards is Government policy and something we are very committed to. In 2017, 52 per cent of all State board appointments were women while in the current year the figure is running at 53 per cent. The figure for the private sector is around 13 per cent.

“We are quite proud of that achievement but will continue to raise awareness, encourage people to apply, and reach out to diverse audiences to ensure that our public and civil service and State boards are reflective of the society they serve,” she adds.

Greater diversity

She is passionate about encouraging greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace. “I have direct experience of multicultural workplaces and their benefits, having worked in Australia and the UK. I have two daughters myself and that makes me very conscious of inclusion. It’s about future-proofing organisations. We have an opportunity to create the inclusive organisations that our children and our children’s children will work in. We have a responsibility to do that for future generations. The business benefits are clear as well.”

The Public Appointments Service conducted its own diversity audit in 2017 to ensure all processes and documentation and media profiles conformed with best practice.

“We want to make sure we are as inclusive as possible and that we use neutral terms and so on. We also launched our new website in June of this year. We took the opportunity to introduce new features such as enhanced screen-reading capabilities for people with visual disabilities. We also looked at facilities for people who do not have English as a first language. We now have an EU button on the site which brings them Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian, and Romanian language versions.”

Close working relationships have also been established with organisations such as Pavee Point and the Migrant Integration Strategy Group. “It’s very much about inclusion and not just about one strand,” Comerford says. “Where you have an inclusive workplace, it’s proven that you get better engagement, better innovation, and better outcomes. We are about to appoint a diversity and inclusion officer who will work internally as well as with our stakeholders. We very much see ourselves as having a role in driving best-practice inclusion strategies. It’s about transformational change throughout the civil and public service. It’s vital that Government leads by example and it’s good to see that being done on State boards.”

Shirley Comerford was a participant in IMI's Taking the Lead - Women in Leadership programme: imi.ie/courses/taking-lead-women-leadership