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A clear statement of intent on diversity in the Civil Service

Source: Public Sector Executive Oct/Nov 2014

 76K3993 editSir Simon Fraser, Head of the Diplomatic Service, Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, and Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Champion, explains more about the Talent Action Plan.

The heart of the Civil Service ethos is our commitment to delivering the highest quality public service for British people and providing excellent advice to ministers. Our challenges are always changing, and as the resources available become more constrained we constantly seek better ways of achieving our goals.

Like other large organisations, we know that one of the ways to improve our performance is to make sure we are drawing on a wide and varied pool of talent, at all levels and in all functions. It just makes good business sense to have people with different backgrounds, with different experiences and different approaches to challenge the norm. A truly inclusive workforce, properly led and supported, will make us more effective, more efficient and more creative. And after all, we are all different in our own way: each of us has a gender, race, age, background, experience, and family circumstance which is unique to ourselves.

That is one argument for diversity in the Civil Service. Of course there are others: the Civil Service is committed to fairness and non-discrimination, and to making sure that we understand, respond to and reflect the country and the society we serve.

Compared to other major employers in the public and private sector, the Civil Service has a strong record for diversity. More than half of our staff are women; 9.6% have an ethnic minority background; and 8.6% have a declared disability. But that is not the whole story.

Women and other protected groups who want to, still find it hard to rise through the ranks to the higher levels of the Civil Service. By the time you get to the Senior Civil Service, only 38% are women, 3.8% have an ethnic minority background and 3.1% declare a disability. Something is happening along the way that makes it difficult for them to break through, and we must understand and tackle that.

To help us do this we commissioned external independent research on the barriers to progress for women in the Civil Service. We recently published the report by the Hay Group, ‘Women in Whitehall’, which came out of this. It contains many positive messages, but also some very stark but important comment on ways in which we need to improve our culture, our leadership, our accountability and the data we have on our workforce.

This report spurred us into action to produce a document, which we call the ‘Talent Action Plan: Removing the Barriers to Success’. It sets out specific steps for us to take across the whole of the Civil Service, and within individual government departments.

The key commitments and measures in the Talent Action Plan include a clear statement of behaviours that we expect from Civil Service leaders; and the open, transparent and non-biased culture that we want to build in line with our values (Integrity, Honesty, Objectivity, Impartiality).

It calls for an end to all male-shortlists and male selection panels; for departments to nominate active senior champions; external recruitment drives that seek out diverse talent; and active support for women to meet their needs on maternity, flexible working, mentoring and networking. We have also included a new mandate for all departments to provide shared parental leave at the occupational rate.

We have never had such a clear statement of intent from the leadership of the Civil Service and from ministers before. The key test now is whether we are going to turn it into reality. We are working on an implementation plan, which makes clear what permanent secretaries and agency heads are expected to do within a set timeframe.

All this will be actively monitored by me as Civil Service Diversity Champion with my colleagues in the Civil Service Board.

The strongest focus of this work so far has been on gender. We are also commissioning further external research on the barriers faced by staff from an ethnic minority background, by those with disabilities, and by lesbian, gay and bisexual staff, and by people with transgender identity. As we get the results of that research in, we will amend the plan and make sure that we take practical steps to address the issues that come to light.

This is an agenda about positive action, not positive discrimination. The Civil Service must remain an open, meritocratic and fair organisation in which we can recruit and retain talented staff from all backgrounds. All of our appointments will continue to be made on merit, based on the ability of an individual to do the job. But that does not mean we can be blind to factors and barriers which may unfairly be holding people back.

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