Diversity grows sharply among UK senior officials

By on 12/05/2021 | Updated on 27/01/2022
Cracks in the glass ceiling: new figures show a sharp rise in aspects of diversity among UK civil service leaders and managers. Credit: engin akyurt/Unsplash

The UK civil service has seen a sharp rise in the diversity of its senior civil servants over the last year, with rapid growth in the proportion of ethnic minority and disabled officials.

Statistics released by the UK Cabinet Office on Monday reveal that 9.1% of senior civil service (SCS) professionals were from an ethnic minority background in 2020, an increase of almost three percentage points (from 6.3%) from 2019. Representation of people with a disability in the SCS also improved sharply, from 5.1% in 2019 to 7.3% in 2020.

The changes help to improve representation among senior officials and across the wider civil service – where diversity also grew, though more slowly. Some 12.8% of civil service employees reported having a disability as of March 2020, up from 11.7% in 2019. Likewise, some 13.2% of all civil service employees in 2020 were ethnic minorities, a small increase from 12.7% in 2019.

Gender diversity service remained almost unchanged, both in the overall workforce and at SCS level. Just over half (53.8%) of civil servants in the UK were women, according to last year’s survey – this is slightly down from 53.9% in 2019. The picture reverses slightly in the senior ranks: in 2019 45.2% of SCS were female, and that proportion rose to 45.7% in 2020.

“Building a diverse and inclusive workforce that reflects the people we serve is a top priority for the civil service,” a Cabinet Office spokesperson said.

“These statistics show a welcome increase in diversity amongst civil servants… But we are not complacent and will continue to work hard to improve the diversity of our workforce at all grades across all departments.”

Departmental variation

The figures also reveal contrasting performance on diversity between departments and agencies in the UK government, and variation within organisations across different metrics.

Of the SCS staff at Public Health England, for example, 56.5% were women and 26.8% were people from an ethnic minority background – both well above the average.

The agency does not perform as well on other aspects of diversity, however, with just 3.4% of SCS staff reporting a disability — the lowest proportion of any department or agency for which data were available.

Meanwhile, at 20.8%, military procurement agency Defence Equipment & Support had the lowest proportion of women at SCS level. The Ministry of Defence had just 3.3% SCS staff from an ethnic minority background, the lowest on this measure.

About Josh Lowe

One Comment

  1. Sumantra Chakrabarti says:

    Good to see this shift in the right direction. But note the variation and the relative lack of diversity at Permanent Secretary and Director General levels.

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