UK civil service ‘going backwards’ on diversity, survey finds

By on 26/09/2016 | Updated on 27/01/2022
The Green Park Public Service Leadership 5,000 2015-16 report

New research suggests that ethnic minority representation among the UK’s top civil servants has declined, despite efforts at the highest level to address the issue.

The survey by executive search firm Green Park finds that black and minority ethnic (BME) staff remain significantly underrepresented in the UK’s public services, particularly in the civil service. The study put the number of ethnic minority senior civil servants (SCS) at 3%, and suggests that only 0.6% of board members are from a BME background. The last time Green Park undertook its survey, in 2014, it identified just over 4% of SCS as BME.

“This year’s data shows that we have actually regressed, in general, across the board,” said Green Park’s CEO Raj Tulsiani. “BME representation at the top levels of the civil service has gone down slightly in the last two years, despite all the attention being paid to improving diversity.”

Amongst board-level executives, “twenty-three out of 24 departments have all-white leadership,” Tulsiani added. “If you include non-execs it goes down to 16 out of 24, but there’s no department with more than one ethnic minority in their leadership team. So this looks like an endemic problem, based on the amount of time and effort that’s been spent trying to make the senior civil service more representative of the communities it serves.”

According to the survey the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for senior public appointments, is 100% white across the four top civil service grades – deputy director, director, director-general and permanent secretary. The Ministry of Justice has the highest BME representation at 9%.

The figures are drawn from Green Park’s ‘Public Service Leadership 5,000’, which maps the gender and ethnocultural diversity of selected board members and executive leaders in public and non-profit organisations. It looked at a sample of 1,167 individuals from central government.

There have been a number of high-profile efforts to break the BME deadlock in the UK’s public sector. Most recently, Britain’s new prime minister Theresa May ordered an audit of the racial disparities in public services, while in 2014 the Cabinet Office published a ‘talent action plan’ aimed at increasing diversity in the civil service workforce.

“I applaud the prime minister’s request for a race audit and some of the other things she has instigated around social mobility, because increasing race [diversity] is linked to increased social mobility in our workforces,” Tulsiani said.  “The issue however is how you create a new equation that people understand in regards to supply and demand. One can’t [tackle this] through internal talent management programmes; one needs to have a brand new view and governance structures around tackling inequalities and the attractiveness of the senior civil service as a priority.”

A report commissioned by the Cabinet Office last year put BME representation in the senior civil service a third higher than the Green Park survey, at 4.1%. Across the civil service as a whole, the figure is 10.6%.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “The civil service is committed to being a place where, regardless of background, everyone can thrive. Our aspiration is to be the UK’s most inclusive employer. We are working hard to increase diversity in the civil service, including the representation of BME staff at the most senior grades.”

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About Ben Willis

Ben Willis is a journalist and editor with a varied background reporting on topics including public policy, the environment, renewable energy and international development. His work has appeared in a variety of national newspapers including the Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Times, as well as numerous specialist business, policy and consumer publications.

One Comment

  1. Andy Ojok says:

    Inadequate statistics muddles policy to offset BME declaration should now be 100%. HR establishment records can be used to achieve this. Then produce quarterly reports of movements of how many BME G7s are in post and how long, % move to G6 and % move to SCS. The outcomes are then posted to all senior management or senior leadership meeting as permanent agenda. Outcomes and accountabilities are then published to all staff quarterly. Thereafter other issues concerning scheme, pathway procedures, interview panel make up, GRID9 mapping and training can then be addressed but first we need to know what is happening statistically during the year. I see changes in SCS are reported periodically so the same can be done for BME career movement.

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