UK senior officials could lose bonus over diversity objectives

By on 20/10/2015 | Updated on 25/09/2020

Top UK government officials could lose out on their performance bonuses if they fail to meet their annual diversity targets, the permanent secretary of one department has revealed tonight.

Speaking at a debate in London, Sue Owen – the most senior civil servant at the Department for Culture, Media and Sports, said that there would be repercussions if civil service leaders don’t meet the diversity objectives, made public for each department last month.

She said that among senior leaders, “the top 25% of each grade will get a performance bonus of a fixed amount, which is one-off payment and not part of your salary or your pension,” adding that “if the cabinet secretary [Jeremy Heywood] does it properly, the top 25% need to have met their diversity target to be in the top 25% and will not get that performance bonus if they don’t.”

Speaking to Global Government Forum after the event, however, Owen admitted that implementing this policy might be tricky.

“Even if everyone meets their diversity targets, they can’t all get a bonus because only 25% do,” she said. And if no permanent secretary met his or her targets by a small margin, “that will be very interesting too – I don’t know what [Heywood] will do on that, I will ask him.”

Owen was taking part in a debate, organised by London-based think-tank the Institute for Government, discussing whether quotas are necessary to increase diversity in public and private sector organisations.

Arguing against the introduction of quotas, she said that such measures would lead to “tokenism” instead of “true inclusion” and would “not address entrenched biases or change leadership behaviour.”

She also said that quotas would be illegal in the UK because of anti-discrimination laws.

Owen’s argument was shared by two further panellists – Jo Swinson – non-executive director of data intelligence company Clear Returns, and former Liberal Democrat member of Parliament, and Frances Dickens, chief executive and co-founder of £200m firm Astus Group, who both spoke out against the introduction of quotas.

The counter argument was made by Silvana Koch-Mehrin – former German member of the European Parliament and founder of worldwide network of female Politicians ‘Women in Parliaments a Global Forum’; Uschi Schreiber – EY’s global markets leader and former director-general and cabinet secretary of delivery and central agency government departments in Australia; as well Dr Andre Spicer, professor of organisational behaviour at City University London’s Cass Business School.

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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