Balancing the books: why the Treasury is no longer the male bastion it once was

Written by Tamsin Rutter on 21 June 2018 in Feature
Feature

Is HMT arrogant and “a bit blokey”? Directors general Clare Lombardelli, Katharine Braddick and Beth Russell tell Tamsin Rutter about the progress that has been made and the next steps to make it more open, diverse and inclusive

Clare Lombardelli, Katharine Braddick and Beth Russell. Photo: James Shaw

Did you have any preconceptions of the Treasury before you joined?

Beth Russell, director general, tax and welfare: “I started off my career as a fast streamer in DWP, or the DSS [Department of Social Security] as it was, and at that stage I don’t think I ever would have thought of working in the Treasury. I came here thinking I was just coming on a year’s secondment, and 18 years later I’m still here. I’m not an economist, and I didn’t realise the Treasury was involved in the whole range of government business in the way that it is... it does a lot on social policy, international development, financial services.”

Katharine Braddick, director general, financial services: “When I first joined the civil service, about 20 years ago in the Fast Stream, it didn’t even occur to me to apply for the Treasury because I thought of it as to do with numbers and a bit blokey, and I hadn’t done economics. It had a reputation when I was in DoE [Department of Environment] as being quite arrogant, difficult to deal with and rather spiky, and I think that is the reputation still among spending departments. But when I arrived I was really taken aback by how warm and welcoming everyone was. I think it’s because people move around a lot, so everyone’s used to being new in a job and having to get the hang of it.”

Clare Lombardelli, director general, economics, and chief economic adviser: “I am an economist by background and I’ve always wanted to work on economic policy so actually it’s quite a natural place for me to be. I think what surprised me most though when I joined was just how much influence and impact you can have on policy. My first job here was working on migration policy, and I remember… because you’re the expert in your policy area the advice that you write as a quite junior official would be the advice that went straight to ministers. It wasn’t the case that layers of senior management were getting involved in that.”

How does it compare to working in other departments?

BR: “A lot of what we do is bringing together advice across a range of fiscal, economic and international policy, so there’s more collaboration and cross-team working than perhaps you might find elsewhere. But we also try to learn from other government departments as well. One of the criticisms of the Treasury is sometimes, do we have enough depth of expertise? At the moment we do have a relatively younger staff population than some other government departments. Some of the things we are trying to do around building our professions – in tax, economics, analytics, for example – is about learning from other departments.”

KB: “When I worked at Defra it had something like 9,000 officials. I came from the Bank of England where there were 4,000 people, so for me one of the things about the Treasury [which has around 2,000 staff] was, even though people were moving around quite often in their jobs, it’s an organisation you feel you can get to know relatively quickly. I think it has quite a sense of itself because of that.”

Is the Treasury trying to improve its reputation among other departments?

BR: “It is something we talk about, particularly if you’re in a spending team that is facing a department. It’s about trying to get the balance right – the Treasury obviously has a fundamental role in protecting the public finances and working with departments to make sure they live within their budgets. Sometimes that means delivering tough messages, but our philosophy is that those messages can still be delivered in a constructive, collaborative and open way. We are very conscious of that reputation, and we’re trying to combat it.”

What improvements have you seen on workplace culture since you joined the department?

CL: “There’s been quite a big change on flexible working. The Treasury has a very outcome-driven culture in the sense that people are responsible for their own work, it doesn’t really matter where they are, or how they’re doing it.”

BR: “I think the biggest change for me was moving to open plan offices. That happened I think in about 2001-2, so a couple of years after I first joined. I remember my first day in the Treasury, I had an office of my own and at the end of the day I looked round the corner to say goodbye to my colleagues either side and they’d both gone home and I thought, ‘Oh gosh, what have I let myself in for!’. And actually it turned out that everyone was a lot more friendly than I’d thought. I think the move to open plan had quite a big culture shift in how people work together across the department.”

KB: “I’ve only been here four years so I’ve got much less to draw on, but I think there are two things since I’ve been here that have changed the way we work. One is the [EU] referendum vote, where the scale of what government is now faced with means that the Treasury had to think differently about how it organises itself to work collaboratively across the organisation towards a long-term goal, rather than on a specific thing to quite a proximite deadline as we were doing before. 2016 to 2019 is quite a long timeline for the Treasury.

“And I think going to one fiscal event a year makes quite a difference. It drives the rhythm of the department and fewer of those events makes a difference to the patterns of people’s work and also what they have time to do.”

Why do you think the Treasury has such a high proportion of part-time workers in its Senior Civil Service (20%, compared with the SCS average of 11%)?

KB: “When I arrived I was working a four-day week. I forgot to mention that I was part-time until I got the phone call offering me the role, which was a bit embarrassing. Charles Roxburgh [the Treasury’s second perm sec] said, ‘Oh, that’s fine we’re very supportive of flexible working’. It wasn’t even something that had to be discussed further. Among the groups that I run, two of the teams are led at DD [deputy director] level by job shares. It’s great that we demonstrate this can be done, but I don’t think it’s pure philanthropy. Any forward-looking organisation has to address this: if you want the people, you’ve got to enable them to make it work.”

BR: “I also think we’ve seen a rise in people using shared parental leave, there’s quite a lot of that among our male colleagues.”

Latest estimates on women at the Treasury

Range D (HEO and SEO equivalent): 42%

Range E (grade 7): 43%

Range E2 (grade 6): 50%

SCS: 45%

All Treasury staff: 46%


What is the Treasury doing to become more open and transparent?

CL: “Part of our openness agenda is about going out and about the country a bit more, spending time in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the whole of the UK. We need to always challenge ourselves to make sure we’re not caught in the Westminster bubble or just have a very a south-east England view of things. I now focus on the economy and the economy in the south-east of this country is very different from the whole country.”

BR: “On the tax side, part of the rationale for the move to the single fiscal event was to try and have a bit more transparency and openness in policymaking. There were not a lot of new tax announcements at the Spring Statement like there would have been in the world of two fiscal events. We set out a series of consultations and calls for evidence, some of which are at quite the early stage of policymaking, which is traditionally a bit unusual on tax policy.”

CL: “The single fiscal event, the idea is that the government will consult on all sorts of things at the start of the process rather than further through. This is to allow more time and more input from people who are on the receiving end of our policy to feed in. So it’s not just a tax, it’s across a whole range of areas.”

“Our philosophy is that tough messages can still be delivered in a constructive, collaborative and open way” Beth Russell

How is the department promoting diversity and inclusion?

BR: “I’m the board diversity and inclusion champion and we’re doing a huge amount in that area as a really big corporate priority. We’ve got a four-year diversity and inclusion plan… there are three main areas that we’re particularly thinking about – one is recruitment. We have generally quite a young, London-centric workforce, so we’re looking at different ways to attract people to the Treasury through, for example, reforming our graduate scheme and expanding the number of apprentices we have. The external perception of the Treasury is actually a really important barrier to break down, and something we’re thinking about particularly in terms of our social media presence.

“We’re doing a lot on talent and progression. We’ve got a great talent offer for our range Ds [HEO and SEO equivalent] but we want to look at expanding and broadening that.

“We’re also thinking about inclusion in its broadest sense. All of the SCS have gone through leadership training where they’ve got anonymised feedback from their teams. It’s not just about gender, BAME [black, Asian and ethnic minority], that’s really important but actually it’s about diversity of thought and approach, socio-economic background, regions of the UK. Do we genuinely have challenge and diversity of thought on the leadership team of the Treasury? I think that is a work in progress.”

Does it matter that the Executive Management Board is gender-balanced?

KB: “I think it matters because it matters to our workforce. When I joined EMB in October 2016, there was an internal debate about the fact that there weren’t women on EMB [at that point there were no female directors general]. There had been but they’d come off and it had become a sort of thing in the organisation. I think that is the risk still with senior women’s participation, it takes quite a lot for it to become a trend.

“I think the more moot question is: what difference does it make to have more women in the room? It makes more of a difference if you have people with different life and professional experiences. It’s less interesting to talk about the number of women in your senior team, I think, than to talk about who the five most influential people are in your organisation and what’s the mix there. It’s got to be about how people are included in and influence their organisation.”

Who’s on the EMB?

Tom Scholar, permanent secretary

Charles Roxburgh, second permanent secretary

Katharine Braddick, director general, financial services

Beth Russell, director general, tax and welfare

James Bowler, director general, public spending

Mark Bowman, director general, international and EU

Clare Lombardelli, chief economic adviser

Richard Hughes, director, fiscal

Sophie Dean, finance director

Katherine Green, director, operations

Dan York-Smith, director, strategy, planning and budget

*EMB had a 50:50 split as of March 2018, but Dan York-Smith has been appointed since then.

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Tamsin Rutter
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