Civil service still fails to mirror modern Britain, diversity analysis shows

Written by Jim Dunton on 5 June 2017 in News

Institute for Government data crunch highlights discrimination issues and “stalled” progress on boosting Senior Civil Service’s BAME numbers

Former Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer with participants in the 2016 Summer Diversity Internship Programme

The ethnic makeup of the civil service is still failing to mirror the nation its staff are hired to serve, with the Senior Civil Service “woefully underrepresented” in the diversity stakes, a new data crunch has confirmed.

According to the research, pulled together by the Institute for Government, the wider civil service is inching towards parity with society as a whole in terms of its Black and Minority Ethnic headcount, but progress in the ranks of the Senior Civil Service is “stalled”.

The IfG said that as of 2016, 11.2% of those Civil Service People Survey respondents who chose to reveal their ethnicity described themselves as from a BAME background. While the figure is an improvement on the 9% reported in 2010, and the 4% level in 1988, it falls short of the nation’s 14% BAME level reported in the 2011 census.


Despite the overall progress towards parity with the national level, the IfG said BAME representation in the Senior Civil Service remained “stalled” at 7.1%, and underscored that there are currently no BAME permanent secretaries.

In fact, the civil service’s highest percentage of ethnic minority staff can be found in its lowest grades – executive officer and administrative officer/administrative assistant, with reducing proportions at each step up the seniority ladder.

The IfG noted that while BAME representation declined progressively as grade level increased, the percentage of BAME staff at each grade had increased since 2010 for all grades except the Senior Civil Service.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office had the lowest proportion of BAME staff at its highest grades (2.9%), the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – Whitehall's smallest department - had the highest proportion (14.3%).

One positive note for change in the IfG’s findings was the 14.5% BAME level in the Civil Service Fast Stream intake for 2015 – a balance in line with the most up-to-date census proportions.

The IfG said 15% of BAME civil servants had told last year’s People Survey they experienced discrimination at work over the previous 12 months.

The figure was a reduction compared with the 18% of BAME staff who reported discrimination in 2010’s survey, but is still significantly higher than the 12% of white civil servants who said they experienced discrimination in 2015-16.

Report author Gemma Byrne said the figures showed departments still had work to do if they were to help talented civil servants from underrepresented backgrounds progress.

“Over the years there have been definite signs of improvement in the representation of ethnic minorities in the civil service,” she said.

“However, the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities at the senior civil service level, and the discrimination faced by BAME staff continues.

“Along with improving the diversity of the civil service as a whole, the next government needs to ensure that ethnic minorities within the civil service are equally represented at all grades.”

Byrne also noted that a lot of diversity data on civil service staff was missing, with 23% of people survey respondents declining to identify their ethnicity and even greater proportions of respondents not stating whether they had any disabilities’, what their sexual orientation was or identifying their religion.

Elsewhere, the IfG crunch of People Survey responses found higher engagement scores among BAME staff compared with white counterparts, particularly in relation to resources and workload, overall engagement, and leadership and managing change.

However, BAME respondents scored lower than white civil servants on inclusion and fair treatment, pay and benefits, and what they thought about their team. 

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