Diversity strategy must lead to concrete action, Whitehall chiefs told

Written by Richard Johnstone on 17 October 2017 in News

‘Divisive’ performance management schemes are among areas where change is needed to implement the plan, says FDA union

Trade unions across the civil service have welcomed the publication of the diversity strategy for Whitehall, but insisted that the proposals in the plan must lead to a “step change” in how the civil service promotes inclusion.

The plan yesterday proposed that every member of the Senior Civil Service would be held accountable for creating a more diverse Whitehall, while cross-government targets will also be set out for the number of disabled and ethnic minority staff entering senior ranks.

The first ever Diversity and Inclusion Strategy for the whole civil service is intended to address the “inconsistent” progress on making Whitehall more representative, and it also includes plans for a new framework for measuring inclusion and a “diverse leadership taskforce” reporting directly to cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood.


Zohra Francis, the FDA’s equality and diversity officer, said that the proposals were welcome in helping to “chart the progress of BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] and disabled civil servants throughout their careers”.

The plan should help provide a more meaningful and measurable way of tracking whether departments are truly reflective of the people they serve, she said, and all departments should heed the plan’s commitment to identifying and supporting talented staff regardless of their background.

The plan showed there is still much more to do to improve the inclusivity of Whitehall, Francis added.

"The FDA stands ready to work with departments to identify and tackle the barriers under-represented staff face – including divisive performance management systems which can stifle the very talent that the public sector should be nurturing.

"We look forward to seeing a step change in the way the civil service approaches inclusion, and we will be working with our diversity networks and growing BAME membership to hold departments to account as they put this new plan into action.”

Garry Graham, the deputy general secretary of the Prospect trade union, which represents over 30,000 professionals including government scientists and engineers and Whitehall specialists in areas including environment and industry, told CSW the strategy was welcome.

However, he said the targets must be “effective measures to drive and track what happens in practise” in order to “move beyond warm words and vague aspiration”.

He added: “This goes way beyond the SCS and demands leadership and staff buy in at all levels and trade unions like Prospect have a crucial role to play in supporting the initiative and sharing and promoting best practice from elsewhere.

“Our experience has been that where employers invest in training for staff and managers, as they have done in the VOA [Valuation Office Agency] with the development of their new performance management system, progress can be made. Part of this is about gaining the confidence of staff, listening to what they say and taking action. Too often in the past that simply has not happened as the views expressed have been too unsettling or inconvenient.”

About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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Mark Benney (not verified)

Submitted on 17 October, 2017 - 21:31
Why doesn't the FDA call out Helen Ghosh, Theresa May, Francis Maude and, yes, the last Labour govt as having engineered the discriminatory bell curve appraisal system in Defra and then across the Civil Service between 2008 and now?

Joe Bloggs (not verified)

Submitted on 18 October, 2017 - 11:35
I'll give it 25 years to bed in, unless it's implemented "at pace". Less talk and more action please.

Tony Moore (not verified)

Submitted on 19 October, 2017 - 07:05
The abolition of all male promotion panels has been instrumental in improving the proportion of women in senior posts. This is rightly acknowledged in this strategy. Surely a similar approach for ethnic minority and disabled candidates would reap similar results. Why not abolish all "white" and all "non disabled" panels? Similarly - their is a total lack of awareness and understanding surrounding mental health - perhaps a need for representation on panels of mental health first aiders.

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