Sue Owen: perm secs' bonuses will be linked to new diversity targets

Written by Matt Foster on 21 October 2015 in News

DCMS perm sec Sue Owen says failure to meet new diversity objectives will be made "very public"

Permanent secretaries who fail to meet their new diversity targets will be less likely to get a performance-related bonus, Whitehall's diversity chief has said.

Last month, the Cabinet Office published what it called "data driven and measurable" objectives for perm secs, asking senior officials to set out how they plan to ensure their departments do more to recruit and promote people from under-represented groups.

The objectives form part of Whitehall's latest Talent Action Plan – which was published in response to a series of critical reports on the barriers to career progression facing women, LGBT, black and minority ethnic, and disabled officials.

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Sue Owen – civil service diversity champion and permanent secretary at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – shed light on the new objectives at a debate hosted by the Institute for Government this week.

Asked by CSW what would happen to perm secs who failed to meet their objectives, Owen said: "Certainly those people won't get a top performance mark and a pay bonus, for sure. I think that's quite an incentive for them. And it will be very public for them if they don't meet them."

Elaborating on her remarks, the DCMS perm sec said: "Senior leaders in the civil service get the base amount of pay... and then the top 25% of each grade will get a performance bonus of a fixed amount that isn't part of the salary, it's just a one-off payment...

"And so if the cabinet secretary does this properly and insists that the top 25% need to have met their diversity targets to be in the top 25%, they will not get that performance bonus."


During the IfG debate, Owen also spoke out against mandatory diversity quotas, arguing that they could lead to "tokenism".

Instead, she set out the case for what she dubbed the civil service's "aspirational targets" approach.

"I don't think quotas for people at the top would do anything about representation lower down," she said. "I don't think quotas address entrenched biases in any way. Trying to operate quotas for gender, disability, LGBT – you can get yourself into a terrible twist about that. I don't think quotas change leadership behaviours. And by the way – in the UK they're illegal. They can only be used to level the playing field in recruitment."

Owen said departments who had improved the diversity of their intake had done so by interviewing a broader range of candidates, making sure posts were openly advertised, and by ending all-male selection panels.

She added: "Transparency is incredibly important [...], publishing your data about representation at all levels – including on gender pay gaps – advertising all jobs, not just moving people around. We've got much better at that in the civil service – except during crises when they still tend to pick a man."

The latest Office for National Statistics figures record some progress on the diversity front.

According to the ONS, there was a 1% year-on-year rise in the proportion of women working at SCS level, with 38.7% of the senior grades now made up of female staff as of March. That represented a rise of almost 6% on 2009 levels.

The figures also showed an uptick in the proportion of ethnic minority civil servants, with 10.6% of officials declaring their ethnicity now coming from a BME background – an increase of 0.5% on the 2014 figures. 

However, there was a 0.2% dip in ethnic minority representation at SCS level, with 7.1% of the most senior officials coming from an ethnic minority. As of March, 8.9% of civil servants declaring their disability status were disabled, which represented a 0.1% increase on the previous year. 

About the author

Matt Foster is online editor of Civil Service World. He tweets as @CSWDepEd

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Anonymous (not verified)

Submitted on 21 October, 2015 - 12:53
But what about the gender pay gap?

Muqbool (not verified)

Submitted on 21 October, 2015 - 13:05
Now even more Perm Secs will appreciate the reality of diversity and how principles of fairness are entrenched in Civil Service values. No longer can it be seen as a quirk of human nature but with less money the message will finally start to hit home.

Winston Smith (not verified)

Submitted on 22 October, 2015 - 09:26
So, are we looking at a situation where positions will go to people who fulfil diversity criteria, rather than those best equipped to fulfil the needs of the post?

Billy D

Submitted on 23 October, 2015 - 07:51
Indeed. Woolly objectives ideally designed for senior grades to justify their existence. The harsh truth us this can't be measured because the data isn't there. I'm also unsure what the value is in promoting more middle class women to senior positions. Hardly a great statement of equality.

Susan (not verified)

Submitted on 27 October, 2015 - 11:58
I'm a woman ... and I agree with you! Getting a job should be all about your suitability to do the job. It should have nothing to do with gender, ability, colour, etc. By achieving 'quotas' you're not necessarily getting the right person for the job and this article would seem a classic example of that.

Anonymous (not verified)

Submitted on 29 October, 2015 - 15:15
Are the Perm Secs going to be name and shame?

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