Opinion: paving the way for a richly diverse senior civil service
Tola Ayoola explains how a new scheme is harnessing a civil service tradition to support talent from all parts of the service
The idea of sponsorship is not a new idea in the civil service – pairing individuals with a more senior colleague whose role is to be an advocate for them, be their champion, and expose them to opportunities that they may not have had exposure to otherwise.
Richard Heaton, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice and, civil service race champion has said that sponsorship is a blend of advocacy and mentoring, and when it works well it’s a powerful way of developing and furthering a career.
Now, a new scheme has been launched to use the power of sponsorship to support talented ethnic minority staff and improve the diversity of staff moving up into the Senior Civil Service.
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The Minority Ethnic Talent Association (META) Senior Sponsorship Programme – launched this month by Civil Service Talent – is a 12-month programme which matches 41 participants with either a permanent secretary or a director general.
It’s part of the wider META offer, a two year programme providing tailored support with the direct aim of improving representation levels of ethnic minority staff into the Senior Civil Service.
Although we have made vast improvements in the diversity of our civil service, we still have a long way to go, especially at senior grades. The proportion of SCS who are from an ethnic minority background has only improved slightly from 3.9% in 2013 to 4.6% in 2017. There has been much better progress in feeder grades since 2010: ethnic minority representation at grade 6 has gone from 5.2% to 7.3%; grade 7 from 7.5% to 9.1% and HEO/SEO from 7.9% to 10.5%.Among senior staff, there huge desire to develop and nurture talent through sponsorship, and ensure that all individuals have an equal opportunity to progress their career. This is reflected in the fact that an amazing 53 permanent secretaries and directors general volunteered to be a META sponsor.
This senior sponsorship is an integral part of the META offer. It empowers people to learn from each other, share differences, grow at pace and find great personal satisfaction and career success.
One META participant, Natalie Golding, HS2 interfaces manager (governance, policy and comms) at the Department for Transport, said: “It’s not just what you know or even who you know – it’s who knows you. I’ve seen time and again just how valuable it can be to have someone influential fight your corner when career making (or breaking) conversations are being had behind closed doors”.
Everyone has a role to play in creating an inclusive culture and making the civil service a truly great place to work. META aims to tear down any perceived and actual barriers to entry into the SCS for ethnic minority staff.
We want all civil servants to feel they can be themselves at work, valued for the distinct perspectives they bring, and able to go as far as their talents will take them irrespective of their background.
We’re excited to see what the New Year will bring us, and we’re confident that this sponsorship programme will play a role in creating an inclusive culture where everyone feels able to perform at their best only accelerate the development of our future leaders.