Ethnic diversity drops in senior civil service

Proportion of BAME staff in top grades has fallen since 2016, though number of women in these posts is rising


By Suzannah.Brecknell

05 Jul 2017

Ethnic diversity in the senior civil service has fallen since March 2016, and could now be as low as 2.9%, according to a newly published study.

The study, carried out by HR consultancy Green Park, used a software tool to analyse gender and ethnic diversity of 5,000 public sector leaders in April and May 2017. It found that just 2.9% of senior civil servants are from BAME backgrounds, with no employees from black or Chinese backgrounds in the highest two grades (SCS graces 3 and 4).

The Cabinet Office does not recognise these statistics, and told CSW that the latest diversity figures show 4.3% of senior civil servants are from an ethnic minority background.

This figure is slight a drop from March 2016, however, when Cabinet Office figures showed that 4.4% of senior civil servants were of an ethnic minority background.

The government will launch a diversity and inclusion strategy later this year outlining plans to achieve its aim of becoming the most inclusive employer in the UK by 2020. This will include details on how it plans to improve representation in the senior civil service and across all grades.

Green Park’s study also found that the Foreign Office has the most diverse senior civil service, with 5.6% of top officials from BAME backgrounds. The next most diverse senior teams can be found at the work and pensions, transport, environment and justice departments.

Gender diversity at senior levels is rising, the study found with a particularly big rise in women at the highest level (SCS4) compared to 2015-16. One in five permanent secretaries are now women, but there has been a fall in the proportion of women in the grade just below this – just 28.9% of director generals are women, according to Green Park. 

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said:  "We do not recognise the statistics published in this report.

"Our latest diversity figures show we have made great strides, with women representing 41.6% of Senior Civil Servants and 4.3% from an ethnic minority.

"The civil service is committed to being a place where everyone can thrive regardless of background, with the aim to becoming the most inclusive employer in the UK."

Raj Tulsiani, chief executive of Green Park, said he is convinced the government would like to better represent the population  of Great Britain, but not enough is being done to achieve this.

“We continue to see too little programmatic investment and advocacy-led innovations. What we do see is highly aspirational well-meaning initiatives that focus on a single organisation’s own demands whilst systematically ignoring any supply-side market intelligence, causing perennially unbalanced market dynamics within the sector," he said.

“To deal with the challenges ahead and our shifting demographics, the public sector as a whole must reposition itself as the employer of choice, focusing on traditional values of service but with a much more modern approach. Even this will have a limited effect if the dominant culture is not adapted to address statistically lower promotional opportunities and higher levels of dissatisfaction among diverse staff.”

Correction: In an earlier version of this story we stated that 7% of senior civil servants were from an ethinic minority background. This figure was taken from  data released by the Office for National Statistics, but it is not comparable with Cabinet Office figures used in the rest of the story. This is because the ONS data includes SCS-level employees such as military personnel and senior diplomats who are not formally part of the senior civil service.


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