Civil service diversity: business and sport chiefs brought in to keep an eye on progress

Cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood unveils new external diversity advisers

By matt.foster

21 Sep 2015

Four outside advisers from the worlds of business and sport have been drafted into Whitehall to give a “no-holds-barred” assessment of the civil service’s record on diversity.

Cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood announced on Monday that former Olympics diversity chief Stephen Frost, media executive Karen Blackett, former paralympic swimmer Chris Holmes, and Helena Morrissey — chief executive of Newton Investment Management — are to serve as the civil service’s new diversity advisers.

According to the Cabinet Office, the four will give external “challenge, advice and support” to ministers and senior civil servants on the diversity agenda.

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Unveiling the appointments, Heywood said the civil service had a “duty to become even more representative of modern Britain”.

“A diverse and inclusive workforce is proven to be more efficient and effective, and I want Stephen, Karen, Chris and Helena to take a no-holds-barred approach and tell us clearly where we can improve,” the cabinet secretary added.

“I am passionate about encouraging individuals from all backgrounds to aim high and achieve their potential too, and in doing so to help the civil service become a truly socially inclusive employer.”

Earlier this year, Heywood pledged a “relentless” focus on improving the culture of the civil service for under-represented groups after a series of independent reports warned that women, disabled officials, LGBT civil servants, and those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds still faced significant obstacles in trying to reach the senior grades.

Ministers have so far shied away from introducing quotas to boost civil service diversity, but the latest version of Whitehall’s strategy to get a grip on the issue — dubbed the Talent Action Plan — promised an “intensive” two-year programme of support for departments to make diversity a priority.

This week will also see the publication of long-awaited diversity objectives for permanent secretaries, with the Cabinet Office’s Andy Heyn — who leads the cross-government Diversity and Inclusion team — saying they would spell out “plainly what our most senior leaders want to achieve in their departments over the next twelve months”.

The National Audit Office (NAO) watchdog has so far given a mixed assessment of the Talent Action Plan. While a recent report welcomed the renewed focus on the issue at the centre of government, it said the strategy did not yet “provide a clear set of measurable objectives”, and could end up being too reliant on the personal support of individual officials.

Commenting on the appointment of the four new external advisers, Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock said: “Improving levels of diversity and inclusion is not simply important for the role of the civil service as an employer, but also in the development of policy and in the delivery of more effective and efficient services.”

Who are the civil service’s new diversity advisers?

Stephen Frost: Frost served as head of diversity and inclusion for LOCOG, the organising committee behind the London 2012 Olympics. More recently, he has been head of diversity and inclusion at consultancy KPMG, and is a visiting fellow at Harvard University. 

Karen Blackett: Blackett is chief executive of MediaCom UK — a subsidiary of advertising and public relations giant WPP. She has featured five times in the Power List of Britain’s 100 Most Influential Black People, topping the list last year. She is also a non-executive director of the Creative England not-for-profit.

Helena Morrissey: Morrissey is chief executive of financial services firm Newton Investment Management. In 2010 she founded the 30% Club, a business-backed effort to ensure that 30% of all FTSE 100 board positions are held by women by the end of this year

Chris Holmes: Holmes is nine-times Paralympic gold medallist, who served as director of Paralympic integration for the 2012 London Olympics. He is a disability commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commissioner and became a conservative peer in 2013.


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