Civil service diversity reports: Whitehall 'falling short' in efforts to nurture BME talent


By matt.foster

27 Mar 2015

Policies intended to ensure that talented Black and Minority Ethnic civil servants are promoted remain “inconsistent, uncoordinated and lacking real drive”, a government-commissioned report has concluded.

The report – one of three on civil service diversity published by the Cabinet Office on Thursday – interviewed 191 BME officials at all levels. It found that while progress had been made since 2010 in increasing BME representation in Whitehall, the civil service was still “falling short in developing and progressing” people from such backgrounds into senior management positions.

BME staff now make up 10.1% of the civil service as a whole, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics. The figure is an improvement on the 9.2% recorded when the coalition took office.

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But the authors of the qualitative study – consultancy firm Ethnic Dimension – point out that BME officials are “still disproportionately represented in lower staff grades” compared to more senior roles. The proportion of senior civil servants from BME backgrounds currently stands at 4%.

Speaking at an event held on Thursday to set out the civil service's response to the reports – the other two of which cover the experiences of LGBT and disabled officials – cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood said the low level of BME officials at the most senior level of the civil servant was “simply not good enough”.

Respondents to the Ethnic Dimension study said that while Whitehall had traditionally “led the way” on equality, BME staff did not believe that the civil service "lives up to its vision of an open, inclusive and fair culture".

“A key factor is the lack of sufficient BME representation at senior management level,” the report says. “This is a powerful ‘barometer’ of how well the organisation’s talk matches reality. The consistent view among the staff we interviewed was the importance of ‘looking above them’ for BME role models in sufficient numbers to gauge the potential for career progression.”

One participant told Ethnic Dimension: “It can feel like an old boys’ network sometimes.”

As with the other two reports published last night, Ethnic Dimension's analysis draws on the findings of a quantitative, government-commissioned Hay Group study.

That research found that just 41% of BME respondents believed civil service leaders were committed to diversity, while 47% of those who took part said they had personally experienced discrimination, bullying, harassment and victimisation at work in the preceding 12 months.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude has acknowledged that the reports make for “uncomfortable reading", while the civil service has already announced a “refresh” of its Talent Action Plan, vowing that a new cross-government team will oversee Whitehall’s diversity and inclusion agenda.

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