Departments with best and worst records on boosting ethnic diversity revealed

Health department propping up the figures on ethnic diversity at senior levels, IfG analysis finds


By Tamsin.Rutter

06 Apr 2018

Recent improvements to the ethnicity balance in the Senior Civil Service can only be attributed to some departments, with the largest proportion of top-level BAME staff found at the Department of Health and Social Care, according to an Institute for Government analysis.

The think tank found that the ethnicity balance in the SCS at DHSC increased from almost 10% to 19.7% between 2010 and 2017.

Steady improvements were also seen over that period, though to a much lower degree, at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where BAME staff still make up under 5% of the SCS.

But ministries including the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (as it is now known) and Department for International Development all had fewer BAME staff in senior ranks in 2017 compared with 2010. DfID’s figure dropped by seven percentage points over that period.

The analysis comes as Whitehall gears up to deliver on the measures promised by April 2018 in its Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, including publishing a data dashboard on diversity targets and setting a target for the whole of the civil service on increasing the number of ethnic minority staff in the SCS.


According to the figures, Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff made up 8% of the whole of the SCS in 2017, a slight dip on last year but above the 2010 figure of 6%. Some 11.6% of civil servants at all grades declared themselves to be BAME in 2017 – below the proportion of the UK population (14%).

The IfG’s analysis, a crunch of data from the Cabinet Office, People Survey and the Office for National Statistics, revealed that less than 8% of the SCS in all departments except DHSC were BAME staff in 2017. The ONS includes staff such as health professionals and military personnel in its definition of a senior civil servant, which the Cabinet Office does not.

After DHSC, the biggest proportions of senior BAME employees were found in the Department for International Trade, followed by the Ministry of Justice, DCMS and the Department for Transport.

At the other end of the scale, the Ministry of Defence, Defra and the Department for Education had the fewest BAME employees represented in their SCS.

The think tank also highlighted the huge discrepancy between the proportion of BAME staff in the entire Home Office workforce (23.5%) and the proportion of BAME staff in its SCS (4.8%). That makes it the department with the biggest overall proportion of ethnic minority staff, but only the 11th department in terms of BAME representation in senior ranks.

No SCS staff were reported to be ethnic minorities in the Department for Exiting the European Union, but that department was singled out by the IfG – alongside DIT – as having “the lowest reporting rates on the ethnicity of their civil servants at 29% and 39% respectively”.

Across the civil service there was a drop in the proportion of staff reporting their ethnicity between 2017 and in 2010, in all grades except executive officer – which, at 13.6%, has the highest share of BAME workers.

In an explainer published on its website the think tank said a lack of data could risk undermining the civil service’s goal of being the most inclusive employer in the UK, because it makes it harder to “determine the root causes preventing BAME staff from reaching more senior positions”.

It added: “A lot of the data on diversity characteristics is simply missing, especially for socio-economic background, where previously there were no attempts to publish the data. However, the Cabinet Office has started to collect this data, and we hope this will soon be available.”

The IfG also compared the 2017 People Survey engagement scores of white men, white women, BAME men and BAME women. White men were found to be the most dissatisfied on every measure except inclusion and fair treatment, where BAME staff gave marginally lower scores.

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