Cabinet Office minister Chris Skidmore has revealed the government will publish a diversity strategy for all public appointments, as well as the long-awaited inclusion plan for the civil service, later this year.
Speaking at the launch of the Government Communication Service’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2017/18, Skidmore said the profession’s strategy formed the basis of action that could be expanded across Whitehall to increase diversity across government.
The GCS strategy, which is the second produced for the profession and was published this week, has set a number of objectives for the years to 2020, including improving diversity among the profession’s senior civil servants, improving black and minority ethnic and women's representation at all grades, and attracting and retaining GCS early talent from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
Specific aims include expanding “strength based” interviewing for jobs, as well as a continued focus on outreach for entry level and apprenticeships campaigns. There is also a pledge to train GCS staff on interview panels in diversity and inclusion, as well as ensuring those involved in sifting and moderating applications have completed unconscious bias training.
Skidmore, who is the Cabinet Office minister responsible for GCS and for public appointments, said it was “imperative” to ensure that Whitehall’s communication function was “getting into every corner of the country, to delivering the government’s message effectively”.
“We believe passionately that we are only going to be able to deliver that message if we have the knowledge and understanding that having as diverse workforce will being,” Skidmore told CSW. “So for comms, I think the benefits are immediately recognisable. We are able to reflect diversity in all our communications which then hopefully will then create a positive feedback loop that will have more people looking at working in the civil service as a career.”
He said that the communication profession was “ahead of the game” with the strategy being published ahead of the Whitehall-wide plan, from which lessons could be learnt.
The updated GCS scheme is about “upscaling the level of ambition” on diversity, Skidmore said. “We started small and we wanted to grow so upscaling that has been a key part of the strategy,” he added. “Looking at the internships and looking at the apprenticeships, you have 82% BME representation on the internships, it is about 43% BME representation on the apprenticeships. So we want to ensure that we allow those numbers to equate more effectively. The internship programme has been highly successful, apprenticeships we can do more.
"We hope that going forward, comms will be able to lead – having established diversity champions, having established these pipeline routes through the apprenticeship scheme, through the internship scheme, through the early talent scheme – these will be able to play a part when it comes to the wider civil service developing that strategy.”
Ahead of the publication of the the first diversity strategy for public appointments “later this year”, Skidmore said a 50-50 gender split for new posts was close.
“We’re trying to get above 50% women representation on boards,” he said. “On new appointments we are nearly there, it is something like 48.5%, we made a 0.1% increase this year, a tiny increase, but we are determined to get over 50%, and when it comes to BME representation, we should be hitting 14% [to match the population]. I hope that with the communication service and the early talent pipeline and the apprenticeship scheme, if we could get just a fraction of that across the line into full time work.”
Reaching this level of BME representation across public appointments would require a culture change, he acknowledged,.
“I think what GCS is doing in terms of identifying early talent is something we will see the benefits of realised in five-10 years across the wider civil service, but I think it is showing us that when it comes to trying to attract future leaders, whether it is in public appointments or in the civil service, if you’re trying to chase talent at a later stage, that is far more difficult and far more costly,” he said.
Skidmore added that it should be possible to create “institutional schemes” as a driver for change in the civil service.
He said: “I hope that the broad structure of what GCS has done here can be replicated.”