How workplace adjustments and talent pathways are helping to create a level-playing field for all civil servants

Janet Hill, civil service disability inclusion chief, discusses the innovative programmes that are helping disabled colleagues reach their full potential

By Janet Hill

06 Jun 2016

Reading last month’s editor’s letter from Jess Bowie  made me reflect upon the importance of us each ensuring that there is always a “level playing field” for disabled and non-disabled colleagues.

I led the design of the original pilot to test a new central reasonable adjustments service. Our aim was simple, yet not without its challenges: the need to find a way to improve the support we provide to disabled colleagues, and at the same time build disability confidence in our workforce, especially among managers and leaders.

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Having talked to many disabled colleagues from across the Government Employee Network and consulted with our external professional bodies, the first thing we did was to remove the word “reasonable” from the discussion and simply think about delivering a high-quality and timely adjustments service. Language is really important here. Companies still use the term “reasonable”, but the word itself implies a judgement. It points to there being a test of reasonableness, but why would any disabled colleague set out to make an unreasonable request? I’m pleased to say that, since 2014, most progressive and inclusive organisations have shifted their stance on this too.

The new Civil Service Corporate Workplace Adjustments Team was launched on 1 April this year. It is there to help people across the business in the speedy delivery of high-quality hard and soft adjustments. Targeted at where the need is greatest, a number of smaller departments have already taken up the full service offer. A review route, where both managers and disabled colleagues can access help with complex adjustment needs, and an adjustment passport are both available to everyone in the civil service.

Putting adjustments in place quickly is key to ensuring that we are all operating on a level playing field in relation to HR policies such as performance management. In other words, everyone has the opportunity to perform to their maximum ability.

Unlocking the full potential in each of us is multifaceted: we’re all different, we have different goals and perspectives, and start and finish in different places. However, what is clear to me is this: to have a civil service that reflects wider society, you have to actively think about innovative ways in which you can build both strength and resilience in your talent pipelines.

We considered this challenge, and it led to the development of schemes such as the Positive Action Pathway, Levelling the Playing Field programme. This is a civil-service-wide talent pathway, open to disabled, BAME, LGB&T and female colleagues. Demand is led from the business: places are purchased and are now highly competed for. We have seen numbers rising significantly over the last 18 months – from a pilot with 50 participants to a public commitment in 2015/16 to deliver 1,000 places. We exceeded that, with 1,200 people now expected to graduate from our most junior admin grades up to Grade 7/6, the feeder grades into the senior civil service. Promotion rates for the initial two cohorts three months after graduation averaged 25%.

Programmes and innovation like this really matter. It sounds a bit of a cliché, but everyone benefits – from individuals, to teams and even families. Listen to what participant Kelly Kinsella says about her experience: “The programme has made me realise what my dream is and how I will get there in the future. It has also enabled me to speak up and be proud I have disabilities.”

Civil service disability champion Philip Rutnam has just announced another great example of both innovation and partnership. Purple Space is a new bursary scheme funded by the diversity consultancy Equal Approach and supported by disability rights advocate Kate Nash. 

There will be 10 bursary places, open to people with potential to lead networks in government departments and agencies. Our shared ambition is to invest in the development of the leadership capability of both our current and future network leaders, strengthening their voice in what we hope is a joint venture to become the UK’s most inclusive employer.

We know that there is much more to do, especially as our disabled colleagues continue to report that they are more likely to experience “discrimination, bullying and harassment”. Working with ACAS and others we are preparing to launch a new toolkit and guidance over the summer. However, to make progress there will need to be both a behavioural and cultural shift. This requires inclusive leadership behaviours from all of us to create the right environment and to have honest conversations.

Finally, I think the key to positively changing the everyday lived experience of our disabled colleagues, and creating the level playing field I have been speaking about, is really about each of us embracing every opportunity to collectively create a social movement for lasting change. We all have a responsibility to help unlock talent through inclusion. 




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