Civil service deputy race champion Selvin Brown
New measures to make Senior Civil Service recruitment panels more diverse will help to break down some of the barriers to progression for Black and Minority Ethnic officials, the government’s deputy race champion has said.
Selvin Brown said a requirement for all SCS boards to include at least one member who is either disabled or from a BAME background demonstrated the “iterative approach” the civil service was taking to boosting diversity.
Speaking to CSW to mark Black History Month in October, Brown, who is also director of engagement and policy at the Health and Safety Executive, said efforts to increase diversity in government had sped up significantly in the last two years, thanks in part to the launch of the civil service Diversity and Inclusion Strategy in 2017.
The so-called “inclusive boards” initiative was rolled out across the civil service after it helped to boost diversity at the Government Digital Service, Brown said.
Last year, Kevin Cunnington, then director general at the digital agency, said that since mandating every interview panel included at least one BAME panellist, the number of BAME candidates for GDS roles had almost doubled. “The candidates say that when there’s somebody like you interviewing you, you feel you can be yourself, and that helps the confidence of candidates,” he told CSW.
Brown said this statistical evidence “was part of what convinced the Civil Service People Board, and the civil service chief executive John Manzoni in particular, to mandate the inclusive boards”.
The requirement for inclusive boards was rolled out earlier this year, with mechanisms in place to monitor how departments were complying with the requirements.
Brown said this process illustrated how the civil service was working to move towards the target in the D&I strategy to ensure that 13.2% of new SCS recruits are BAME – reflecting the make-up of the wider UK population – by 2025. “It’s about the iteration: constantly watching, recording, and reacting to the way the system is absorbing some of those changes,” he said.
In the two years since the D&I strategy launched, the proportion of senior civil servants from a Black and Minority Ethnic background has increased from 4.7% to 6% – having risen by just 0.5% in the seven years leading up to that point. Brown said this was partly down to a push to “do things slightly differently”, through measures such as extra mentoring structures that had been put in place for BAME candidates on schemes like the Future Leaders Programme.
“I do feel we have some way to go, but this is the first time we’ve had a target. By having the target and putting in the extra support and challenge, we are beginning to get some progress,” Brown said.
Brown, who joined the civil service as a filing clerk in 1991, was appointed deputy race champion when the strategy launched in 2017, and helps to run the ethnic diversity programme via a team in the Cabinet Office.
But the deputy race champion, who describes himself as a “reluctant role model”, said “particular challenges” still exist for under-represented groups. Some still have limited access to career progression or opportunities, while others have a “larger expanse of imposter syndrome” thanks to the “central casting” image of what senior civil servants look like, he said.
He said civil service leaders must foster teams that are not only racially diverse, but are also made up of people who think and approach problems differently.
“We need to think very carefully about how we go about the business of inclusion,” he added. “Because in my experience, observing and being involved in the civil service for 30 years, policy failure and comms failure often happen because somebody in the team wasn’t listened to.”