Increasing diversity in the civil service

While surface figures show a diverse make-up in the civil service, there is still work to be done argues Multiverse
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By Multiverse

30 Jul 2021

The civil service is a diverse organisation. And so it should be. Tasked with serving the British people, it’s vital its office represents the make-up of the country it works for.

According to the latest figures, 53.8% of civil servants are women, 13.2% are ethnic minorities and 12.8% are disabled. These statistics are broadly in line with the wider working population. In July 2020, 12.9% of the UK’s working population were from ethnic minority backgrounds, while 14.2% stated that they had a disability.


Less diverse at senior levels

On the surface, these numbers seem great. But drill a little deeper and it’s clear there’s still work to be done. Female civil servants and those from ethnic minority backgrounds are still much more likely to be in junior roles.

Like a lot of organisations that are trying to build an equitable workforce, diversity often declines in more senior levels. Just 9% of grade 6 civil service staff are from ethnic minority backgrounds. Climb higher and the numbers fall again, with only 6.9% of senior civil servants hailing from underrepresented backgrounds.

There’s also a severe shortage of socioeconomic diversity in the civil service. Only 18% of senior civil servants are from working class or low socioeconomic backgrounds.

While the civil service improves in many areas of diversity, there is still work to be done on socio-economic representation. As it stands, 72% of civil servants are from higher socioeconomic backgrounds: up from 67% in 1967.

The civil service is aware of these problems and working hard to tackle them. We believe that crucial to tackling these inequalities is taking a fresh approach to the way talented individuals access opportunities in the public sector.

The traditional education system is a major part of this problem. In short, it’s fundamentally broken. Once described as the great social leveller, many young people are still missing out on the best opportunities as a result of their background.

The stats back this assumption up. Just 4% of those claiming free school meals in year 11 make it to a Russell Group university. After graduation, the gap widens further. Almost half of those on corporate grad programmes were educated at private schools. This tells us social mobility has stagnated. To kick-start it, we must spread opportunities to the communities, towns and regions not currently getting their fair share.


Looking beyond expensive degrees

The current one-size-fits-all educational model is failing to spread these opportunities, particularly among ethnic minority communities and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

Multiverse is one organisation making a difference. Their unique apprenticeship model is built differently. Partnering with community organisations and judging potential on more than prior academic attainment, Multiverse is helping to bridge the UK’s digital skills gap while also addressing the lack of diversity in key industries.

72% of civil servants are from higher socioeconomic backgrounds

The company is also redefining the way employers recruit entry-level talent. Despite robust research showing that a more diverse workforce has a positive impact on organisations both culturally and economically, there’s still uncertainty about how to access talent from diverse backgrounds. Apprenticeships help us to start remedying this problem. Of the candidates that Multiverse hires, 25% are black, 19% are Asian and 8% have mixed/multiple ethnicity. More than half are women and 34% meet 1 of Multiverse's indicators of socio-economic disadvantage.

On Multiverse programmes, apprentices are taught via applied learning, with a renewed emphasis on building skills alongside knowledge.


Lessons from the private sector

With similar challenges facing organisations across the public and private sector, more and more are turning to apprenticeships as an approach to bringing diverse populations into the business, and opening up a pathway to leadership positions.

In 2016, KPMG launched IT's Her Future (IHF) - the programme was created to not only improve the gender balance in their technology departments, but also to improve the gender parity in senior leadership roles. The IHF programme covers every stage of a career journey for women at KPMG, from outreach to job applications, to providing reskilling and upskilling opportunities, to mentoring and coaching the programme’s participants into future leaders.

“Diversity is an untapped superpower which all companies have the potential to unlock” says Anna Somaiya, Founder and leader of IT’s Her Future. “KPMG is committed to life-long learning and it was important to me to ensure that women were given an opportunity to learn new skills”

“It is crucial for us that all female employees are given opportunities to upskill within their own departments or even do a career change within KPMG,” says Liz Jessop, Development Lead at IT’s Her Future and Co-Chair KPMG Work-Ability Network.

KPMG teamed up with Multiverse to equip the internal rising talent on the IT’s Her Future programme with data skills. The cost of the 15-month Data Fellowship programme is fully covered by the Apprenticeship Levy.

Read more about KPMG’s work with Multiverse by downloading our case study.


Building from strength

The civil service is starting from a stronger position than most organisations.

However, it still has work to do to build a route into senior roles for its employees from underrepresented socioeconomic and ethnic minority groups. By shifting its focus away from the traditional educational model and embracing professional apprentices, it can truly build diversity into its leadership pipeline.

To find out more about Multiverse and our apprenticeship programmes, head to


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