Perm secs given November deadline for action on diversity

Permanent secretaries have less than a month to deliver work to boost diversity in their departments, the government’s new diversity champion Sir Simon Fraser revealed at this year’s Civil Service Diversity & Equality Awards.

By Winnie.Agbonlahor

17 Oct 2014

Fraser and Sir Jeremy Heywood, head of the civil service, wrote to all perm secs on 10 October, telling them to complete 10 tasks – such as “nominate a board-level diversity champion” – by 14 November. Perm secs will have to report to the Civil Service Board in December as part of an “interim appraisal”, Fraser said.

The to-do list in the letter includes those elements of the Talent Action Plan – the government’s diversity plan, published last month – “which we believe can and should be rapidly introduced”, Fraser said. 

Other tasks were: ensure that all male shortlists for SCS posts are by exception only and to set up a system to monitor observance; ensure that all male selection panels for any job should also be by exception only; identify and personally sponsor members of under-represented groups as part of succession planning; ensure that all directors-general mentor at least one talented individual at SCS1 or below from under-represented groups; ask your non-executive board members to mentor under-represented groups at SCS1 or grades 6 and 7; identify SCS role models from diverse backgrounds and work with them to promote an inclusive culture; ensure that staff networks know about the external consultants’ reports we are commissioning and encourage them to feed in their ideas; communicate commitment to promoting flexible working patterns in each department; and highlight the upcoming changes to enable greater take up of shared parental leave.

The Talent Action Plan has been criticised for being late and focusing only on women. But Fraser said that the government has now commissioned three pieces of research focusing on people from BME backgrounds; those with a declared disability; and LGBT people.

The research will be completed in November, a report will come out in December, and the Talent Action Plan – a “living document”, said Fraser – will be updated in January. Asked by CSW whether the government had considered waiting for research on all aspects of diversity to be completed before publishing a plan, Fraser said: “We did consider that, but people were waiting for this. So we thought: ‘Why don’t we move on, do it and develop the concept of a document which can then be amended and evolve?’ I think that’s fine.”

The plan has also been attacked for its lack of measurable targets. Fraser said: “We haven’t actually met the targets in the past, so we thought: ‘Rather than focusing on setting targets, why don’t we focus on understanding what the barriers stopping us meeting those targets are?’.”

Asked by CSW whether the government is giving up because it didn’t meet its own targets, Fraser said: “No. We’ve concluded that targets may not be the most effective way of achieving the results. I think centrally-set targets which don’t take account of the different cultures, problems and situations in different departments, are not necessarily the best thing.”
Asking departments to set their own targets might be considered in the future, he said, as nothing is “off the table”. 

Click here for details of the award winners

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