Senior civil servants to be personally accountable for diversity targets in long-awaited Whitehall inclusion strategy

Civil service diversity strategy sets out plans to develop framework for measuring inclusion across government


By Tamsin Rutter

16 Oct 2017

The civil service is to set a target on the number of disabled and ethnic minority staff entering senior ranks by April 2018 as part of a raft of measures outlined in its Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, which will also hold every member of the Senior Civil Service accountable for creating a more diverse Whitehall.

The long-awaited strategy is intended to address the “inconsistent” progress made on increasing diversity in the civil service, and includes plans for a dedicated ethnic minority programme, a new framework for measuring inclusion and a “diverse leadership taskforce” reporting directly to cabinet secretary and civil service head Jeremy Heywood.

Under these plans, senior civil servants will now be held personally accountable through performance management for business objectives on diversity and inclusion they will set themselves.


The civil service has made progress on gender diversity in recent years – 42% of the SCS are now female, compared with 26% of FTSE 100 executives and board directors. But just 4.6% of senior civil servants are from ethnic minority backgrounds, and 3.3% report having a disability.

“Progress… has been incremental but too slow to match our ambitions,” said the strategy, which outlined how Whitehall will achieve its already-stated aim of becoming the most inclusive UK employer by 2020.

To improve representation of staff from these under-represented groups at senior levels, the civil service plans to implement an ethnic minority programme and ramp up its existing disability inclusion programme.

Underpinning this is a pledge, from April, to set and begin to monitor progress towards a civil service-wide target to increase the flow of disabled and ethnic minority staff into the SCS.

In an exclusive interview published today, civil service chief people officer Rupert McNeil told Civil Service World that the reason for the lag in introducing a target was to ensure it is “collectively owned” by departments.

“Over the coming months departments are going to be setting themselves ambitious targets, which we’ll aggregate up to a final number,” he said.

He added that this was because departments have distinct challenges based on “the nature of the markets they’re working in, the types of jobs, and the locations they’re operating in”.

Also by April next year the civil service plans to publish a “data dashboard” to detail progress on diversity and inclusion, and benchmark performance between departments and against targets. It will be updated several times a year.

A new diverse leadership task force, made up of leading employers, diversity experts and the Civil Service Commission, will be asked to advise the civil service on attracting and retaining staff from underrepresented groups at senior levels.

The civil service also intends to establish a new framework for measuring inclusion, working alongside the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Whitehall leaders have already pinpointed inclusion as an area that requires action, given the lower scores on engagement of people from certain under-represented groups in the annual Civil Service People Survey, and their higher levels of experiencing discrimination, bullying and harassment.

The inclusion measurement will build on research the civil service has been conducting with other leading employers to establish an “agreed measure of socio-economic background that will inform more inclusive recruitment practices”.

The civil service plans to trial gender identity monitoring in the People Survey this year, and is aiming for an increase in diversity data recording for sexual orientation to at least 70%.

The strategy also covers accountability, and states that diversity and inclusion will now be embedded in Single Departmental Plans.

Permanent secretaries will continue to be personally accountable to the cabinet secretary for departmental progress, but the strategy added that "every member of the SCS will be asked to set their own personal business objectives on diversity and inclusion, for which they will be accountable through performance management".

Commenting on the release of the strategy, Heywood said having a diverse workforce is not enough, and that the civil service must “create an environment where differences of thought and outlook are not only respected, but expected”.

In his foreword to the strategy, Heywood pointed to good work in this area that has already taken place, including name-blind recruitment practices, unconscious bias training and more diverse interview panels.

But he added: “Although progress has been considerable over the past few years, today’s strategy highlights how we must go further.”

John Manzoni, civil service chief executive and Cabinet Office permanent secretary, said the drive to improve diversity and inclusion in the civil service should set an example to other public and private sector organisations.

“There are many studies and reports that evidence that diverse and inclusive organisations perform better and have happier people,” he said. 

“The civil service, in order to ensure that it delivers the best quality service to the taxpayer, has a duty to attract and retain the best people from all corners of society.”

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