This article is also available on the Government Computing website.

 

In recent years we have seen an increased focus on equality, diversity and inclusion in the global media, politics and industry. One prominent example is how the powerful and long overdue #MeToo movement shook up not only Hollywood, but also Whitehall.

 

The ambition

As part of the Civil Service Workforce Plan, the government set themselves the ambitious target to become the nation’s most inclusive employer by 2020. In order for civil servants to deliver fair policies that affect the lives of people across the country and beyond, the Civil Service and public sector as a whole must represent modern Britain in all its diversity.

I talked about the many benefits of diverse workplaces during my session on ‘A More Inclusive Government’ at the inspirational OneTeamGov unconference in London this summer. We should strive for inclusion not ‘just because’, but due to the fact that diverse teams are more effective and likely to represent a multitude of needs. For example, it’s unlikely that white, male career politicians can develop legislation and services that work for ethnic minority women.

At the most senior Civil Service grades, it’s encouraging to see a growing number of female leaders and influencers. In 2017, the proportion of women at Senior Civil Service level (42%) was greater than the representation of female executives in FTSE 100 companies (26%).

However, when we talk about diversity and inclusion, we don’t ‘just’ mean gender diversity. Initiatives need to encompass diversity in its widest sense looking at gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, faith, age and socioeconomic background.

While the proportion of ethnic minority civil servants has increased from 9.4% in 2012 to 11.2%, and representation of disabled people has increased since 2010, from 7.6% to 9.9% in 2017, only 4.6% of Senior Civil Servants are from ethnic minorities and only 3.3% have a disability.

With less than two years to go until the 2020 deadline, there is still a great deal of work to be done. For example, looking at a 2017 top 50 list of the most inclusive UK employers, the top 5 spots are held by three private sector organisations and two bespoke public sector entities. These organisations have been scored on their performance in a range of areas, including recruitment procedures, training and diversity related initiatives. In this context it is interesting that the Civil Service Workforce Plan does not specify any measurable performance targets other than being ‘the most inclusive’.

I am a passionate advocate for workplace equality and talked to public sector experts to examine how the Civil Service is performing in the strive towards diversity and inclusion.

 

What the government is doing

The Civil Service has introduced several brilliant initiatives such as development programmes for employees from underrepresented groups and ‘name and school blind’ recruitment processes. Furthermore, all Permanent Secretaries are tasked with improving diversity and inclusion within their departments and are directly accountable to the Head of the Civil Service.

Dr David Best, former Director of Digital Services and Technology for the ONS, says, “In general, government recruitment is fairly inclusive and the guaranteed interview scheme for disabled candidates works well, for instance. Equally, the gender balance and efforts to ensure this are also quite effective.”

Jacqueline Cripps, author and diversity consultant, comments, “While the UK has brought about policies to address the current lack of diversity, not enough is being done at a deeper level. Organisations must develop a cross-cultural recruitment framework. The problem is that organisations don’t understand what diversity and inclusion actually mean – and how this translates across the wider organisation. Until people are educated, they won’t be in a position where they are willing and able to change and will continue with what could be interpreted as a ‘tick and flick’ exercise.”

Public sector recruitment is definitely moving in the right direction and in a recent assignment for a local authority IT department we adopted our SRaaS (Smart Recruitment as a Service) approach. This involves a new and inclusive way of thinking about talent and resourcing to attract a diverse candidate pool.  We targeted the recruitment by geographical area and underrepresented groups and made the selection process inclusive and agile by allowing candidates to engage with us via their chosen digital or face-to-face channels.

 

The hurdles

The government has an excellent diversity action plan, but the implementation of the initiatives requires a significant shift in awareness, attitudes and behaviours.

Jacqueline Cripps comments, “One major challenge is addressing unconscious bias. If people aren’t aware of their own biases, how these are affecting their behaviour and that of others, then they aren’t in a position where they can adopt an open-minded attitude. Education is the key.”

Dr David Best adds, “In some circumstances, it is extremely difficult to attract ethnic minority candidates, for example if they are underrepresented in the catchment area of the role. At senior level various incentives for good quality candidates of all types are possible. Certain professions have allowances or incentives for recruitment, notably Digital Data and Technology.”

Furthermore, in the past archaic recruitment practices and inflexible HR policies held the public sector back, but this is changing and we are seeing a much more inclusive approach utilising targeted recruitment, supportive staff networks and flexible working.

 

Comparisons with the private sector

As mentioned above, a 2017 diversity league table indicated that private companies generally perform better on diversity and inclusion targets. Should the public sector learn from the private sector?

Jacqueline Cripps says, “There are typically mixed reports on who is leading the way in diversity. For example, public sector organisations have been shown to report more and different types of diversity policies than private sector organisations, while private sector reports have shown recent improvements in both gender and race equality. However, neither or these mean that one is more diverse than the other. There is still a significant issue with underrepresentation of ethnic minorities and women in leadership roles across the UK and this issue needs to be addressed on a wider scale. However, organisations cannot have a strategy to deal with the issue if they don’t understand the scale of the problem. We need education and awareness at a national level; not in silos.”

I think that the public sector should aim to stay up to date with private sector recruitment practices, but in terms of candidate attraction, the public sector can rarely compete on salary. Nonetheless, the public sector has an advantage for those who want to ‘give something back’ and have a better work/ life balance.

 

Smart recruitment for diversity

I’ve written extensively about the importance of diverse recruitment and inclusive management over the years. Working as a senior recruiter and having a close family member on the autistic spectrum has made me acutely aware of the challenges faced by jobseekers who don’t fit the ‘stereotype’ and might not perform well in traditional recruitment scenarios such telephone interviews.

In my business we use the SRaaS (Smart Recruitment as a Service) approach. We encourage hiring managers to think much wider and bigger about talent and to adopt new agile and inclusive selection processes.

One of my key messages is that hiring managers should always look for the best talent available, but try different channels, platforms and messages to engage with underrepresented candidate groups. It’s also important for public sector entities to promote their employer ‘brand’ as a diverse employer and ensure that selection and career progression processes really are inclusive, fair and unbiased.

I firmly believe that the UK public sector should and can be a diversity and inclusion role model and an engine for social mobility. The Civil Service is now more diverse than ever and senior leaders are supporting the aim to become the UK’s most inclusive employer.

Will the government achieve this goal by 2020? As mentioned above, I think the lack of specific metrics will make it difficult to prove this, but I find the ambition, initiatives and progress to date incredibly encouraging. The process of raising awareness and changing attitudes is a lengthy one, so I would advise public sector employers to be brave, ambitious and take it one step at a time.