DIVERSITY IN THE CIVIL SERVICE: IT’S A SORRY STATE OF AFFAIRS
The workers of Whitehall are still mostly white and male. Reports that there are more ethnic minority civil servants now is undercut by the realisation that their chance of promotion is on the slide.
Who didn’t love the Machiavellian trio who ran the country in Yes Minister? They were very sharp-witted, very articulate, very learned, very male and very white. When dramatic threat was needed, an assertive woman was thrown into the mix, and as far as Sir Humphrey was concerned, she may as well have been a Visigoth. Things aren’t that bad in today’s civil service. But they are a long way from perfect.
Labour has been shining a light on the composition of the civil service, which is good, because in government its hands were far from clean. And what emerged last week is that the prospect of promotion for black, Asian and ethnic minority staff of other descriptions has fallen since 2010 in 10 of 15 departments that supplied data for a parliamentary answer. In the health, transport and communities departments, promotions for ethnic minority staff halved. There were none at all in the culture department in the years 2012 and 2013. The culture department is the department with a primary focus on equalities. Thus a sorry scenario contains elements of comedy.
All a bit confusing, because a Cabinet Office spokesperson recently told the Times that the proportion of ethnic minority staff has risen in the three years to March 2010. So there are more minorities, but fewer climbing the pole. Are they all without ambition? What’s the betting that the increase is marked in the lowest grades?
And what’s the betting that we’re not getting the full picture? In October, at the service’s diversity and equality awards, Bob Kerslake, the head of the civil service, sounded upbeat. There is a way to go, he said, but “many things we have got right”. Many more women, a less London-centric approach. Earlier this year, he talked of plaudits from Stonewall and the proportion of disabled civil servants at a record high. But talking to Civil Service World in March, Sir Paul Jenkins, who held the diversity champion brief from 2010 to his retirement, said the record on improving ethnic diversity in the senior ranks of the civil service was “disgraceful”. He added that deadlines for imposing “a clear, strategic approach” to diversity, had been missed.
So one can be hopeful when it is reported that some mandarins are being trained to address their unconscious bias but a word of caution. Sir Humphrey’s gift was ensuring that nothing much changed at all.