Diversity, Inclusion & Public Sector leadership

Are our public services reflecting the country they serve?

We are told that diversity is at the top of public leaders’ agenda and that upcoming talent management is continually encouraged. How much is actually being done, however, to address the issue? Are we still talking the talk, rather than walking the walk?

It is clear to see that there has been an incremental improvement since Sir Paul Jenkins, former Treasury Solicitor and Head of Whitehall Diversity, acknowledged “a strong sense of failure” at the lack of diversity at the head of the Civil Service back in 2014. At the time, he called the figures “disgraceful” and, whilst it is encouraging to see diversity statistics improve on the whole within the public sector; there is still a distinct lack of gender diversity, employees from BAME backgrounds and with disability at Senior Civil Service level. I therefore wonder how things have since progressed within the Civil Service and wider public sector and what is being done to ensure that employees are supported in their career development?

As an Executive Consultant on Badenoch & Clark’s executive search desk, it is very clear that diversity is becoming an ever increasing bone of contention. As specialist consultants, we work with clients to educate them on their diversity statistics and recruitment approaches, suggesting innovative methodologies to ensure the greatest level of diversity at final shortlist. We do, however, continue to face consistent unconscious bias from our clients that we must endeavour to eliminate.

Something has also become far clearer: it may be more difficult than ever to develop an increasingly diverse set of leaders given the pressures austerity has placed on a shrinking staff numbers. The public sector must embrace diversity of skillset as well as diversity of background given the volume of people shifting industries. People are not currently being supported fairly or given the opportunity to prove themselves against existing talent due to the shifting mindsets and ethos sector to sector. In addition to obvious areas such as employment history and education, softer skills must be taken more seriously. Only then will skill gaps start being filled and upcoming talent supported into leadership opportunities. From a recruitment point of view, many still continue to hire in their own image despite desperate efforts to remove unwitting prejudice.

Once diverse teams are in place, what is being done to then ensure people are supported and developed appropriately? And how can we possibly assess this? Badenoch & Clark Executive have been working with organisations on a series of bespoke assessment and consultancy exercises to ensure that diversity & inclusion (D&I) continues to live and breathe through the learning and development of leaders, and that all employees are supported accordingly.

Regardless of your stance on D&I in the public sector, one thing is for sure – every person in Britain should have the chance to go as far as their talents will take them. While improving diversity amongst our public sector leaders will not be easy, it is absolutely the right thing to do.

I merely ask, how much progress has actually been made to date and what are we doing differently and proactively to ensure diversity in the greatest sense - diversity of background and skills? 

By Lucy Mavers, Executive Consultant



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