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Racial equality in the Civil Service

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Civil Service Leaders, Diversity and inclusion, Leadership Statement
Richard Heaton, Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary and Civil Service Race Champion
Richard Heaton, Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary and Civil Service Race Champion

This is my first post on the Civil Service blog, and I want to talk about race equality in the Civil Service.

The refreshed Talent Action Plan signals the start of a two-year period of intensive action during which the leadership of the Civil Service is determined that we become much better - visibly and demonstrably better - at diversity and inclusion. As Civil Service Race Champion I’d like to share some of my personal thoughts on where we stand on race.

First, on why race equality is important in the Civil Service. Each of us would put this differently. For me, it’s about effective organisations not being monocultures. If different voices and experiences are heard and valued, you get a happier and more effective organisation. For the Civil Service as a whole, it means we’ll become better able to design, deliver or commission public services.

It’s also about talent. If we turn our back on talented people, whether deliberately or unwittingly, we’re missing out on skills. And we can’t afford to do that.

And finally, it’s because giving some people a leg-up because ours is a culture they’re comfortable with, while tolerating barriers that make it more difficult for others to succeed, is plainly unfair. It’s inconsistent with our values and with the way in which we have promised to lead the Civil Service. We have said in the new Leadership Statement that we will champion difference.

Race champion

I’ve been proud to be a civil servant for 24 years. Because the work we do is so important and interesting - supporting communities, serving a democratically elected government, and creating the conditions for national success and prosperity. But also because of the range of people who work here to a common goal, from different backgrounds and with different skills. I’ve always loved that.

That’s why I volunteered to be race champion. We are a pretty diverse organisation, and better than many. In fact in some respects, we’re strong.  In other respects, we are only average - and that means we’re not as effective, or skilled, or fair as we ought to be.

And sometimes the extent to which we fall short is obvious and worrying - our lack of senior BAME representation, for example. Or the evidence that performance management is skewed against some groups. I want us to recognise and deal with the bias and lazy assumptions that get in our way. I want to be part of a push to make us truly inclusive.

The role has allowed me to get out and about, to listen to networks and groups from across government. I’ve heard personal accounts from many colleagues, of careers that feel stuck or experience that feels overlooked.  I’ve heard comments from fast-streamers about feeling judged by their accents, and from very senior BAME friends about their doubt on whether they’d recommend the Civil Service as a career choice to their children. I’ve heard countless people in some of our best departments saying they’d like very much to have a mentoring session with someone but they don’t know who to go to. On the positive side, I’ve heard a moving account of how a BAME colleague in the Senior Civil Service persuaded himself to become a more vocal and visible role model for others. I’ve seen people grown in authority and confidence from being on development programmes. I’ve seen the awesome range of talent at our summer internship programme. I’ve seen people determined to change things.

Culture change

The race champion role is, of course, about more than watching and listening. It’s also about helping and encouraging my Permanent Secretary colleagues to put together the strongest possible programme of action. It’s about making sure that the voice of BAME civil servants is heard where it matters - either through me or (even better) directly through network representatives.

I also want to bring together race champions and network chairs, from across government. Culture change will come about through clear leadership from the top and the centre; but also by making those with vision and determination feel supported and empowered.  So I want to help spread good practice, to sense where things are moving less quickly, and to judge where more help or challenge is needed.

I hope you’ll read the refreshed Talent Action Plan, if you’ve not already done so. Please also look at the three research reports we published on the same day. The report on race is here.

The reports were the result of some honest discussions about what’s stopping us from being a more representative service. They show why this is a subject which is both challenging and urgent. We’ve slipped behind. We have to catch up.

So, we will greatly strengthen our talent programmes. We are determined to increase the diversity of the Senior Civil Service. We will make it easier for BAME colleagues to be role models. We will be more transparent on data, particularly with performance assessments. Indeed we’ll get better and more consistent data overall, so we know how well we are doing.


But just as important is what happens in departments: too few people know what is going on in their organisation to improve diversity and inclusion. I want to encourage senior leadership teams in departments to articulate why, in their organisation, this is important. And what they are going to do to improve it. I want race networks to be involved in drawing up and reviewing those commitments.

And I would like everyone, wherever they are in their organisation, to make a public pledge of what they will do to make change happen.
I’ve made two pledges. As race champion, I will speak up for BAME colleagues in every forum where their voice would otherwise be absent.

In the Cabinet Office, my pledge is to encourage all Senior Civil Servants to mentor (or be mentored by) someone who’s not like them.

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  1. Comment by David Garner posted on

    Positive discrimination is illegal eh? Well, I came across some blatant examples of tokenism and quota stuffing in my travels! That does nothing for the efficiency of the organisation, the credibility of its equal opportunities policy, or staff morale.

    Talent management is a vexed issue. it's not helpful when the organisation encourages staff to acquire experience and professional qualifications then strangles opportunities for progression. Or worse, routinely bypasses long-serving staff to bring in outsiders (who are then paid more than incumbents).

    The culture of the Civil Service sends out some unmistakeable messages. Despite all the rhetoric, creativity comes a poor second to conformity, and too many managers promote those who most resemble themselves. These days, the Senior Civil Service is, to all intents and purposes, a separate entity, Especially when it comes to rewarding performance, enabling career progression and job security.

    Perceptions are real. If the organisation is really serious about it's TAP then these issues need to be addressed. But I'm not holding my breath.

  2. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    From my perspective as a BAME member of staff who has worked for the Civil Service for a number of years, I have to say that the attitude towards BAME Staff and opportunities to progress have improved. But as the findings of the survey has found, there is still much room for improvement. And so, instead of colleagues using this as a platform to discuss their individual issues, we should be looking at ways in which ALL can seek to improve the situation and ensure that everyone is being treated with equality and has the same career progression oportunities.

  3. Comment by A different Terry posted on

    I do despair whenever I see some Civil Servants assert pubically that positive discrimination exists in the UK.It does not, it is illegal in this country. The Equality Act 2010 is freely availble for reference, in case of doubt. There should be no excuse for such misconceptions by staff working for public bodies. Perhaps the CS should look at the quality of diversity/equality training offered to its staff.

  4. Comment by Anon posted on

    I am currently at risk of redundancy, within an organisation that is growing its headcount, at least 8 out of the 11 at risk have a "protected characteristic". In my experience, the term "protected characteristic" is double speak for no training opportunities, except compulsory ones, and no chance of reaching the higher grades because too many SCS fear difference, it is a genuine fear. They do not know how to engage with you, even when you are on your best 'coconut ' behaviour. Lower down the CS there are fewer problems, probably due the difference in socio-economic background, and being closer to the public. Diversity of thinking is lacking at the higher grades, the group think is all too familiar. They cannot comprehend that working in the CS is more than an academic exercise, there is a real world which many have not seen.

    The worst thing I have witnessed is a black work experience boy wearing a black suit and bow tie with white gloves pouring water for white SCS, and not understanding why I would be upset (in 2012, not 1962))

    As for commercial acumen, or financial literacy it is a joke! I speak as someone who has started up 3 businesses. It looks like I need to conform to stereotype and start another.

  5. Comment by SB posted on

    LC thanks for your comments. I would like to clarify some points, as you have already assessed/assumed me as having negative behaviour without knowing that facts. I am and have always been a very positive person, irrespective of whether I got the job or not. In not being successful I haven't become bitter and neither have I shown any bitterness towards colleagues. In fact I did the reverse, took it on the chin, look at ways of improving and always though positively that there will be other opportunities. The factor to consider is that I did a part time MBA at my own expense and time so that doors of opportunities would open. I can tell you I am still not bitter, and continue to look towards getting that promotion.

  6. Comment by LC posted on

    One way to open up diversity is to take away the requirement of informing your line manager every time you apply for a job, surely this should be reserved for the interview stage, it merely deters people from applying because your manager is aware you are looking else where. This in turn could cause a strain on your relationship if you don't end up getting the job. By putting people off applying the Civil Service merely shrinks the talent pool, the private sector don't operate this way, why does the civil service? I raised this on the civil service web site and did not even get a reply.

    Secondly I agree that Race Champions, pledges and bland statements can be irritating but I do not agree that positive discrimination is the way forward, and I speak as a BAME. The best people should be appointed only on merit regardless of their race. Because there is no way two candidates will be exactly the same, one will always have a slight advantage over the other either because of their experience or the way they come across in interview. To hire a BAME candidate purely on the basis of their race, denies the public the more talented candidate. We are a public service first and foremost not an organisation dedicated to promote inferior staff on the basis of their colour to look like we are diverse.

    I understand the comments of SB and her frustration , but regarding all white managers as enemies of progress is as regressive as saying all BAME should be held back. I would take the feedback from your interviews and work on what they have pointed out. I doubt very much that anyone has said to you that you didn't get the job because you lacked that extra X factor, and also you may not be aware that your failed attempts are actually embittering you and this comes across in your interactions with people, thus making it less likely you will be able to manage a team of diverse people. A vicious circle as it were , but one that can be overcome

  7. Comment by R. C. Holmes posted on

    The moment anyone starts bleating about putting measures in to place to ensure that quotas (a term they won't use) are filled in a cosmetic attempt to make our organisations more diverse my hackles rise. I don't care if the Civil Service is predominantly white, black, green or any other shade. I want the best person for the job. Not some artificially created diverse hotchpotch. When opportunities are created artificially for one group, then those opportunities are lost to another. No one uses the term "positive discrimination" anymore because the masses now realise that any form of discrimination is wrong. When you're on the wrong end of "positive discrimination" then it's not very "positive " anymore, is it? Changing language and the presentation of "positive discrimination" is pure linguistic semantics. You can call a horse a cow, it's still a horse and TAP is still "positive discrimination". I've been in the Civil service 38 years and been passed over for promotion more times than I can remember. At 40 I obtained an Honours Degree through the Open University, it didn't help, neither did being a white heterosexual male. Which is strange, because as such, looking at your numerous reports, with all the opportunities lavished upon me, I should be an SEO at least by now! Talent will emerge without the help of discriminatory and restrictive practices. I say NO to any form of discrimination and NO to quotas, whatever terminology you may use.

  8. Comment by SB posted on

    PW I agree with your comment no person irrespective of their race, disability, ethnicity, age et al can be classed as same, we are all different, diverse in our own way. However turn the table the other way and all BAME are the same to the white colleagues. BAME are not seen as individual, diverse but lumped into one stereotype because of their colour.

    DAvid I agree fully with your comments. I am an ex-HMRC BAME employee. BAME are not valued in HMRC. All the interesting work bypasses us, and only menial and lower level work (BAU) seems to be our forte according the white managers. The perception and stereotype is that we are not worthy of anything more than this. HMRC needs it's leaders to change their SMT's attitude towards BAME. BAME staff who have been in post for a long time who are not progressing and yet their white peers within their team are moving upwards, their managers should be questioned and challenged on their conscious and unconscious bias and taken to account on their PMR. This is the only way HMRC can take out deep rooted discrimination.

    • Replies to SB>

      Comment by A different Terry posted on

      I disgagree with the way you have presented your point SB, as you have stereotyped white managers. I had a white manager, who did not rest until I got my promotion. I also had a BAME manager whose behaviour was so obnoxious that I put in a successful bid to transfer office. In my experience managers are diverse as any other group, there are the helpful and the not so helpful.. There are institutional problems in HMRC and perhaps the wider Civil Service I agree, the poor PMR stats over the last two years were quite predictable .To even stand still people have to demonstrate that they are doing more than BAU, often not possible if one isn't in a glamorous job, or a leadership role. Yet the system was imposed anyway to the detriment of BAME and other groups.

  9. Comment by DAvid posted on

    Guys stop wasting your breath! Simply go to work do your duties as best as you can and go home. None of the people in charge are committed to helping minorities. Simply look at their record. It is all a charade. Everyone knows that they do not mean it. I challenge the Richard Heaton to show me real evidence of change within two years. HMRC could be so much greater if covert racism/discrimination is fully extinguished. The joke is on HMRC if it refuses to make use of our qualifications and skills because our faces do not fit. Stop worrying and rather concentrate on how to better yourself and possibly find other opportunities outside HMRC. Stop thinking/hoping that things will change it will not!

  10. Comment by Peter W posted on

    "In the Cabinet Office, my pledge is to encourage all Senior Civil Servants to mentor (or be mentored by) someone who’s not like them."

    It really irritates me when people assume that just because I am white, I am "like" any other white person.

    I could mentor anyone else in the entire world, and could guarantee that they would not be "like" me. We might both be white males of the same age, height, hair and eye colour, shoe size, etc. etc. But that wouldn't mean we were "like" each other.

    Two white males can be more different from each other than a white male and black female.

  11. Comment by Anonymous posted on

    I think it is very difficult for the aforementioned white heterosexual male to see how truly privileged they are compared to other groups. I get a bit sick of hearing them moan about how they are the ones that are discriminated against. No, you really really aren't.

  12. Comment by Gabriel Oaks posted on

    Pleased to hear about work on racial equality but the disabled still appear to be ignored in terms of equality; indeed it still appears to be acceptable to discriminate against disabled persons.

    Although laudable, this action appears to concentrate on equality based simply on race but not on disability, gender or sexuality....

  13. Comment by Muqbool posted on

    There is also an overriding imperative why we must end discrimination across the Civil Service: it is illegal !

  14. Comment by SB posted on

    I have worked in the Civil Service for nearly 24 years. It is true that it has changed and evolved, but the changes are at such a slow pace, the past catches up and it's one step back from any further development. I applaud all of the schemes and volunteer champions but from experience, as a BAME employee it feels like ground hog day. Been there, done that, didn't work, and it still isn't working. It's a paper and tick box exercise, to show there is willingness. Action speaks louder than words. It's the old saying, 'Children should be seen and not heard.' In the Civil Service, BAME should be seen and not heard. Some minor progress made since the Stephen Lawrence case, McPherson Report, but it has now been put to bed.

  15. Comment by Mark posted on

    Racial equality is actually self-defeating as it accepts and affirms that humanity is divided into distinct races. This is different from racism where one 'race' regards itself as superior to another and uses a position of advantage to oppress another 'race'. In reality these terms have become blurred and nebulous.

  16. Comment by Mark Valladares posted on


    That's exactly the sort of unhelpful comment I feared might emerge. The idea is to create a level playing field in terms of opportunity for all of our colleagues, so that we utilise all of our available talent to best effect. Your background as described indicates that, statistically, you are traditionally more likely to be favoured, all other things being equal.

    You may feel ignored and positively discriminated against, but I would suspect that it isn't because you're a white, heterosexual male...

    • Replies to Mark Valladares>

      Comment by Paul - HMRC posted on

      Look at the latest People Survey scores. Tell me who scores the highest on engagement and who scores the lowest. It makes for an interesting read and shows that we are providing special treatment to the wrong people, or that we need to stop discriminating with special programs and treat all civil servants as people.

  17. Comment by Terry posted on

    My pledge is to try and not feel ignored and positively discriminated against as a white hetrosexual male.

    • Replies to Terry>

      Comment by SB posted on

      Terry, stand in my shoes and see it from my perspective, as a BAME employee, who has a degree, a master's degree, professionally qualified, who is overlooked many times for promotion. Feedback for applications and interviews are, you did fantastic, you were close but the other candidate had that extra factor. Can't fault your interview, you got everything to a T, the other candidate just got 1 mark more than you. A bitter pill swallow, when your inner gut feeling tells you different. The extra factor and the 1 mark more was factored on the basis of the colour of your skin, nothing more and nothing less. How do you prove that? Very difficult. For BAME it is a very hard uphill struggle.

      • Replies to SB>

        Comment by DAvid posted on

        I have been working in HMRC for 10 years and identify with the comments of SB. The comments of Terry shows how determined the system is to resist change. Our own tax payers think HMRC is a racist organisation. HMRC managers perpetuate racism with impunity because they know they will never be held to account. I resorted to the Tribunals where the Judges are also very racist. We have had several race champions who always assure us that things will change but never does. At this rate it will take 500 to see real change. If HMRC leaders really want change they should ask for an explanation from HR as to how 125 successful candidates for TP training non is from a Black (BAME). Practical change requires practical steps not lip service.

        • Replies to DAvid>

          Comment by A different Terry posted on

          Oh dear
          Terry, positive discrimination doesn't exist in the UK .It is unlawful . I am disappointed that this term is still being used in Civil Service forums,perhaps suggesting that its diversity training need improvement.
          DAvid, I work with Tribunal Judges,to say that they are all racist is a remarkable thing to say. If a Tribunal claim fails on usually finds that the weight of evidence is not sufficient . It is not racist to disagree with an assertion if it is not proven.
          Peter W, Would it help to suggest that there there are white male people in senior positions who could well be different to other white males due to social class or being from an underpriveleged background.

    • Replies to Terry>

      Comment by Mohammed Ahsan posted on

      OPPORTUNITIES for all to develop and grow makes our organisation great. To make ourselves greater we need to also remove OPPORTUNITIES available in our processes that potentially ALLOW us to discriminate. When a Civil Servant applies internally for a vacancy via Civil Service Jobs, their line manager receives an automated email stating that the candidate has stated that they have no outstanding formal action against them. If the line manager knows any different, they are to click on a link to say so. So far so good. Further down the page, it says that if the line manager is aware of anything else that makes the person unsuitable for the grade they are applying for, they are to click on the link to make a negative comment only. This is the problem. When the link is clicked on, an email is created that has in the subject line “Do not approve”. If the line manager says nothing in the email itself, it still causes that application to be withdrawn. For the sake of fairness, I hope that this facility is removed soon as it allows line managers to get an application withdrawn on the grounds of an opinion – and all opinions are influenced by some sort of bias. Most line managers will not use this facility. But because the facility is there, some line managers may or do use it and many applicants fear that this facility can harm them – and this is problematic. There are almost a million police officers in America who carry a firearm. Most don’t shoot innocent people. Some do – because they have the facility to do it. If someone is not suitable for a position, surely a good selection process will sift them out fairly.