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Civil Service

'Inclusive by instinct' - the goal of Civil Service diversity

Posted by: and , Posted on: - Categories: Diversity and inclusion
Photo of Susie Owen (l) and Deborah Brooks at their desk in the Cabinet Office
Susie Owen (left) and Deborah Brooks at their desk in the Cabinet Office

We are about to say goodbye to our joint role as Deputy Directors for Civil Service Diversity & Inclusion. Before we leave we wanted to reflect on what we have learnt from this immensely challenging and rewarding role, and to share our reflections on what diversity and inclusion really means and how we will know when we’ve achieved it.

The Talent Action Plan published in September 2014 highlighted the importance of everyone in the Civil Service being able to reach their potential, whoever they are. Since then, our focus has been identifying the barriers that stop people succeeding, and then on removing them. Last week, we published the TAP progress update and a new plan for increasing social mobility in the Civil Service. We are proud of these documents and the actions they contain, but we also know that we cannot rely on printed words to deliver lasting change.

“Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words”

This quotation, sometimes attributed to Francis of Assisi, sums up very neatly how we feel about the quest for true inclusion, and why lofty ambitions so often fall short. What it tells us is that it is never enough to just tell people what to do and what to believe – they will always watch and learn from what you are doing, not what you are saying.

True inclusion won’t come from strategies or plans or speeches (and believe us – we’ve written a lot of those), but from individuals making different decisions on a regular basis about: who they hire; who they mentor; who they promote; and who they ask to be on panels and decision-making boards.

In a way, this is refreshing, because it is something we can all do. We can all look at who we recruit to work with us, who we mentor, who we sponsor. When we call meetings we can all think about who is in the room and who isn’t. When we are forming interview panels we can ask ourselves whether the panel is well placed to make an inclusive decision or whether we should ask someone else with a different perspective to join. We can ask ourselves when organising events whether the panels are diverse and representative of the audience coming to see them. And if we see that this isn’t happening, all of us can ask, “why not?”

Common sense

There are many reasons why getting diversity and inclusion right is important, but, for us as civil servants, we think it is essential because the work we do touches every individual in the country. We must always question if the right people are in the room to design policy or make decisions about service delivery. It is common sense that a team designing policy that impacts on disabled people would benefit from having someone in the team with a disability who can bring insight; or that a team designing an intervention to address radicalisation would benefit from having someone who understands the communities most vulnerable to it. We should always check and ask ourselves if the team we have recruited is the best one to serve the public. We should do this as instinctively as we check that we have people with the right skills.

Sometimes when blogs like this are written, someone will post a question such as: “What about me, I am a 50-year-old white man and no one makes policies to support me?”

We understand why this gets asked. But for us, this is a misunderstanding of what the Civil Service is trying to achieve. That’s why we’ve learnt that it is as important to talk about inclusion as it is about diversity. We’re all diverse in our own way. But diversity without inclusion is as useless as inclusion without diversity. Inclusion means that everyone should be enabled to succeed, whoever they are. It focuses on removing barriers for all colleagues – older members of staff, those with disabilities, BAME staff, LGB&Ti staff – anyone who feels that there is something holding them back from succeeding.

Leading the way

Together, we are moving as a job share to the Department for Education, where we will continue to champion inclusion. We are proud to work in an organisation that is leading the way on flexible working, and that has enabled us to take on two stretching roles as a job share.

As for embedding Diversity & Inclusion across the Civil Service, we will have succeeded when we are ‘inclusive by instinct’  when we all look at our own behaviour and ask ourselves if we are being inclusive; when we look at our internal and external policies and check to see if they are inclusive right from their inception. And when we know that, if we forget, we can rely on someone reminding us.

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  1. Comment by AB posted on

    I applaud the idea of 'inclusive by instinct', but I think we have a long way to go in really removing the barriers to disabled people in the civil service. Speaking as a wheelchair user who has worked in several Departments and organisations I think there is simply a huge lack of knowledge about disability which leads to people being excluded due to a lack of thought, as well as the physical barriers of inaccessible offices. Only last week I heard of a wheelchair user having to turn down a post he was offered because the building was not accessible to him. 20 years on from the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act things are much much better than they were but still not what I hear those at the top aspire to.

  2. Comment by SR posted on

    As with other posters here I was unaware of the diversity champions and the work they have produced. As a civil servant with a disability (caused by sustaining a work injury fulfilling an arrest duty) I am well placed to speak of exclusion and bullying since my injury. I would dearly like to see a civil service policy that all allegations of bullying would be fully investigated by an independent office, and those found guilty are personally held to account for there actions. Only then will bullying on the grounds of disability cease.

  3. Comment by another Terry posted on

    "What you're advocating is giving jobs to the second best simply by virtue of whatever politically correct criteria happen to be flavour of the month (or should that be decade)"

    Your assertion seems to be a misinterpretation of the policy. Such actions would naturally be wholly unreasonable and indeed unlawful. I don't see the article suggesting that employers or managers should act in a way that would impinge on equality or employment law.

  4. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Susie and Deborah, Thank you for your support in respect of the Diversity. As someone who has worked in Whitehall for the last 25 years, the environment for LGBT Staff to be authentic and the opportunities for BAME colleagues and those who might have a disability has improved. However, as the outcome of TAP 2016 highlights, there is still very much that the Civil Service needs to do and in particular in regards to the make up at Senior Level. I am however optimistic that with the right level of focus and discussion, we will continue to see improvement in terms of inclusion. I wish you both well. Regards, Gavin Thomas

  5. Comment by Ricardo Klement posted on

    I find the whole idea of inclusive by instinct absolutely terrible. You say " True inclusion won’t come from strategies or plans or speeches (and believe us – we’ve written a lot of those), but from individuals making different decisions on a regular basis about: who they hire; who they mentor; who they promote; and who they ask to be on panels and decision-making boards."
    If this isn't discrimination, then I don't know what is. The Civil Service should be colour blind, gender neutral and employ only the best people on merit alone. What you're advocating is giving jobs to the second best simply by virtue of whatever politically correct criteria happen to be flavour of the month (or should that be decade) Let's get back to basics and forget all these stupid strategies and employ people on merit alone.

    • Replies to Ricardo Klement>

      Comment by Clare posted on

      But people don't currently always make decisions on the basis of merit. If they did, a broader range of people would be seen in all types of posts. Therefore the changes in hiring practice would be to even things out for those candidates who may currently be judged for their skin colour, gender or other irrelevant characteristics. People aren't necessarily aware of these biases (hence the focus on unconscious bias) so they don't necessarily realise that this is why a person from an underrepresented population didn't get the job they want.

      This is absolutely not about political correctness- it's illegal to promote someone simply based on their race/gender/sexuality etc.

  6. Comment by Joe posted on

    Aiming for diversity is a great ideal, but all departments should realise there are a variety of diversity aspects which need to be taken into account, not just age, gender, race, disabilities etc, but also regionalism.
    Closing of regional offices such as those of HMRC and BIS in Sheffield decreases the regional footprint of the civil service and decreases regional diversity and the talent pool from which civil servants can be drawn.

  7. Comment by keith Lebihan posted on

    Interesting article but what business doesn't want to recruit and retain the best staff to achieve their objective and in a team people bring different. Skills,strenghts and weaknesses. When one recruits staff one is looking for to fill those gaps in the caperbility.

  8. Comment by Mark Thomson posted on

    Hi - I think one of the unrecognised areas - that perhaps my lead your hypothetical 50 year old white male to say 'what about me' is class. Very clear from education performance measures that white working class boys are not doing well at schools and that gets them off to a poor start in terms of career.

    I think the Civil Service does try hard to be diverse and inclusive - I'm sure we can do more too - but work has enriched my experience of life by getting me to mingle with people from different religious, and ethnic backgrounds as well as the disabled.

    • Replies to Mark Thomson>

      Comment by S posted on

      Absolutely, and I think they are now trying to start using "social mobility" as another indicator of measurement. The difficulty is class is so hard to pin down these days. Some people come from a traditionally middle class background (in terms of values and experiences) but financially fall on hard times and live in quite poor circumstances. This is now the reality for me and my daughter. Others may be brought up in relative material wealth but earned from manual trades, and still lack the connections, education and experiences that give the middle classes the often stated advantages over the working classes when climbing the ladder. Also, as has been pointed out before on these blogs, some people tar all Oxbridge graduates with a "privileged" brush when some have got the from working class backgrounds and hard work.

      All very difficult to categorise!

  9. Comment by Mark posted on

    If you both are leaving the post, who will repalce you?
    How will/have they been selected?

    • Replies to Mark>

      Comment by Clare posted on

      It presumably works much the same way as any other SCS PB1 post- there will be a competition. The job may or may not be another job share. If it's another job share, both of those who would share the post have to pass the sift and interview process. Alternatively, it could go to a single full time candidate.

  10. Comment by Alison Jones posted on

    I think what you have said in your blog is really good and makes perfect sense; however, I am a disabled person and I am only learning of your existence when you are about to leave your role! Why is that? Shame really...

  11. Comment by Heather posted on

    Good work ladies, and good luck in your new role!

  12. Comment by Steve Martin posted on

    Thanks for a thought provoking piece. Good luck to both of you in your new role.

  13. Comment by Neil posted on

    In regards to the '50 year old white male' I am that person so I can personally say that when my colleagues and I see all the other support groups (which are good) for the various diverse sections of our community, I get the feeling of exclusion and not inclusion in a lot areas of my work. This then segregates a section of the working community which in the end defeats the purpose of diversity and inclusion.

    • Replies to Neil>

      Comment by S posted on

      I think the point that is often missed in these comments is that on a statistical level, overall, the "50 year old white male" category already have all the advantages, i.e.being massively over represented in promotions and at higher grades and whatnot. Of course, that might not be your individual experience, but we're speaking statistically. THAT is why the support groups are needed for the inclusion of other categories of people, to level the playing field. The 50 year old white males have had things stacked in their favour for a long time. You don't need support groups and so on. But no one is stopping you self-organising if you want one.

      • Replies to S>

        Comment by Jim posted on

        I think the point that's always missed is that white males are also over-represented at the bottom as well as the top.

        For example - the Civil Service stubbornly refuses to address the issue of why men are much more likely to get a 'must improve' than women.

        But hey, let's be thankful that you've openly admitted that "you've had it too good for too long, Mr. White Male" is the real motivation here. Never mind that said white male could have come from a poor background and fought his way up... let's just judge him on his skin colour and gender.

  14. Comment by Charlotte Smith posted on

    There is still an awful lot that needs to be done before we can say diversity and inclusion can be hailed as a success in the Civil Service. We need to re-exammine the PDS/Disciplinary appeals system for starters. We also need to stamp out bullying that is still taking place. I have personally experienced it myself unfortunately, and it did relate to my disabilities. We need to move away from so called "following procedures" and look at what the bullying was, how it could be prevented and taking action against those that are hiding behind "procedures" and getting away with their actions.

    I hope these are issues that will be given serious consideration and looked at properly. Because one day failure to help people facing insideous and underhand bullying will end in tears.

    • Replies to Charlotte Smith>

      Comment by LITTLE LONDONER posted on

      Totally agree 200% with you Charlotte over bullying which is practised openly here, with lots of unnecessary long screwdrivering and loss of temper over trivial things despite the top of shop saying at briefings every few months that there's no place for that kind of behaviour. Trouble is, it takes an extremely scarce commodity known as backbone to tackle bullying, and since this is lacking, perpetrators will argue the hind leg off a donkey over what constitues bullying.