Skip to main content
Civil Service

This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

Inclusive leadership – building disability confidence

Philip Rutnam, Perm Secretary for the Department for Transport and Civil Service Disability Champion
Philip Rutnam, Permanent Secretary for the Department for Transport, and Civil Service Disability Champion

At the summer’s Civil Service Live events, John Manzoni set out our vision for ‘'A Brilliant Civil Service’ capable of serving modern Britain, that reflects the people we serve and attracts the best talent from a diverse range of backgrounds.

This means moving away from the traditional hierarchical style of a leader surrounded by like-minded people and instead embracing ‘inclusive leadership’ where difference of thought is actively sought and valued.

There is a research-based theory known as the ‘magic ratio 5:1’. This explains that for a relationship to be successful, every negative remark or behaviour needs to be balanced by 5 positive interactions. Further research has shown this to be equally valid in high-performing teams. Excellent teams have a positive/negative ‘magic ratio’ of 5:1, average teams have a ratio of 3:1 and failing teams a negative ratio of 1:3.

You may want to think about the relationships you have with those around you in the workplace. What is your ratio of positive to negative interactions with colleagues, and are there certain people where you fall short of the ‘magic ratio’ and need to try harder?

How to be more inclusive

'Effective Leaders' logoSo, how can you become a more inclusive leader? If you subscribe to the magic ratio  theory, positive gestures such as smiling at colleagues, actively listening, saying thank you and asking about their weekend can make a huge difference.

You could take a conscious risk by allocating a challenging piece of work to someone whose potential you have not previously recognised, or seek advice from someone not in your team or close circle when taking a key decision. If you chair meetings or conference calls, inclusive leadership could simply be ensuring that you give everyone the opportunity to contribute to the discussion, or if you are unaware of your biases, you may benefit from unconscious bias training.

Another way for everyone to demonstrate inclusive leadership could be to take steps to become more disability confident. As the Civil Service Disability Champion, I am often told by disabled people that line managers and colleagues with disability awareness can make a great difference to their working lives.

Disability confident

National Inclusion Week logoDuring National Inclusion Week we are launching a campaign to publicise a number of new developments to assist everyone, including line managers, in increasing their disability confidence.

We are developing a series of ‘disability confident videos’ for release in November, which feature civil servants from around the country talking openly about the impact of their disability and sharing insights and tips on what has helped them in the workplace.The videos cover a range of issues, including acquired disabilities, hearing and visual impairments, learning disabilities and mental health.

We will also be releasing new Workplace Adjustments Guidance for line managers and will be re-launching an updated adjustment passport to help staff and line managers to have workplace adjustment conversations.

Some of you may be aware that a new Disability Confident Scheme has been launched to support the Government’s commitment to halve the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people. It will help us to make the most of the opportunities provided by employing disabled people, with a framework to identify and remove barriers, embed best practice and create a culture in which disabled colleagues are able to fulfil their potential.

Finally, I am delighted to announce that in November all government departments will formally sign up to this new Disability Confident Scheme, showing their commitment to supporting disabled colleagues right across the Civil Service.  

Follow Philip on Twitter: @PhilipRutnam.

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by L Boulton posted on

    Building Disability Confidence within the civil service is an excellent idea. It would encourage managers / colleagues to understand more about staff with disabilities and recognise effectively how potential can be reached. This is a subject I feel very passionate about, I am eager to use my passion to support those with disabilities. On Civil Service Learning, there are a range of courses that are very useful and informative that would help promote understanding, in particular the Disability Awareness one. Perhaps if this could be made mandatory for all staff it would provide insight into different disabilities and help colleagues / managers identify suitable support mechanisms. In turn, this would contribute to improved sickness levels.

    • Replies to L Boulton>

      Comment by Philip Rutnam posted on

      L Boulton - I share your view that we need to increase line managers' and others' disability awareness. We have just refreshed the disability awareness learning offer to include a suite of disability confident videos of actual civil servants talking about their specific disabilities. We will be launching a communications campaign in the New Year, encouraging line managers to complete the learning. We currently have two mandatory D&I learning products; Equality and Diversity Essentials and Unconscious Bias, and keep this under constant review.

  2. Comment by Andrea Dickson posted on

    Another way of promoting inclusive leadership is to promote disabled people to leadership roles. This would be a real visible way of showing that disabled people are just if not more capable than everyone else and being disabled is 'normal' and not something to be that needs to be singled out for special treatment.

    • Replies to Andrea Dickson>

      Comment by Philip Rutnam posted on

      Andrea - I agree that we need to build a talent pipeline of disabled colleagues into senior leadership roles. This is why I have afforded high priority to ensuring that disabled colleagues are well represented on mainstream talent programmes, such as FLS/SLS etc. and on positive action programmes such as the Positive Action Pathway.