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Civil Service

Our difference is what makes us strong

In Black History Month, Shakira Keddo says it’s time to cast off outdated assumptions and be ourselves.

Portrait image of Shakira Keddo
Shakira Keddo

As HR Business Partner to Civil Service HR, and now moving to a Deputy Director role at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, I have a diverse and demanding job. I help our senior management team lead and support their staff and I’m the main liaison point between them and the rest of the business.

I’m also a member of the Civil Service ethnic minority community. Black History Month is important to me because it puts the spotlight on how the black community came to Britain and the many things we’ve achieved. My grandmother arrived here 70 years ago as part of the Windrush generation and she, like many others, made a big contribution to society. I want people to understand the contribution our whole community has made, and continues to make, especially in large cities like Manchester and London. Taking part in Black History Month events helps us all understand the things we can do to make a difference.

People still find it difficult to talk about race. It can be challenging to talk openly about our differences. But the more we acknowledge those differences the easier it will become, and the more we will also be able to acknowledge the things we have in common. It’s so important for all of us to be comfortable in our own skin and able to be ourselves at home and at work. Difference can be a positive thing. It makes us stronger.

The Government has announced that 22 June will be national Windrush Day, which is a big step in the right direction. But although things are changing for the better, ethnic minorities still come up against unconscious bias. People make assumptions about you before you’ve opened your mouth, even if they don’t do it consciously. So it’s important to keep talking, to keep calling it out. Black History Month is another opportunity to have a conversation and to learn from each other.

Shakira Keddo and Rupert McNeil
Shakira Keddo and Rupert McNeil

I’ve been in the Civil Service for nine years, but it’s during the last two years that I’ve seen the most change. There’s a stronger drive to ensure that ethnic minority communities are represented at every level of the Civil Service, in particular in the senior leadership. We have more colleagues from the ethnic minorities on interview panels and as assessors at Fast Stream assessment centres. Civil Service leaders have been made more accountable for ensuring recruitment and promotion are fair and open. And this month the Civil Service signed up to the Race at Work charter, a new initiative designed to improve outcomes for employees from ethnic minorities in the UK.

It’s great to see Black History Month being celebrated across the Civil Service. While some parts of the organisation have come further than others, there’s a continued push for improvement, which can only be a good thing.

We need to listen to the voices of our colleagues from ethnic minorities, says Government Chief People Officer Rupert McNeil

Head and shoulders shot of Rupert McNeil
Rupert McNeil, Government Chief People Officer

Black History Month is another milestone in the Civil Service's journey to become the UK’s most inclusive employer by 2020. But far more than that, it gives our ethnic minority communities a platform for sharing their stories and voicing their experiences, frustrations and hopes.

I’m pleased and privileged to be sharing this platform with Shakira Keddo, a much-valued member of the Civil Service HR team and HR profession.

Shakira Keddo and Rupert McNeil
Shakira Keddo and Rupert McNeil

Real inclusion means accepting all our colleagues for who they are without sweeping differences under the carpet. It also means taking deliberate steps to create an environment where everyone can reach their full potential, regardless of background. We’re not where we need to be yet. And that’s why I’ve committed to improving ethnic diversity at every level of the Civil Service. Our Ethnic Diversity Programme  (EDP) is focusing on supporting this ambition through a series of activities, such as mentoring, positive role models, identifying barriers and working towards eliminating them, and raising awareness of the business benefits of diversity to all.

We’re getting closer every day to achieving our ambition of doubling the present representation of ethnic minority staff in senior leadership roles by 2025.

Composite image: close up of speaker at conference; and long shot from back of him speaking
Rupert McNeil speaking at a recent BAME into Leadership event

Graphic with legend 'A great place to work'Black History Month is a timely reminder of what those from ethnic minorities have given to this country and to the Civil Service. It’s an opportunity for us to reflect on the the rich history of the UK and appreciate the great contributions of civil servants from all backgrounds in shaping a Brilliant Civil Service.

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  1. Comment by Dean posted on

    "People make assumptions about you before you’ve opened your mouth, even if they don’t do it consciously. So it’s important to keep talking, to keep calling it out."

    This resonates with me. I feel that when you're misunderstood because of something fundamental about your self like race, it affects your emotional well-being.

  2. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Thank you Shakira for sharing with us your story. I would very much agree that whilst the situation for BAME staff has improved, there are still some issues that need to resolved and in particular the perception of some about BAME members of staff and how this impacting on future career paths.

    Anyway, for now we should at least celebrate the significant progress that has been made.

  3. Comment by Shuhab Hamid posted on

    Well Done Shakira...

  4. Comment by Joy posted on

    Great blog Shakira .

  5. Comment by Bunmi posted on

    Great blog. Good to see that there is a lot of work going on in the civil service on diversity.
    Congratulations on your new role.

  6. Comment by Jo P posted on

    Well done Shakira, and great blog!

  7. Comment by Mara posted on

    Im not black but Irish and white or black British people ignore at their risk the value Irish people have given to British society

  8. Comment by Kuljit Dhillon posted on

    Excellent blog Shakira and congrats on the well deserved promotion

  9. Comment by James Chan posted on

    The 80th anniversary of declaring the Second World War in 2019 would be a great theme on which to focus a future 'Black History Month'. It would be a superb opportunity to widen awareness of role models that served Britain’s war effort, during the greatest existential threat in its history. Nothing exemplifies national identity more than our Armed Forces and their self-sacrifice. That be bring to public attention, inspirational stories of heroism that are persistently overlooked by the mainstream media. There are immense opportunities to engage with historians, War and Strategic Studies academics, Defence think tanks and community groups to that end. It is time for a comprehensive study, which I hope the MOD could sponsor, to gather a strong evidence base on and to publicise, as to what ethnic communities and their colonial descendants have contributed to our Defence and global security.

  10. Comment by Dilip Bhatt posted on

    Very good article, inclusion is a key element. Our dIfferences add value,

  11. Comment by Beverley Keddo posted on

    Excellent piece

  12. Comment by Roxanne posted on

    Excellent blog Shakira and many congratulations on your promotion!!!!!

  13. Comment by Marlene Johnson posted on

    Great article Shakira. Raising even more awareness and keeping it real. Very proud of you.

  14. Comment by Kimberley Adderley posted on

    Really interesting read Shakira!

  15. Comment by Judith Sochor posted on

    Very interesting! Judy