I’m Tunde Olayinka, currently the Deputy Director for Integration within the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. I say 'currently' as I’m about to rejoin Kensington and Chelsea Council as their Director for Communities.
I write this in the midst of witnessing the Civil Service’s unprecedented coronavirus response. And I don’t use the word ‘unprecedented’ lightly. I worked on both Grenfell and Yellowhammer, and during that time I was consistently inspired by civil servants’ dedication, which bodes well for this (perhaps our greatest) challenge.
This is the Year of Inclusion. I remember back in 2015 when I was part of the team that proposed the ambition for the Civil Service to be the most inclusive employer by 2020. We’ve made good progress. However, if Diversity & Inclusion 101 is characterised by compliance with equality laws; 102 by supporting staff networks, celebrating diversity and changing some processes and practice; and 103 by being embedded into all areas of our business; then we’re somewhere in the 102 space. Some departments can arguably claim to be at the top end.
Changing the game
So what are the game changers needed to move us into 103 territory? I have been fortunate to have a somewhat unique experience as a black non-career civil servant, who worked on cross-Whitehall diversity and inclusion strategy and subsequently led on a government policy area as a Senior Civil Service (SCS) member. It is this experience that has led me to a couple of reflections.
My first focuses on how the Civil Service views the setting of inclusion objectives, especially for the SCS. We are trying to get better consistency and make those objectives SMARTer. Also, after many years of our leaders having discretion over choosing their own objectives, we are rightly examining this approach. After all, we would never dream of allowing complete discretion over objectives of other non-negotiable priorities like commercial or finance.
I believe we need to replicate how objectives are set in other areas of functional leadership, inclusive of evidencing their successful completion. If this leads to an inclusion version of the Green Book or Managing Public Money, then that can only be a good thing. For something this important, guidance is needed to make sure leaders are supported in meeting the unique challenges faced within their respective areas of work.
My other reflection focuses on how the Civil Service views the policy profession (in which I include ministerial private offices).
We’re all familiar with the business case for diversity – having people who reflect the different perspectives of the nation leads to more effective decision-making. This case is especially acute within policy. Indeed, the advice given by policy professionals often goes on to form the nation’s operating system. To ensure that as many perspectives as possible are considered, it’s important that our profession not only seeks diversity with regard to the background and characteristics of its people, but also their life and work experiences.
The "sort of person"
I can’t honestly say that was always the case with me during my journey to becoming an SCS policy leader. I found that my background of developing and delivering policies within local areas appeared to be a tangible block. There seemed to be an assumption that unless I had come up through the ranks – with the Fast Stream being seen as a particular preference – I would not be able to make the ‘jump up’. Indeed, more than one director explained to me that they were unsure whether I was the “sort of person” they could put in front of a minister.
Yet when I eventually made it, I found that ministers were very interested in how I had helped to reduce unemployment and school exclusions locally, or improved health outcomes and civic participation. It gave me an authenticity that opened the way for honest dialogue and confident policy advice.
In short, it’s not just important that the full benefits of diversity are leveraged in this space – it is essential. We need an operating system that leaves no communities or places behind.
My first task in Kensington and Chelsea will be to deliver the Government’s policies on shielding the vulnerable from coronavirus. I will be honoured to do so, knowing how hard my soon-to-be-former colleagues have worked to produce guidance.
In the future, I hope to come back to the Civil Service, bringing with me the experiences I gain in Kensington and Chelsea. I’m quietly optimistic that, by then, we will be the most inclusive employer, in every area, in every way.