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

Race to the Top G6/7 – a network success story

Bernadette Thompson and Anita Bhalla, Co-Chairs of the Race to the Top G67 Network, with their award at the Civil Service Diversity & Inclusion Awards event

In 2016, Anita Bhalla decided to set up a cross-government network, Race to the Top, connecting BAME civil servants in the grades (G6/7) immediately below the Senior Civil Service (SCS), aware that many of her peers felt undervalued. At the time, only approximately 4% of SCS were from ethnically diverse backgrounds (now, over 6%) highlighting the scale of the challenge in ensuring the Civil Service reflects the communities it serves at senior levels. Luckily, Anita knew just the right person to bring in as co-chair, having recently met Bernadette Thompson and seen her drive, passion and commitment to effect change.  

Both co-chairs considered the barriers to progression for BAME colleagues in the workplace and amplified these issues across the Civil Service to obtain more support for BAME talent. They specifically focused on preparing members for leadership at the next level, while helping colleagues strengthen links with senior leaders. More than 1,000 members are now connected in a thriving community of interest (a high proportion of the BAME colleagues at these grades). Hundreds of members routinely benefit from a wide array of programmes and events offering bespoke and tailored support.   

The network’s impact has been widely recognised internally and externally, winning a raft of awards. In 2019 it won the Public Sector Employee Network of the Year in the Employers Network for Equalities & Inclusion (enei) Awards, the Network Group category in the national Investing in Ethnicity Awards, and the Network Excellence Category in the Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Awards. This is all the more remarkable for resting on the collaborative effort of just two civil servants, on top of demanding day jobs.  

Key factors in the network’s success are:

    • Leadership in agreement: The level of partnership, co-operation and mutual respect between the co-chairs has been integral to success.
    • Clear aims and purpose: The network’s overarching aim is to help prepare members for leadership at the next levels, providing practical support and opportunities to directly engage with and learn from senior Civil Service leaders, including professional leads.  
    • High volume of activities and regular communication: Activities include regular networking events for members to strengthen links with peers and senior leaders, and training sessions to increase preparedness for senior leadership. Regular circulars keep members informed of programmes and wider developments, and the network maintains an active social media presence.  
    • Flagship programme and senior sponsorship: The network delivers the largest annual diversity initiative run by any government employee group. Each year, the BAME G6/7-SCS Shadowing Programme enables hundreds of members to shadow senior roles across government, including permanent secretaries, directors general and UK ambassadors overseas. Sponsorship of this programme by the Head of the Civil Service helped the network to establish credibility across government. More than 1,000 shadowing placements have been made.  
    • Access to senior leaders: The network gives members opportunities to directly share views and perspectives with senior leaders. This has included roundtable sessions with both the Head of the Civil Service and the Civil Service Chief Executive. It has also delivered sessions focusing on the leadership journeys of those members already in senior roles, to inform and inspire.
    • Partnership and collaboration: The network has established partnerships with organisations including the FDA civil servant union, the Institute for Government and various training providers. It also has ongoing relationships with thought leaders and experts in race and inclusion, and partners with departmental race networks to deliver programmes.   
    • Providing challenge and solutions: The network's Charter for Change sets out quick wins for departments/professions in increasing senior ethnic diversity by actively supporting and investing in their BAME SCS pipeline. This was circulated to senior Race Champions across government by the Civil Service Race Champion.  
    • Tailored support and focus on intersectionality: Hundreds of women have benefited from the network’s Women in Leadership Series. This brings BAME women together with senior women across sectors to discuss leadership and the complexities of intersectionality. The network also focuses on inspiring BAME men, with conferences on International Men’s Day.  
    • Establishing/supporting sub-groups: The network has established professional subgroups, allowing members to build stronger networks among peers and with senior leaders in their professions. It has also facilitated Action Learning Sets for those new to the G6/7 grade banding.
    • Inspiring the wider pipeline: The network is visible at key internal and external events contributing to the wider race inclusion debates. It also encourages and enables members to act as role models and mentors to BAME colleagues.  

"I am delighted we have been able to assist so many BAME colleagues and that so many senior leaders across the Civil Service have actively supported our work.  We are also grateful for the critical support of our ongoing partners underpinning successful programmes.  We will continue to maintain a resolute focus on supporting our members to thrive and succeed across government."

Anita Bhalla, Co-Chair, Race to the Top G6/7

"We set out to inspire our colleagues to reach the next levels. We could not be more pleased with the success achieved and with the ongoing engagement with senior leaders. We celebrate the success of those members who have secured more senior roles and will continue to offer our ardent support to members still making this transition."

Bernadette Thompson, Co-Chair, Race to the Top G6/7


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  1. Comment by Tahamina Khan posted on

    Your achievements with the Race to the Top G6/G7 network are impressive, even more so when I realised, you have no resources to draw on and have full-time jobs. What you have achieved through discretionary effort and commitment is truly inspirational.

    I have met some wonderful people through your network - alongside listening to and learning from a diverse array of leaders. Thank you so much for your altruistic efforts in supporting others within the civil service to fulfil their potential.

    It is an honour and privilege to know you Anita and Bernadette.


  2. Comment by Sean Davin posted on

    I am privileged to work with and be led by Bernadette and have worked with Anita too so feel qualified (for a change ?) to say the networks activity and reach is inspiring to witness and they have helped so many. I don't know how they do it holding down busy day jobs but my hat is off. Inspiration, passion and a very enviable contacts book .

  3. Comment by Nanjika Nasiiro posted on

    I was inspired by both Bernadette and Anita at the BAME into Leadership event earlier this year. Thank you for the work you do in leading the network and encouraging others.

  4. Comment by Lola Olojo posted on

    Fantastic work and great achievement, Bernadette and Anita. Not only were you able to raise the awareness of the limited representation of BAME in senior roles, your work has supported in helping the ladder ascent of many. Well done to you both.

  5. Comment by Oludade Alade posted on

    Thank you dearest Bernie and Anita for all you do. For speaking truth to power and your selfless ambitions to see yourselves and others succeed. You are both truly inspirational.

  6. Comment by Elaine Powell posted on

    Well done to you both. A shining example of what’s possible when committed to a cause bigger than yourself.

  7. Comment by Jean King posted on

    Fantastic blog and a brilliant Network, expertly led by Anita and Bernadette. There have been so many brilliant speakers, events and opportunities run or promoted by Race to the top which have all made a difference in driving the change agenda on diversity, both for individuals and the wider civil service.

    I continue to forward to the race to the top circulars and really appreciate the virtual events you have continued to organise during these difficult times

    Thank you both for all you do on this agenda!

  8. Comment by Shuhab Hamid posted on

    Well Done Ladies,

    A great achievement in the world of inclusion & diversity.

    Very well deserved...proud of you both.

  9. Comment by Jaswinder Kaur posted on

    Well done both for all your efforts and you deserve that award for bringing inclusion in diversity!

    Jaswinder Kaur

  10. Comment by Sanchia Brown posted on

    A fantastic achievement for Bernadette and Anita. Having worked within the D&I space for just over a year now, I recognise and appreciate how much dedication, hard-work and sacrifice goes in to chairing a very active cross-government network whilst holding down a day job! You both should be very proud of yourselves. Thank you for sharing your key factors for network success, as I will be drawing on this to encourage our own staff networks to consider and implement in support of their members.

  11. Comment by Rose Odudu posted on

    Well done Anita and Bernie. The success of the network is testament to your outstanding hard work, passion and dedication over the years within the diversity and inclusion agenda. You inspire so many to do better and be better. The impact of the G6/7 network has been felt across the civil service and has flourished across Whitehall.
    I feel more empowered to remove personal barriers and challenge myself more and more. THANK YOU!!

  12. Comment by Harsha Thaker posted on

    Congratulations! Excellent work, leadership, commitment and support for the BAME staff provided by Anita and Bernadette. Keep up the good work !

  13. Comment by Justin Placide posted on

    The Race To The Top G6/G7 Network has provided me with training, support, opportunities, and encouragement to progress. Having Bernadette and Anita as Co-Chairs, inspirations and informal mentors has changed my Civil Service career and my aspirations. They have helped me improve my engagement style, strategic thinking and policy development. They have achieved so much and have inspired so many BAME and non-BAME colleagues. They have both led by example, they work hard whether in their day jobs on for the Network. Finally they have always been their true authentic self whether they engaged with a security guard, junior grade or SCS grade. Thank you both 🙂

  14. Comment by Pat posted on

    Great job Anita and Bernadette - I enjoy being part of this great network. Keep up the amazing work!

  15. Comment by Patricia Gordon posted on

    Great work Anita and Bernadette - I've really benefited from being part of the network.

  16. Comment by Godfrey posted on

    Amazing blog! and congrats you both have done an amazing job leading the network! thank you for all your hard work!

    • Replies to Godfrey>

      Comment by Bernie Thompson posted on

      Thanks Godfrey for your kind words. It is always an honour and a privilege to make a change.

      In Alex Chisholm's words - “Diversity is a change agenda. It’s not a ‘carry on as we are’ agenda”