As we have noted time and time again, diversity shouldn’t be perceived as some liberal agenda that government is trying to pander to. It’s important to ensure that citizens benefit from policy and receive services that reflect their needs. Inclusive and balanced thinking enables delivery that reflects society as a whole.
However, more needs to be done. Late last week the government published its Action Plan to improve diversity in public appointments – it didn’t receive much media attention, likely because of the Brexit chaos that was taking place, but it’s an important document that lays out significant ambitions for the future.
It notes that gender equality in public appointments has improved over the past two years, as has appointments from different ethnic backgrounds, but more still needs to be done. The document also sets out a plan for the future, laying out a number of priorities.
Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed the work. She said:
The role of public bodies in supporting the work of the Government cannot be underestimated and ensuring the boards of these organisations accurately reflect 21st century Britain is key to their success. That is why I fully support this Action Plan and am committed to working with my cabinet and other colleagues to increase the breadth of talent taking on these roles.
In 2013, Government set an aspiration that 50% of new public appointments made each year should go to women. Progress has been made, with 49% of the 1,275 new appointments made in 2016/17 going to women, up from 34% in 2011/12. However, of appointees currently in post, only 43% are currently female.
And currently only 10% of positions are held by ethnic minorities.
The Action Plan states that the government wants 50% of all public appointees to be female and 14% from ethnic minorities (up from 10%), by 2022, bringing representation in line with the resident population in England and Wales.
It notes, however, that its record on attracting disabled people into public appointments is weak and that further work needs to be done as “a matter of urgency” to better understand the barriers and what is needed to address them.
Chris Skidmore MP, Minister for the Constitution, launched the Action Plan and noted the importance of the work lying ahead for diversity in government. He said:
Diversity of thought, background and experience is imperative to the success of our public services. There is no question that we need to attract the brightest and the best as we continue to build a Britain that is open, fair and works for everyone.
Diversity on the boards of the public organisations which run, regulate and support our public services strengthens them. It brings in new perspectives and constructive challenge on our approach to delivery, helps us understand our service users and provides access to knowledge and experience from sectors beyond government.
We recognise that acknowledging the benefits of diversity and actually changing the way we work to achieve diversity are not the same. We must be proactive and make ‘best practice’ common practice.
To do this, we need to ensure that there is a culture shift from experience to ability and that the process is open and fair. I am determined that potential candidates should not find an insurmountable barrier resulting from a daunting applications process.
It’s worth noting that companies in the private sector that take diversity seriously also outperform their competitors. The Action Plan notes that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have above average financial returns and companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have above financial returns.
The Action Plan also lays out the government’s commitments to diversity, what it plans to do over the coming years to improve its representation. These include:
- Setting an ambition that 50% of all public appointees are female and 14% are from ethnic minorities by 2022.
- Commissioning a review of the barriers preventing disabled people taking up public appointments to report in Summer 2018.
- Continuing to work with departments across Whitehall to improve the recruitment processes and maximise opportunities for candidates from the broadest range of backgrounds.
- Increasing the visibility of appointees from underrepresented groups through outreach, events and social media and develop networks through which we raise awareness of public appointments and provide support for candidates.
- Departments will continue work with chairs to improve succession planning.
• Consider whether further guidance is required for government departments who use executive search firms for public appointment campaigns.
- Work with departments to establish a group of mentors, by Spring 2018 who will provide peer-to-peer support for new and high potential candidates.
- Develop and implement an Inclusive Boards Charter which will set standards for inclusive Chairs and their boards, with a supporting toolkit, by Autumn 2018.
- Continue to improve the way we gather and report on diversity data each year. Departments will also report on the diversity of their regulated public appointments in their annual departmental plans.
- To oversee delivery of these commitments at a department level, the Minister for the Constitution has established a network of Ministerial Diversity Champions.
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