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Head of Civil Service explains why diversity and inclusion is a national security issue

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez March 26, 2019
Sir Mark Sedwill and the Cabinet Office have published a guide on why diversity and inclusion is a matter of national security and what organisations can do to help.

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The Cabinet Office and the Head of the Civil Service, Sir Mark Sedwill, have today published a new guide that explains why diversity and inclusion are a matter of national security, as well as sets out some simple and practical tools to helps staff become more inclusive.

We at diginomica/government like to think we are strong advocates of organisations reflecting on what they could be doing to become more representative of the people they serve, which is particularly pertinent for the public sector. What’s interesting is that the ‘Mission Critical’ guide that has been published today was written by a team of volunteers in junior roles across departments and is intended to be used by all staff, not just HR.

And whilst this isn’t a digital specific report, we believe that the lessons being learned on diversity and inclusion across all sectors should be considered and listened to.

In a foreword, Sir Mark Sedwill commented on the report and said:

“The current national security environment is more complex than ever before. We face multifaceted threats from many corners of the world, facilitated by rapidly evolving technologies. To meet these challenges, we need a national security workforce of different backgrounds, perspectives and ways of thinking. Diversity and inclusion are Mission Critical.

“Mission Critical is a suite of simple and practical tools to help staff be more inclusive. It draws on what we know works effectively, from both within and outside Government. It is a practical guide, so dip in and out of it when you’re looking for support.

“As a national security community, we need to be truly reflective of the diverse population that we serve. We have made progress, but there is more that we can do. I, and other senior leaders in national security, have committed to doing all we can to improving diversity and inclusion in the national security community. Mission Critical was written by a team of volunteers. I commend their excellent efforts in helping us to be more inclusive, and encourage you to play your part too.”

Why is this a national security matter?

The ‘Mission Critical’ report outlines five key reasons as to why diversity, inclusion and equality are central to the success of national security in Britain. These include:

  • Performance - The report highlights research which supports the view that diversity and inclusion underpin business success e.g. ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform competitors.
  • Recruitment - The National Security sector is competing for employees from other sectors and having an inclusive and diverse workplace can make the National Security sector more attractive to potential candidates. It notes that diversity and inclusion can also improve employee engagement and retention, reducing the need to recruit.
  • Innovation (reducing groupthink) - Bringing together a wide range of perspectives and working styles generates more varied ideas and solutions than working as a homogenous group. For example, a study by Tufts University found that when set a problem solving task, diverse groups of average individuals outperformed groups of people who are individually good at problem solving. It’s easy to understand why that might be valuable to the National Security sector.
  • Understanding - The report notes that in the National Security sector, success often depends upon engaging a range of people from different backgrounds and cultures and understanding is “vital”.
  • Trust - A more diverse and inclusive workforce could help to improve public trust in the National Security sector amongst minority communities.

The tools

As noted above, the report and tools within it aren’t just for HR managers considering diversity and inclusion, but can be used by anyone as part of any team to proactively think about and change what their team looks like and how it operates.

The report breaks down a number of different approaches, techniques and pushes thinking on areas that include:

  • Education on the barriers that minorities face, as well as raising cultural awareness.
  • Recognising unconscious bias
  • The importance of challenging inappropriate behaviour
  • Establishing and making use of networks/peer support groups
  • Encouraging diversity of thought
  • Insisting on inclusive consultation
  • The importance of becoming an ally
  • Volunteering to support inclusion - including mentoring/reverse mentoring
  • Talking about inclusion and diversity
  • Inclusive recruitment
  • Thinking about diversity as part of performance management

My take

This stuff isn’t easy but it’s critically important - and it’s great to see the Cabinet Office and the Head of the Civil Service placing diversity and inclusion at the centre of the national agenda. Organisations that represent the people they serve will not only outperform other organisations, but they will make a real difference to people’s’ lives. There’s some really useful advice/guidance/tools in this report and it deserves to be read in full.

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