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Opportunities for all – a diverse Civil Service

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As civil servants there is so much that we can all be proud of. Ours is an organisation that offers a tremendous variety of work, the opportunity for overseas travel and a career structure within which talented, hard-working individuals can really get ahead and make a difference.

We are also a diverse, vibrant organisation and I am adamant that both current and prospective civil servants feel that the opportunity to excel and to progress in the Civil Service is open to them.

A particular focus for me in recent weeks has been that of women in the Senior Civil Service. Last week I was delighted to make it along to the FDA’s Women into Leadership event, where I discussed what we’re doing to break down barriers to progression for women with BBC Woman’s Hour presenter, Jane Garvey. Last night, I was fortunate enough to be able to address the issue further in a speech at the Women in Property National Student Awards dinner.

On both occasions I was keen to stress that there are many reasons for us to be optimistic. Whereas women make up 15% of all directors across FTSE 100 companies, in the Civil Service 31.4% of top management posts are held by women. On current projections, our Senior Civil Service will be representative of the working population in the next ten years, compared to 70 for FTSE 100 companies.

We are making real progress and it is important that we recognise where it is taking place.

But I am not just interested in measuring our achievements in comparative terms; I am also interested in how we are doing in absolute terms. Since 1999 the number of ethnic minority civil servants has increased from 5.6% to around 9%, but at a senior level only 5% of civil servants are from a BME background. There are more female civil servants than there are male, yet this fact is not reflected when we look at positions of leadership.

For me, the message is clear: there can be no let-up in the enthusiasm with which we are promoting diversity at all levels of our organisation.

Initiatives designed to increase diversity across the Civil Service and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to excel are numerous and should be celebrated. The WIG Women’s Leadership Programme, for instance, is designed to help participants become more aware of their leadership style and their impact on others, whilst the Minister for Disabled People’s work on the Positive Action Pathway will go a long way towards equipping ethnic minority, disabled and female colleagues with the confidence to realise their full potential.

In the context of widespread reform, however, we must be resolute in ensuring that a smaller, more flexible civil service focused on delivery does not mean a less diverse organisation in which to work. We are operating in a challenging climate of change and this makes it more important than ever not to lose sight of the need to be able to draw upon the widest possible pool of talent irrespective of gender or background. This is why Jeremy and I wrote out to all permanent secretaries in May stressing the importance of promoting diversity and setting clear targets for improving representation in departments.

It is important that I, and every permanent secretary, continue to rise to the challenge. We must embrace open recruitment wherever possible, support departmental staff networks, encourage schemes that welcome in young people from diverse backgrounds (such as the Summer Diversity Internship programme, at which I recently spoke), promote flexible working across the organisation and visibly champion the success of under-represented elements of our workforce. I am also keen that colleagues – and future civil servants – have the opportunity to benefit from the great mentoring and coaching schemes already in place such as the META Growing Talent programme.

We have made progress but it is essential that we do not rest on our laurels – I am determined that despite our reducing size, we continue to make progress on becoming more diverse. The Civil Service that we are building should not only be more efficient, skilled and focused, but also an exemplar of diversity in which all employees are able to shine.

Ruth Owen will feature in the next #csuncovered Twitter chat on Thursday 26th September to discuss women, leadership and her role as Head of Profession for Operational Delivery.

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