How to Accelerate BAME staff into Senior Civil Service Leadership

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The civil service aims to become the UK’s most inclusive employer by 2020. Their 2017 diversity and inclusion strategy A Brilliant Civil Service articulates this bold vision:

“We want all civil servants to feel that they can be themselves at work, valued for the distinct perspective that they bring, and able to go as far as their talents will take them – irrespective of their sex, gender, identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, faith, age or socioeconomic background.”

Research shows diversity encourages value creation, challenges groupthink, drives innovation and ensures decision-making aligns with the needs of the community. Yet only 5.2% of current Senior Civil Servants (SCS) are an ethnic minority.

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According to The Green Park Leadership 10,000 2017 report, FTSE 100 companies are doing a little better than the UK Civil Service. Looking at ethnic representation in senior roles by sector, it is clear Health and Consumer Goods are leading the field with 15.3% and 11.7% BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) representation respectively.

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According to the Office for National Statistics, approximately 64.6 million people live in the UK. In mid-2014, 12.8% were BAME. If the UK government wants to create a senior civil service team that truly reflects the communities they serve, then at least 12.8% of senior civil servants must  identify as BAME.

A Brilliant Civil Service outlines seven Ethnic Diversity Programme Priorities to build a sustainable talent pipeline for the future:

  1. Demonstrate commitment to becoming the most inclusive employer by 2020 and role model leadership on race equality

  2. Provide assurance, accountability for progress and establish a benchmarking tool

  3. Build ethnic diversity throughout the talent pipeline

  4. Recognise and capitalise on the value of staff networks to business delivery

  5. Provide a centre of expertise, innovation and best practice on increasing ethnic minority representation

  6. Increase data transparency and opportunities for innovative approaches to increasing ethnic minority representation

  7. Amplify the strategic impact of visible ethnic minority leadership

Accelerating development

A 2014 report into the barriers preventing BAME staff progression in the civil service found that cultural and leadership conditions are the main obstacles.

The qualitative survey of more than 200 BAME staff at all levels, reported staff do not feel they work for an organisation that is open, fair and inclusive. Lack of BAME role models at senior civil service levels is disheartening for those who want to progress in the civil service. According to the survey, many feel progression occurs only if their ‘face fits’. This bias is undermining the government's vision to become the most inclusive workforce in the UK.

The Civil Service Race Forum is calling on senior leaders to offer more mentoring and sponsorship to BAME colleagues.

Democratising career development

WERKIN’s tech-enabled mentoring platform democratises peer-to-peer learning and development. Team members create digital profiles of their skills, experience and achievements. Algorithms impartially match employees with mentors, stretch assignments and multi-disciplinary teams. Taking human instinct out of the mentoring process reduces unconscious and conscious bias.

Studies show that unconscious bias training doesn’t work. The human brain is inherently biased. According to Dr Iris Bohnet, a Harvard behavioural economist, the only way to support the development of underrepresented groups in the workplace is to change systems and processes.

There is no doubt the UK government is committed to building an inclusive workforce with ethnic representation at the highest levels. However, implementation of their priorities could be more consistent, coordinated and driven. Otherwise, talented BAME staff will leave and find work elsewhere. Advances in technology can embed best practice mentoring into the daily activities of the civil service. WERKIN can democratise mentoring and measure and report outcomes. If the UK’s civil service wants to double its ethnic representation at the senior civil service level by 2020, then they must consider research-based innovations that reduce bias and amplify career development for future BAME senior civil servants.