Comment Blog 24 April, 2019

Diversity and Inclusion: How Smarter Working can help level the playing field

Fundamental transformation of the way the Civil Service approaches how people and organisations work has been at the heart of the Cabinet Office’s The Way We Work (TW3) programme. Launched in 2004, TW3 has pioneered Smarter Working, an approach to organising work that maximises flexibility, autonomy and collaboration. This model has gone from rhetoric to reality, with government departments now making these principles part of their everyday practice. From reducing their estate footprint to exploiting new technologies, work is underway across government to make workplaces more effective and public services more productive. However, Smarter Working is not only about increasing efficiency, but about making workplaces as inclusive as they can be.

Speaking at a Reform event last week, Chief Executive of the Civil Service John Manzoni argued that in order to attract and retain a diverse pool of external talent, diversity must become embedded into the very fabric of the Civil Service’s organisational culture.

The most recent data about the state of diversity in the Civil Service provides a mixed picture. The talent pool is becoming more diverse, with the percentage of women in the civil service rising steadily since 2010, and currently at 53.3 per cent. Representation of ethnic minorities and civil servants with disabilities has also improved, however these groups only make up 12.8 per cent and 13.1 per cent of the service respectively.

As pointed out by Manzoni, attracting diverse talent is important, but equally important is creating opportunities for staff to progress and grow. Senior leadership in the Civil Service is lacking diversity and, it is not unusual for women and staff from BAME backgrounds finding themselves unable to move into senior positions. Initiatives like the Future Leaders and Senior Leaders schemes and the Civil Service Positive Action Pathway, as well as the adoption of Smarter Working principles, such as flexible working and shared parental leave, are steps in the right direction.

Yet, levelling the playing field for women and BAME civil servants will also require continued and long-term efforts to tackle pay inequalities. Whilst the median gender pay gap in the Civil Service has narrowed since 2017/18, closer examination of the figures show that progress has been uneven, with all departments except for the Department for Work and Pensions still reporting gender pay gaps. In the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport the situation has worsened, with the median gap rising from 8.2 to 22.9 percent in the last 12 months.

When it comes to ethnicity pay in the Civil Service, granular data is harder to come by. By many accounts, both government and industry are only starting to wake up to the barriers faced by BAME employees and understand the scale of the problem. Positive action is being taken, with the Civil Service signing up to a ‘’Race At Work’’ charter last year and mandatory ethnicity pay reporting now being supported by a number of organisations. According to Manzoni, this will help shed light into an extant issue in the same way the introduction of gender pay gap reporting has.

For diversity and inclusion to become a reality and not a box-ticking exercise, change must be underpinned by strong leadership. As stressed by Department of Education Director Emran Mian in a blog last month, ‘’broadening the conversation’’ and ‘’persuading enough senior leaders to be active participants in this conversation’’ will be crucial for moving the inclusion and diversity agenda forward. Changing the services’ culture and cultivating leadership at the top is central to the future of the Civil Service, but more importantly to its ability to harness and unlock diverse talent at all levels. Transformation is already afoot, yet more needs to be done if the service is to achieve its aim of becoming “the most inclusive employer in the UK by 2020”.