Public sector ‘lacks diversity despite obligation to promote equality’
Ethnic minorities more unlikely to get leading positions in the public sector than they are among Britain’s largest companies
Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor
The Guardian, Thursday 11 September 2014
Led by Trevor Phillips, the study found that ethnic diversity in local authority leadership is so low that it ‘almost defies analysis’. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
There are only six people who are non-white in the top 268 leadership roles in the most prominent public bodies outside government and local authorities – such as the Bank Of England, NHS England and the BBC, a study published on Wednesday says.
It found that people from ethnic minorities are less likely to get the top jobs in the public sector than they are among Britain’s biggest companies – despite the legal obligation on state bodies to promote equality and diversity in their staff.
Researchers surveyed the diversity of staff working in the top 5,000 leadership roles within the public and voluntary sectors found that although the leadership of FTSE 100 firms suffered from a “diversity deficit” it was still better in many respects to that achieved by the state. Even the most diverse area of Britain – London – has a lower proportion of visible minority executives than the FTSE 100.
Led by Trevor Phillips, the former chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, the Green Park Public Service Leadership 5,000 survey, found that ethnic diversity in local authority leadership is so low that it “almost defies analysis” with the only non-white local authority chief executive in London resigning last week. There are no top bosses leading the next eight “core councils” in England.
Phillips told the Guardian that the many organisations simply didn’t have “accurate figures on the level of ethnic minority employees”.
“You cannot have a strategy to deal with this if you don’t understand the scale of the problem. That’s why the legal obligation has not [worked]. Then you have the response of organisations. I was concerned when the BBC lost two of its top black managers; it announced a proposal for a diversity training scheme. That might produce a leader in 2050 but what do we do until then? What’s not happening is a pipeline that is going to deliver [a leader].”
“The fact is in business and places like the City the colour that counts is green not brown or black. If you are a talented person who can make a business money then that appears to be overcoming the traditional discrimination or cultural inertia at the top.”
Phillips, who after a career in television and public service now leads a data analytics research group backed by Green Park, a recruitment consultancy, called on ministers to learn the lessons of the United States. He pointed out that a decade ago the US football league discovered that although 40% of their players were black yet in the 80 years of the league’s existence, just seven head “coaches of colour” were hired.
The result was a new rule requiring every team looking for a new coach or manager to interview at least one minority candidate. By 2013, 17 teams have had either an African-American or Latino head coach or general manager. “The public sector could learn from this. We should adopt it and go further by forcing selection boards to have one member to be from an ethnic minority.”
Labour said it would set new targets for the percentage of black and minority ethnic employees and for women in the senior civil service. Gloria De Piero MP, shadow minister for equalities, said: “This important report shows just how far we still have to go to tackle the barriers to ethnic minority access to top roles. The lack of ethnic diversity across government and local authorities is unacceptable, yet the Tories and Lib Dems have failed to take action to address the problem.”
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said the government had published a “Talent Action Plan” – setting out steps to remove barriers which talented people face. “We need the best and brightest civil servants, regardless of their background. The civil service compares favourably to many organisations in terms of the diversity of its workforce – but we must do better. We have also commissioned new research to examine the specific obstacles faced by those from ethnic minorities.”