Experts call for more radical approach to tackle diversity

A more radical approach is needed to address diversity shortfalls in the public sector, according to leading government and industry figures.

Speaking at the Public Sector People Managers’ Association annual conference in Brighton at the end of March, a panel of diversity experts argued that current HR practice was not sufficient.

Despite disquiet over setting targets for ethnic minority and female recruitment in the public sector, Waqar Azmi, chief diversity adviser at the Cabinet Office, insisted that targets were in fact not high enough.

“Targets need to be more ambitious and more challenging,” he said. “Organisations have been created around the needs of men. Culture change is key and targets are critical to that.”

Azmi added that organisations were not fully exploiting positive action, a point taken up by Martin Tiplady, director of HR at the Metropolitan Police.

The Met has seen the proportion of ethnic minority officers rise from 2% in 2004 to 7% this year as a result of positive action initiatives, such as fast-track training for minorities.

But Tiplady said positive action did not go far enough. “There is no other way but through positive discrimination that we can make the Met look like London. Is there support for this? No. But do I think it is the only way? Yes,” he said. “There is an exemption in the sex discrimination laws for this where it is proved absolutely necessary. There is no reason why there shouldn’t be an exemption in the Race Relations Act.”

But Sam Mercer, director of the Employers Forum on Age, said: “I am concerned that we are creating an ‘equalities industry’ that is more worried about policy than what is happening on the ground.”

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