Time for public sector staff to reflect reality

public sector workforce should reflect the community it serves, but it has a
long way to go before this is achieved. Mike Broad reports on the need for a
sense of urgency in tackling the lack of diversity

Many public sector employers are still struggling to eliminate
discrimination and increase the opportunities for ethnic minorities.

Three separate studies released over the last month demonstrate the enormous
difficulties many public bodies face in trying to become more representative of
the communities they serve. But one also shows the enormous potential benefits,
should they overcome their organisation’s cultural resistance and swallow the
additional costs.

The first survey, Race: Creating Business Value, shows how much work needs
to be done. Carried out by Race for Opportunity, the survey targeted 99 large
public and private organisations – employing 2.75m employees in the UK – and
reveals a shortage of black and Asian managers, particularly at senior levels.
In total, these organisations only employ 44 ethnic minority managers at the
highest levels.

The next piece of research, the Audit Commission’s Equality and Diversity
investigation, shows that many local authorities are failing to comply with new
legal duties on equality.

This month saw the introduction of new requirement under the Race Relations
Amendment Act, which has intensified the pressure on public bodies to address
any institutional racism. They should now have produced a race equality scheme,
which spells out how the organisation will consult minorities, monitor the
ethnicity of its staff, and ensure that it is recruiting, training and
promoting people from ethnic minorities.

The investigation reveals that 40 per cent of councils have not yet produced
a comprehensive race equality policy – an essential step to complying with the

However, the third study, Business Diversity, reveals the benefits that many
organisations are missing out on. Eight out of 10 of the large organisations
surveyed in the joint Cabinet Office and Barclays Bank research claim there is
a direct link between diversity and bottom line performance.

All three reports stress that the role of leadership is vital if progress to
be made on improving employment opportunities for minorities. The Audit
Commission blames senior council leaders for a lack of commitment to increasing
the ethnic mix of their workforces. It claims that that many local authorities
lack even the basic data capture and analysis systems required for the
development of race equality schemes.

The Audit Commission’s people development director Trish Longdon believes
the problem could be wider than local government and urges human resources
directors at public sector bodies, such as NHS trusts, to make sure they secure
the backing of senior management for efforts to recruit and develop ethnic
minority staff.

Public sector bodies that have not yet published a race equality scheme
could be served with a compliance notice and ultimately prosecuted by the
Commission for Racial Equality.

Minna Nathoo, executive director of diversity and talent at Ealing Council,
believes local government leadership should regard the Race Relations Amendment
Act as an opportunity.

"Local authorities affect the lives of ordinary people in the provision
of basic services," she said. "It is critical that these are
delivered to meet the needs of a mixed community without unfair discrimination.

"Councils were at the forefront of best practice in the 1980s and early
1990s, but equality issues and policies were then sidelined as they were seen
as loony left politics that did not add value to the business. The Race
Relations Amendment Act will put equality firmly back on the agenda and local
authorities will have to invest in their policies, procedures and systems."

The Race for Opportunity report says that HR or equality teams often lead
projects on diversity, but they are more successful when there is a board-level

Francesca Okosi, president of the Society of Chief Personnel Officers,
believes HR is not getting enough support.

"It is a sad indictment if areas have not been identified where there
might be discrimination," she said. "Leadership must stand up and be
counted on race.

"We have all known the Act was coming and should have planned for it.
It seems it is being left to HR middle managers to put it together with no
support or guidance from above."

But it is local government’s political leaders rather than council chief
executives that can play the greatest role in developing ethnic minority staff,
explained David Clark, director-general of the Society of Local Authority Chief

"Chief executives have a moral obligation to put race equality on the
agenda, but the investment decisions are taken by the councillors," he

He believes the political parties should be putting forward more people from
the local minorities to stand for election and need to introduce greater
transparency into the process of candidate selection to reduce nepotism.

If councils can meet the challenge of the Race Relations Amendment Act,
Cabinet Office research suggests there will be significant business benefits,
including better recruitment and retention, improved understanding of markets
and communities, enhanced reputation and significant cost savings.

Commenting on the research, Cabinet Secretary and head of the Home Civil
Service Sir Richard Wilson said: "It is no accident that diversity lies at
the heart of public service reform. Organisations that get this right get a lot
of other things right too, whether for their employees, their managers or the
people they serve."

Maseji Takolia, the Government’s senior adviser on diversity strategy and
equal opportunities, has been working closely with Wilson to increase the
proportion of ethnic minority members of the Civil Service’s 3,500 senior

Representation has increased by 0.7 per cent since 1998 to today’s 2.3 per
cent – the target is 3.2 per cent by 2005 and has been integrated into the
organisation’s business planning and backed by long-term processes.

"If you treat diversity at the margins you will get marginal
outcomes," said Takolia.

"The public sector will have no credibility if all the faces coming up
with ideas to solve problems in multi-cultural areas are white."



Five factors for improving diversity

– Commitment – understand, own and
lead the work at the highest levels and commit adequate resources

– Involve users – consult the actual and potential users of
services about their needs and requirements

– Mainstreaming equality and diversity – integrate equality and
diversity into day-to-day work, and translate policy into practice

– Monitor performance data – ensure that data gathering and
analysis on diversity is part of core monitoring systems

– Sustainability – keep up the momentum to counter
discrimination and review performance and set new targets

Source: The Audit Commission

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