Harriet Harman moves to increase diversity on boards of public bodies

Equality minister Harriet Harman has launched a drive to force ministers to put more women, ethnic minorities and disabled people on the boards of public bodies.

The minister for women yesterday launched the campaign to increase the percentage of women and ethnic minorities among 18,500 board members on the government’s 1,200 public bodies.

The initiative will be led by the Government Equalities Office and Cabinet Office and will provide mentoring and set targets on gender, disability and ethnicity. The aim is that by 2011, 50% of new appointments to boards will be women, 14% will be disabled people and 11% will be ethnic minorities.

Harman said she hoped her plan for positive action would be adopted by other employers. “We all stand to benefit from the improved decision-making that can come from a wider range of contributions.”

Under the Equality Bill, which is due to become law next year, ministers making such appointments can use positive action to hire equally qualified minority candidates over majority candidates without fear of being sued.

An amendment to the Bill that would ban names from job applications to prevent discrimination was slammed by HR chiefs as “bureaucratic” and “unworkable” last month.

A spokesman for the Government Equalities Office said the Cabinet Office would publish six monthly data reports, available online, to monitor progress on the targets.  

He said: “It is important that the government sets itself targets on its priorities. The targets provide a clear benchmark against which departments can be judged on their performance. If the targets are not met, we will look again at what further action is necessary.”

The spokesman added the targets would not become mandatory as they would not be set out in the Equality Bill. “This is a non-legislative action plan designed to raise awareness of the public appointments system, provide support to potential applicants, and tackle the barriers that people face when applying for these roles,” he said.

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