Private sector ‘now leads the way’ in staff diversity

After many years leading the way on diversity issues, the public sector is now lagging behind the private sector, according to a leading HR practitioner.

Speaking at a conference last week, Francesca Okosi, HR director at the London Borough of Brent, said the private sector is now “well ahead” on diversity initiatives and best practice.

Addressing an Employers’ Organisation conference on achieving Best Value through people, Okosi said private-sector companies such as Sainsburys and Barclays Bank are capitalising on the competitive edge that comes from recruiting from traditionally marginalised groups and communities.

Her comments come only weeks after investment bank JP Morgan held a graduate recruitment event specifically for gays and lesbians (News, 31 October). The bank said the move is part of a drive to find good applicants, whatever their sexuality.

Okosi said, “The private sector has flexible working arrangements and good development programmes. They are growing their own and developing loyalty. We [the public sector] have lost all of those things.”

In the 1980s the public sector was ahead on issues of diversity, Okosi said, but lost its way in the 1990s. She said local government must learn the lessons of that if current recruitment problems, particularly in London and the South East, are to be overcome.

She said local authorities need to focus on the business case for diversity and that HR has a central role in that. “The bottom line is making services accessible to all, continuous improvement and meeting the requirements of Best Value. You cannot do that without equality being at the centre.”

By Lisa Bratby

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