Black and Asian civil servants facing discrimination by 'old boys network'

One official said: 'If you are black, Asian or minority ethnic (Bame) and working class, you are in trouble'

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Black and Asian civil servants believe they face routine discrimination by an “old boys network” running Whitehall, a Government report has concluded.

The study, commissioned by the Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood and the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, found that ethnic minority staff got lower marks in performance reviews, do not always have equal access to promotion, and don’t feel they work for an organisation that is “open, fair and inclusive”. Even black and Asian officials who make it to the senior ranks felt it was largely because “their face did fit” the mould in other ways – like attending Oxbridge or having middle-class parents.

“The senior Civil Service is looking like for like,” one official said. “If you are black, Asian or minority ethnic (Bame) and working class, you are in trouble.”

The report follows a similar investigation into women in the Civil Service and is expected to lead to significant changes in the way Whitehall tackles discrimination.

A report into the experiences of gay civil servants, also published this week, found that many were concerned about revealing their sexuality for fear it would compromise their chances of promotion.


“Too many of our people are sceptical that the Civil Service is consistently committed to diversity and inclusion, and too often our colleagues from under-represented groups don’t feel like they can thrive and express their identity,” Sir Simon Fraser, permanent secretary at the Foreign Office admitted. “This has to improve. We know that difference of thought, background and culture leads to improved decision-making and innovation in organisations. The Civil Service needs the right skills and a wide range of the best people to meet the long-term challenges we face.”

The report found worrying discrepancies in performance management reviews.

In one department, 20 per cent of whites “exceeded expectations” while 7.7 per cent fell into the bottom category of must improve. For ethnic minority staff, only 14.1 per cent “exceeded expectations” while 12 per cent were in the must improve category.

In interviews, civil servants said open discrimination and borderline racist abuse was still a factor of life in some parts of Whitehall. “I heard a manager say to a Muslim member of staff, ‘here comes Osama bin Laden’. “I felt really guilty that I didn’t speak up. Even as an Irish man, I get jokes, that frankly, in today’s day and age, are shocking.”

Another said: “It can feel like an old boys network. As an African woman I don’t feel like I have the confidence to be myself – even down to how I dress. I’m always receiving derogatory comments about my African prints (dress).”

Under plans to be put in place as a result of the report, Sir Jeremy will oversee a new Diversity and Inclusion Strategy with a “head on” commitment to developing inclusive workforces.

“The Civil Service already benefits from a more diverse talent pool than many British employers, but we can do even better,” Sir Jeremy said.

Francis Maude added: “Our goal is simple: we want the Civil Service to draw on the widest possible pool of talent.”