Civil Service record on promoting staff from minorities ‘disgraceful’, warns Whitehall official

Few black or Asian staff appointed to top jobs, says Sir Paul Jenkins

Whitehall Editor

The Civil Service has a “disgraceful” record of promoting ethnic-minority candidates into senior positions and has no strategy to improve the situation, the official in charge of promoting diversity in Whitehall has warned.

In a remarkably frank admission, Sir Paul Jenkins said he felt a “strong sense of failure” at the lack of black and Asian civil servants rising to the top of their profession. And he admitted that the Government had little hope of achieving its aspiration of creating a Civil Service that was even close to being representative of the people it served.

“[The] figures are quite frankly disgraceful, and we are struggling to make any improvement at all,” he said. “I remain profoundly depressed about that, and I feel quite a strong sense of failure… We have not got a strategy. It [has[ stalled, and it’s now getting worse.”

Sir Paul, who is both the Treasury Solicitor and permanent secretary in charge of promoting diversity, made his comments in an interview with the trade journal Civil Service World.

Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that only 4.7 per cent of senior civil servants come from ethnic minority backgrounds. Across the service as a whole, about 10 per cent of employees come from ethnic minorities.

He said while progress had been made in promoting more women to the top of the civil service the same progress had not been made with ethnic minority candidates or people with a disability.

Sir Paul said he believed that subconscious discrimination was still a significant problem and pointed to a conversation he had had with one black civil servant who was on the cusp of being appointed to a senior role. “She said to me: ‘When I prepare for a senior Civil Service interview, one of the things I do is try and think myself into being a white man.’ That is shocking because it isn’t about diversity; it’s about stifling diversity.

“There’s undoubtedly a perception that the senior Civil Service is white and male and has certain cultural mindsets that are subconsciously discriminatory.”

Sir Paul, who is about to retire, said the Government had yet to publish a new diversity strategy to replace the one which expired last year.

“I think if everyone thought that a new strategic approach to diversity was as important as I think it is, we wouldn’t still be waiting for a strategy,” he said pointedly.

But the Cabinet Office said it had just commissioned new outside research to investigate “blockages” preventing women from reaching the most senior levels of the Civil Service. While women make up over half of all civil servants, they make up just 36 per cent of senior civil servants.

“To win the global race we need the best civil servants regardless of their background,” said a spokeswoman. “That is why we have published a new Capabilities Plan for the Civil Service and are overhauling the way talent is managed. We want to see more talented people, whatever their background, reach the very top roles”.

“Francis Maude [the Cabinet Office minister] has commissioned new research to examine the blockages preventing women from reaching the most senior levels of the Civil Service.”

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