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Buckingham Palace lags behind on workplace diversity and admits it ‘must do more’

The House of Commons, magistrates benches and the civil service are significantly more diverse than the royal household

Nadine White
Thursday 24 June 2021 04:03 BST
Royal Family
Royal Family (PA)

Buckingham Palace has published its first ever figures on ethnic minority staffing — including data that shows the royal household lags behind many other British institutions on workplace diversity.

Annual accounts for 2020-2021 reveal the proportion of ethnic minority employees stands at just 8.5 per cent — with a target of 10 per cent for 2022 — with the palace admitting that it “must do more” to increase racial representation.

In 2017, 16.0% of working age people in England and Wales were from non-white minorities according to the Office for National Statistics. In London, home to Buckingham Palace and Clarence House, the figure is as high as 40 per cent.

The figures come after accusations of racism within the royal family itself made by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex during their Oprah Winfrey interview in March.

A senior palace source explained that the royal household had published the figures so there could be “no place to hide” and so they would be held accountable if no progress is made in the future.

“We are not where we would like to be despite our efforts,” the source told PA.

The make-up of the royal household is in contrast to other landmark organisations.

A total of 65 MPs (10 per cent) in the the House of Commons are from an ethnic minority background – the highest proportion on record.

In the civil service, 13 per cent were from ethnic minority backgrounds in 2020, up from nine per cent in 2010.

In the NHS across England, the figure is 22 per cent, while at the BBC it is 16 per cent overall — but only 12 per cent at leadership level.

Even magistrates are more diverse than the royal household, with ethnic minority magistrates accounting for 13 per cent of the total.

Diversity data across the public sector (PA)

The palace source added: “We have continuous engagement with external advisers, organisations that are at the grassroots level who sit on our steering committee, people who are able to give us a different voice, a different perspective.”

The source added: “And we recognise that we must do more. One of the key points about the publishing of our statistics, which is actually on a voluntary basis, is that there’s no place to hide.”

The Prince of Wales’s household said its proportion of ethnic minority staff was also 8 per cent while Kensington Palace declined to release its staff diversity figures.

The Queen’s household changed its Diversity Strategy in early 2020, long before the Oprah interview, to one that “actively emphasises the importance of inclusion”.

Previously, there were plans for a diversity tsar to help assess and improve representation. But a palace source said on Wednesday there were now no specific plans for such an appointment, although it was not ruled out.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA)

Meghan, the first mixed race person to marry a senior royal for centuries, said an unnamed royal – not the Queen nor the Duke of Edinburgh – raised concerns with Harry about how dark their son Archie’s skin tone might be before he was born.

The Queen issued a statement saying that the issues raised would be dealt with privately as a family, but that “some recollections may vary”.

The palace source said on Wednesday that the Queen and the royal family had embraced the diversity of the UK.

“Her Majesty and other members of the royal family have actively promoted and embraced the diversity of our nation and that of the Commonwealth, and we take our lead from that,” they said.

Following the Oprah interview, the Duke of Cambridge defended the monarchy against Harry and Meghan’s claims, saying soon after they were made that “we’re very much not a racist family”.

However, royal households are exempt from legislation designed to prevent race discrimination. Campaigners recently lobbied for this exemption to be reversed and the royals “brought into line with the rest of the public sector” following Meghan and Harry’s racism allegations, The Independent reported.

“It was quite clear from hearing Meghan that she had at least had three protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act where she experienced discrimination as a pregnant, mixed-race woman with mental health problems,” prominent equalities campaigner Patrick Vernon OBE said.

“If Meghan was working for the NHS or the Met Police, she would have the right to take forward action.”

The royal accounts also revealed that the monarchy spent £87.5 million of taxpayer funds between 2020/2021, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, marking an increase of 26 per cent from £69.4 million in 2019/2020.

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