Why the Civil Service takes Pride in difference, by Sir Jeremy Heywood

PinkNews logo on pink background with rainbow corners.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, writes for PinkNews for Pride on why the Civil Service celebrates diversity.

Pride is an opportunity to support and celebrate difference. During Pride week, that is what we will be doing across the Civil Service, with a number of departments flying the Pride flag.

I want the UK Civil Service to set the standard for diversity and inclusion. If, in the broadest sense, we are to represent society in all its variety and difference, we need to reflect it, look more like it – not be a self-selecting monoculture. We will only be able to deliver the highest quality service for the public, the best advice for ministers – and be a great place to work – if we are a truly diverse and inclusive organisation, in which all of our people can be themselves and realise their full potential, irrespective of visible or non-visible differences.

The Civil Service actually compares favourably to many employers in its diversity. We recruit from a wider talent pool and we outperform FTSE 100 companies in some areas. This year, the Home Office was recognised as a star performer in the Stonewall Top 100, and MI5, the Office for National Statistics, Welsh Government, Environment Agency, HMRC, Crown Prosecution Service and the Department of Health were all in the Top 100, which is excellent. But we still fall short of being a truly representative organisation, particularly at the higher levels.

Last September, we launched our Talent Action Plan and commissioned independent reports on the barriers to success for four underrepresented groups in the Civil Service, reflecting the experience of women, LGB&T, black, Asian and other minority ethnic staff, and those with a disability. Now, we have updated the plan with recommendations for addressing the issues raised in the reports and bringing the barriers down. This includes a 2-year programme to help government departments implement the plan and make diversity and inclusion an essential part of their businesses.


GCHQ is lit up in rainbow colours for IDAHOT 2015 

The Positive Action Pathway ‘Levelling the Playing Field’ programme, designed to equip participants at different grades with the skills and confidence to realise their potential and get on in their careers, is one example of how we are equipping LGB&T civil servants to succeed in their careers. The Talent Action Plan commits to increasing the number of Pathway places from 200 to 1000.

A new programme, ‘Accelerate’, aimed at Senior Civil Service grades, will tackle the lack of diversity at this level. There will also be more support for staff networks – the cross-Civil Service LGB&T network, the Civil Service Rainbow Alliance (CSRA), will be marching at Pride; and while all line managers are expected to take unconscious bias awareness training, we encourage everyone to take it.

We should embrace difference – different cultures, ideas, socio-economic backgrounds, ways of looking at the world – valuing it for the new perspectives and experiences it brings, This isn’t just the right thing to do morally, there is compelling evidence to show that it makes good business sense, that a more diverse workforce performs better and with greater job satisfaction.

Everyone must have the opportunity to get on in the modern Civil Service.

People like Pauline Fleck, a trans-woman who is a pay policy manager for the Department of Health in Leeds. Pauline says she has been accepted and welcomed for what she is, and as a result is “much happier” and “actually performing better because I am able now to be completely myself ”.

People like Paul, a Pride member at GCHQ, who says: “It’s great to work in a modern organisation that values people for their talent. I love that I can be myself at GCHQ and work in an environment where the [Alan] Turings of today can unleash their full potential.”

We should be able to find stories like these in every part of the Civil Service.


The Pride flag flies above Whitehall

We are making progress, but we have a distance still to travel. Dry as it sounds, having reliable data is a vital part of assessing the scale of a task and what needs to be done. As a data man, I hope, for example that we can start to look at ways of encouraging more LGB&T staff to declare, so that we can better address their concerns.

As Head of the Civil Service, improving its diversity and ensuring that everyone has a fair and equal opportunity to succeed on merit, regardless of who they are or where they come from, is one of my top three priorities.

To help change the culture of the Civil Service, we need role models. The new Leadership Statement commits Civil Service leaders to “champion both difference and external experience”. We’re also asking civil servants at all levels to challenge negative attitudes and assumptions in themselves and others, to champion difference, and to change their approach to people different from themselves.

The Civil Service has a job to suit everyone – in IT, policy, analysis, HR, frontline service delivery, to name only a few – a variety that must be reflected in the people we recruit to do them.

As I said at the beginning, Pride week and Pride day itself are opportunities to support and celebrate difference, as GCHQ did last month by lighting up their building in the rainbow colours to mark IDAHOT (the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia). I’m extremely pleased that two Permanent Secretaries, Richard Heaton and Sue Owen, will be joining the CSRA float at Pride on Saturday, alongside floats from the Armed Forces and the MoD.

The challenge we have accepted in the Civil Service is to take pride in difference, what it brings, and how it can make us better – every day.

Sir Jeremy Heywood is the head of the Civil Service.