‘There’s a lack of movement’: The Civil Service Race Forum on diversity progress

The Civil Service Race Forum (CSRF) –  a collaborative group of Civil Service Race staff networks - is seeing a “lack of movement” when it comes to advancing equality, diversity,  and inclusion (EDI) for ethnic minorities and other protected characteristics within the Civil Service.

Speaking to Government Transformation Magazine, CSRF co-chair Justin Placide says the “senior support is not there” to promote and resolve issues related to race in the civil service in the current environment. 

“With the cost of living and energy crises, various organisational changes and senior leaders supportive of EDI leaving the organisation, it has become more difficult for colleagues and organisations to put issues relating to race at the top of their priority list. Unfortunately, this means the same emphasis is not on diversity initiatives anymore.”

He adds: “We are not in the same space as we were back in 2020 and CSRF have had to change our strategy to match that. There are a lot more conversations being had around what we can do to help people from a social mobility background.”

Placide is head of Net Zero Governance and Fiscal Events at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). He was elected to co-chair CSRF in 2019, just before the pandemic outbreak. During this period of uncertainty, Placide says the network sought to prioritise the needs of its members by providing a clear direction of support for those that were experiencing racism, job uncertainty or harassment.  Ethnic minority civil servants report higher levels of bullying, harassment and discrimination than white colleagues, he notes. 

Closing the gap

Recent data shows diversity among civil servants has been slow to increase over the years: between 2015 and 2022, the percentage of ethnic minorities went up from 10.6% to 15.0%. 

Representation of ethnic minority staff in senior positions remains low;  just 9.3% of officials at Grade 6 and 8.7% of senior civil servants, according to the diversity and inclusion dashboard from May 2022 published by the Cabinet Office.

Against this backdrop, a key priority for Placide and his new co-chair, Junaed Khan, senior advisor - Climate Investment Funds at BEIS, is ensuring that the race network chairs, co-chairs and deputy chairs build their leadership capability. 

"CSFR is currently focused on developing its members through sponsorship, mentoring, coaching and capability sessions across the different race networks in government," he says. 

Leveraging data 

Faced with a "lack of movement" on racial diversity, the CSRF’s latest strategy is more “solutions focused” Placide explains. This means looking at how data can be used to drive progress. 

The network is gathering data from surveys and safe space sessions to provide clear evidence of where change needs to take place, Placide says. “This data can then feed into our initiatives that we've got planned with regards to sponsoring schemes that allow ethnic minority people to be supported and progress.”

Placide pointed to the importance of leveraging data in helping to widen and diversify the pool of applicants in the Civil Service Fast Stream graduate programme. In 2016, the scheme was found to disproportionately favour applicants from private schools following a report commissioned by the Cabinet Office. When the report was published, just 4.2% of Fast Stream recruits were from a lower socio-economic background. In 2017, that almost doubled to 8.3%, then rose to 9.1% in 2018. 

“It shows how important data can be in highlighting problem areas. As a result, we’re now seeing an increase in ethnic minority graduates applying onto these fast track development schemes.”

Nonetheless, Placide is adamant that more can be done: “We've got the ideas, the will and the solutions, but there's just certain things that need to be agreed above our grade. If those things are not being approved, it's very difficult for us then to go out and deliver on this.”

In it together 

CSRF is not just focused on ethnic minorities. It is currently using its influence and experience to support EDI efforts on a wider scale, by engaging and sharing information across a number of different protected characteristics within the Civil Service. 

“There are a number of our disabled colleagues who still haven't progressed, even though we've got the data to demonstrate that they require more support. We also have a responsibility to ensure our colleagues who are LGBT, older, or carers, or suffering from a bereavement are being supported and are not singled out.”

Data shows there is work to be done in this space: Just 6.1% of senior civil servants are declared disabled as of March 2021, while discrimination and bullying scores for disabled staff are more than double those for non-disabled staff.

“I can see the same frustration and lack of movement for our peers in these spaces,” Placide said. “Inclusivity should be about opening the door for as many people as possible, as opposed to focusing on one particular protected characteristic at a time. For me, this is really where the conversation should be today.”

CSRF is open to membership for Race networks of central government departments, arms-length bodies, agencies, partner organisations and non-departmental public bodies within the Civil Service. 

Race Networks can join CSRF by registering its race network as a CSRF member , Organisations can stay updated on CSRF’s work by registering to join the CSRF newsletter list or following them on social media.

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