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Ethnicity in the civil service

Why does ethnic diversity in the civil service matter?

Why does ethnic diversity in the civil service matter?

A diverse and inclusive civil service is not only a matter of basic fairness but is also key to the effective operation of government. According to the Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Strategy for 2022 to 2025, “a truly diverse workforce and culture of openness and inclusivity” acts as “a means of delivering better outcomes to the citizens we serve.”1 The civil service loses out on top talent when it fails to properly reach into different communities to attract, appoint and retain the best people for the job. And employing staff reflecting the society it serves allows government to draw on the experiences of officials to better understand the impact of policy decisions on the public. As Wendy Williams pointed out the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, where senior officials come from a narrow range of backgrounds and life experiences, “this can be more likely to lead to circumstances where mistakes, obvious to those with lived experience outside of that narrow range, are missed”.2

The extent to which the diversity of senior officials matches that of the civil service also indicates how well the civil service retains and utilises the talent in its workforce. The overall proportion of minority ethnic civil servants has been increasing in recent years, but they remain underrepresented at the most senior grades and within some departments. And there has been inconsistent progress in the representation of individual ethnic minority groups.

What is the ethnic make-up of the civil service?

As of 2022, 15% of civil servants who declared their ethnicity are from an ethnic minority background. This has increased from 4% in 1988, and is higher than the proportion of the entire UK working population that is from an ethnic minority background – 13.5%.

Percentage of civil servants with Asian, Black and mixed ethnic backgrounds in the whole civil service and the senior civil service, 2010-22

However, the representation of individual minority ethnic categories has changed in different ways. From 2010 to 2022 the proportion of Asian staff among the SCS increased by a greater proportion (2% to 5.4%) than Black staff (0.7% to 1.6%) and staff with mixed ethnicity (1.5% to 2.5%).

How does this vary by grade?

The representation of minority ethnic staff has increased at each grade since 2010.The second most junior grade, executive officer (EO), has the highest proportion of civil servants from an ethnic minority background at 17.8%.

However, at more senior levels – Grades 6 and 7 and the SCS – the proportion of minority ethnic employees falls below the UK working population benchmark of 13.5%. The SCS has the lowest percentage (10.4%) of employees from an ethnic minority background. This is the first decrease since 2015, though the general trend is one of improvement after progress stalled in the mid-2010s.

The proportion of civil servants from an ethnic minority background has grown in almost all departments since 2010, with the exception of the Home Office, which saw a decrease of 3 percentage points. The proportion of minority ethnic employees in HMRC increased by 9 percentage points but in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) this increase was minimal. 

The proportion of civil servants from an ethnic minority background has grown in almost all departments since 2010, with the exception of the Home Office, which saw a decrease of 3%. The proportion of minority ethnic employees in HMRC increased by 9% but in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) this increase was minimal. 

What is being done to improve ethnic diversity and inclusion?

A number of initiatives aim to improve the ethnic diversity of the civil service:

  • The Civil Service Race Forum is a collaborative group of staff networks whose goal is to advance diversity and equality for minority ethnic civil servants.3
  • There is a Diversity and Inclusion dashboard which collates and visualises various diversity statistics on ethnicity, gender and age among civil service staff.4
  • The appointment of a permanent secretary as a civil service race champion.

A higher proportion of minority ethnic staff does not necessarily mean that the civil service’s working culture is inclusive to those from an ethnic minority background. And the civil service has dropped its 2017 targets to increase the flow of ethnic minority and disabled staff into the senior civil service.

 


  1. Civil Service, Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Strategy: 2022 to 2025, 24 February 2022, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/civil-service-diversity-and-inclusion-strategy-2022-to-2025
  2. Home Office, Windrush Lessons Learned Review by Wendy Williams, 19 July 2018, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/874022/6.5577_HO_Windrush_Lessons_Learned_Review_WEB_v2.pdf, p. 93.
  3. Civil Service, Civil Service Race Forum, Civil Service blog, https://civilservice.blog.gov.uk/civil-service-race-forum/
  4. Civil Service and Cabinet Office, Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Dashboard, 10 May 2022, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/civil-service-diversity-inclusion-dashboard
Publisher
Institute for Government

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