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Analysis paper

A crossroads for diversity and inclusion in the civil service: Assessing the 2022 D&I strategy

Government departments need more guidance and targets to improve diversity and inclusion.

Cabinet Office sign

The civil service’s latest diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy lacks specific objectives, targets and guidance needed to improve representation based on characteristics such as ethnicity, disability and gender.

This report says the Cabinet Office should give government departments guidance and support to shape and coordinate their own D&I plans – and set clear targets for the recruitment, retention and progression of staff from underrepresented backgrounds. This is lacking in the 2022 strategy’s broad ‘vision’ for diversity. It also calls for more detailed plans to improve inclusion.

Drawing on private roundtables and interviews with key figures from public sector organisations, the report considers the current state of diversity and inclusion within the civil service and assesses the approach of the current strategy – which shifted the 2017-2020 diversity strategy’s emphasis on legally protected characteristics such as ethnicity and disability to a focus on different geographic, professional and socio-economic backgrounds.

IfG analysis of government data shows that, on measures of sex, ethnicity and disability, the civil service is becoming more representative of the public:

  • 55% of civil servants are female, including 47% of senior civil servants, compared with 48% of the economically active population
  • 15% of civil servants come from a minority ethnic background, including 10% of senior civil servants, compared with 14% of the economically active population
  • 14% of civil servants have a disability, including 9% of senior civil servants, compared with 16% of the economically active population.

However, the report finds that officials from a range of different backgrounds feel they have faced barriers to progression at work based on their class, ethnicity or other demographic factors, with many civil servants feeling that their backgrounds and experiences are not valued in government.

With Rishi Sunak yet to set out his priorities for improving diversity and inclusion in government, the report sets out recommendations to help the civil service recruit, retain and properly utilise the broadest possible range of talent and thereby improve decision making.

The report's recommendations for the Cabinet Office include:

  • Explicitly setting out government departments’ role in developing their own practical plans and targets within the framework of the new D&I strategy
  • Recognising where work still needs to be done on protected characteristics such as ethnicity, disability and gender
  • Building on existing plans to improve socio-economic diversity in the civil service by supporting lower grade staff working in delivery to gain policy experience
  • Setting out specific measures for improving inclusion at work that will be researched and trialled within the civil service.

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