Civil servants and the business case for inclusion and diversity

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Cognitive dissonance over the level and importance of public employee pay – that often forces underpaid Civil Servants to chase promotions or seek better-paid work elsewhere in the private sector – is to the ongoing detriment of Government expertise and policy delivery. It also badly hampers staff motivation according to corporate governance expert Gerry Brown.

He advocates that a more robust approach to the opportunities offered by embracing a more thorough-going approach to diversity and inclusion could significantly boost the public sector talent pool while ameliorating and mitigating the often self-inflicted rate of staff shrinkage as well as providing many other business benefits.

Looking at the current public sector career and employment context, very recently, while three unions representing the rank-and-file of 200,000 public employees sought a judicial review over the government’s failure to consult staff on pay levels, elsewhere senior civil servants at the DTI received handsome bonus payments. This is just the latest example of demotivational cognitive dissonance over terms, conditions and pay within our public services.

Civil Servants, recruitment, retention and remuneration

In the recent research paper from Henley Business School into the Civil Service – The Kakabadse Report – the three key public sector R’s (recruitment, retention and remuneration) were some of the many important issues that took centre stage. Numerous senior civil servants reported to Professor Kakabadse on the challenges they face filling posts, primarily due to the poor levels of pay on offer. Even senior civil servants highlighted the challenge of living in London on Civil Service pay: one Permanent Secretary noted, “I did not have my own house until I was 49 years old.”

Another frequently expressed frustration was the rapid turnover of civil servants, especially those who hold a particular expertise directly related to a project or programme of delivery. One key reason for the rapid turnover of talented individual civil servants was the prospect of an increase in pay and career progression if these talented people were to work elsewhere (where their expertise would be both recognised and rewarded). It goes without saying that experience gained on high-profile projects enables individuals to be better placed to be a favoured candidate for promotion internally within the Civil Service or viewed highly favourably for jobs outside in the private or third sectors.

Many civil servants also highlighted to researchers that for departments with multi billion-pound budgets, public sector levels of remuneration are traditionally low in relation to comparable responsibilities in the private sector. A considerable number of public sector employees (at all levels) reported considering joining the private sector or intending to do so.

Though the report rightly highlighted low Civil Service pay as an important but remediable issue, to some extent it missed some of the important opportunities currently available to the public sector to address their staff shortfalls, namely strategically embracing a much more proactive diversity and inclusion employment agenda to help address the dearth of public sector talent.

See also: Workplace diversity in the NHS

Best employment practice

A first positive step by the government would be to address by closing the gender pay gap for current existing employees. More widely, to both replace these missing-in-action workers and further expand the civil service talent pool, the Theresa May government urgently needs to actively pursue better more robust diversity and inclusion employment strategies.

Big shifts in working practices and patterns across all sectors in the U.K. means that there is increasing recognition that best employment practice means truly engaging with the widest range of employees, skills, attributes and perspectives. Actively seeking out new talent from currently untapped pools of talent doesn’t make pay differentials and low pay go away overnight, nor does it instantly improve staff motivation. But a government-wide proactive diversity and inclusion agenda would – from a business case point of view – help mitigate risk while simultaneously expanding the talent pool available.

Gerry Brown, founder of G Brown Associates and author of 'The Independent Director' civil servants
Gerry Brown, founder of G Brown Associates and author of ‘The Independent Director’ civil servants

Though existing diversity policies in Britain tick the legislative boxes they often fall short, not least because many organisations employ a form filling attitude that means they fail to realise the transformative business case of diversity. Indeed so many organisations are ill-equipped to deal with the exponential rate of change characteristic of the 21st century, they urgently need to better harness staff courage, creativity and talent through inclusion and diversity. Doing so can have transformational effects upon competitive advantage, employee engagement & retention, service delivery as well as controlling costs and/or boosting revenues.

Gerry Brown, founder of G Brown Associates and author of ‘The Independent Director’

If we are to continue to find, train and retain the brightest and best as well as motivate our public servants to rise to numerous current challenges in the service of our country, the Theresa May government urgently needs to get to grips with some corporate governance basics over its pay, remuneration and rewards policies as well as to massively expand its ambitions and action agenda when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

It is time for the public sector to properly embrace the business case for inclusion and diversity policies to deliver:

  • Competitive advantage through increased productivity
  • More considered decision making from inviting and harnessing staff engagement
  • Better staff retention from inviting and harnessing staff engagement
  • Wider talent pool
  • Greater risk mitigation

Gerry Brown is the author of The Independent Director: The Non-Executive Director’s Guide to Effective Board Presence published by Palgrave Macmillan. He helped fund the research of The Kakabadse Report published by Henley Business School 9press release here. The full report is available for free here.

See also: Embedding Diversity in the Organisation