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  • A non-diverse government

    by Ala
    23rd June, 2008 at 1:12 pm    

    Irony of ironies: the Government Equalities Office in charge of outlawing discrimination against women, black and ethnic minority and disabled people does not know whether it complies with Whitehall diversity targets more than eight months after they were set up by Gordon Brown. The story was in last Friday’s Guardian.

    The Government Equalities Office, headed by Harriet Harman, says it has not yet set up a database of its staff so it cannot tell whether it fulfills targets it should have met three months ago.

    8 other departments refused or failed to give information on the diversity of their employees. The Foreign Office, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the GEA did not reply to the request made by Theresa May. While other departments expressly refused to give information, ignoring the request is not much better.

    Among the 10 departments that didn’t cower, nine have failed to meet at least one of the four targets set by the government to ensure that they employ more women, disabled and people from ethnic minorities in top jobs.

    Five ministries met some of the targets: the Department for Children, Schools and Families; the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Health, the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office.

    Four departments did not meet a single target- the Department for Transport; the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills; the Northern Ireland Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. In the case of the Northern Ireland and the Innovation ministries, no disabled person holds a top job, according to answers given to May.

    The Cabinet Office, which had refused to release information on the diversity of its employees, then gave the Guardian a breakdown that showed it met three of four of the targets.

    This is the same Cabinet Office which set the Whitehall target in the first place for 37% of senior civil servants and 30% of top management to be women, four per cent of the top posts to be held by people from ethnic minorities and 3.2% by disabled people.

    So far, only the Department for Communities and Local Government, run by Hazel Blears, exceeds all the targets.

                  Post to

    Filed in: Current affairs,Race politics,Sex equality

    13 Comments below   |  

    Reactions: Twitter, blogs

    1. zaffer — on 23rd June, 2008 at 1:30 pm  

      Hi Ala,

      Could you link the guardian piece, thanks

    2. douglas clark — on 23rd June, 2008 at 1:50 pm  

      Zaffer. Here’s the link:

      And here’s another link, which is what I want to talk about:

      This confirms the statements that Ala and the Guardian have made.

      I’m just interested in how easy these targets actually are.

      There’s an interesting aside to this. the Press Release that the Cabinet Office put out gives the figures for 2003, 2004, 2005 and the 2008 target. Whatever happened to the figures for 2006 and 2007? See here:

      Are we being kept deliberately in the dark or have the statistics not been gathered yet?

    3. Sunny — on 23rd June, 2008 at 2:06 pm  

      The communities dept exceeeds the targets I bet because they’re currently focusing a lot of their money on anti-terrorism. I can’t see any other reason.

      Harman meanwhile says she’s going to be setting up an equalities council. Its the govt answer to everything - if you’re not doing anything properly, set up a quango.

    4. zaffer — on 23rd June, 2008 at 2:11 pm  


    5. MaidMarian — on 23rd June, 2008 at 2:15 pm  

      douglas clark (2) - ‘I’m just interested in how easy these targets actually are.’

      I suppose that the flip-side to that is how difficult the targets are. I don’t have a problem per se with government setting targets, but this seems to have all the makings of another target that was set with not much in the way of a strategy to underpin it or (heaven forbid) a plan B.

      Sunny (3) points out that the nature of the work that the department does may well inform how well or not targets are met. Of course, that a department’s workload more ‘naturally’ meets the target does not invalidate that the target was met does it Sunny? I don’t really see why there has to be a reason.

      Maybe this all suggests that a central target for diversity is not a good one and that there should be something a bit more sensitive given each department’s position.

      All this, of course is before we ask whether diverse government = better government.

    6. bananabrain — on 23rd June, 2008 at 2:18 pm  

      if this means anything, i’d also like to know:

      1. how good the staff of the MoD are at defending themselves.
      2. how the people at the DfT get to work.
      3. how many sick days there are in the NHS.
      4. how innovative the department for innovation actually is (as someone who works in the field, i can certainly give you my opinion, hah)
      5. how tasty, sustainable and locally sourced the canteens at defra are.



    7. douglas clark — on 23rd June, 2008 at 2:33 pm  


      Yeah, I was going to argue that side of the coin too.

      But if you look at the Press release, as you’d probably expect, we already have significant percentages of folk in place.

      For instance:

      Women in top management jobs:

      2003 - 23.9%
      2004 - 24.4%
      2005 - 25.5%
      2006 - ?
      2007 - ?
      2008 - 30.0% target.

      The reason for the ? is that the data is not provided. But we do see an approx 1.5% uplift in 2003/04 and 1% in 2004/05. In my experience a policy becomes easier to apply the further on into it you are - when it has become institutionlised if you like. I suspect the targets are easy. They really ought to release the figures for 2006 / 07, I think.

    8. MaidMarian — on 23rd June, 2008 at 2:56 pm  

      douglas clark (7) - Yes, I agree. The more institutionlised something is, the more it becomes self-reinforcing. These figures, on the face of it, seem to reflect that.

      In a way, this reflects my biggest frustration with New Labour in government. I have no doubt that someone, somewhere sat and decided in perfectly good faith that diversity was a good (we can, of course, debate that) and that a policy and target was a good way to implement it.

      That is great until it hits the real world and the real-world factors that affect everything. This runs through so many of Labour’s failures. The best of intentions rushed and poorly implemented.

      The lesson is that government can not legislate success and can manage by target in a pretty limited way. Equality is no different.

      Better government, to my mind, necessarily means the slow, steady progress, the slow research/piloting and the careful planning. There should be no shame in a minister saying, ‘policy goal X will not be met as the research and pilot raised issues to be resolved.’ This, of course, will never fly with the press who demand that something must be done.

      What we need is far less, far better government. And certainly less of Labour’s trait of trying to legislate away problems.

    9. billaricaydickey — on 24th June, 2008 at 10:08 am  

      What no one is asking here is who set the targets in the first place and what are they based on? If they are based on the ridiculous demands of OBV that everything in society must reflect its ethnic make up then they are totally false.

      Always go back to basecs and ask fundamental questions like what is equality and what is racism. I have never been able to get an answer to those questions from anyone especially the race industry professionals who throw them around with abandon. Perhaps someone could enlighten us all.

      A good turnout on Saturday and Sunday at Chadwell Heath. Every single house and flat in the ward has been leafleted and there were special letters for every ethnic minority name we could find on the electoral register. It was interesting to see which were the deshi houses, they inevitablt were have an extension as big as the original house added on and there were two or three late model cars in the drive!

      The only Asian to turn out was a reporter from Eastern Eye so check the next edition this Friday. The recriminations about the farcical “march” against racism have already started. In case people have forgotten the SWP controlled Unite Against Fascism marched from City Hall to Trafalgar Sq to demand that Richard Barnebrook be evicted from City Hall totally ignoring the fact that he has been legally elected.

      The SWP site claims “up to” ten thousand marched, every one who was there says no more than two and one ex SWPer claims twelve hundred. It is a huge embarrassment for the Trots and a total vindication of the Searchlight strategy of local campaigning. Watch out for resignations and expulsions, the nives are out.

    10. douglas clark — on 24th June, 2008 at 10:50 am  


      Yes, there is also the question of whether targets are in fact anti egalitarian themselves. I happen to think that recruitment and promotion should be based on the best candidate being selected, absent race, sex, disability and nationality. But that arguement has to face off against an institutional culture of only appointing from within a specific group, for instance, a white, male, public school, Oxbridge self defining elite. Which, for senior posts at least, was the status quo all those years ago. Breaking up that boys club might be unfair to some, it almost certainly is, but that’s what happens when you try to operate a cartel.

    11. persephone — on 26th June, 2008 at 12:29 am  

      perhaps careers in the civil service are not attracting those from ethnic minorities for eg? I went on a civil servant assessment day years ago and was the only non caucasian face. I got the job (am not Oxbridge educated) & in turn when I was recruiting, rarely saw any applications from the backgrounds that are being sought. I went back to industry and must say I saw more diversity (in all its forms) in the civil service than industry

    12. douglas clark — on 26th June, 2008 at 12:49 am  


      Truly, the lack of applicants from disadvantaged groups is a major problem. Having been responsible for entry level recruitment, the lack of applicants, except to be fair, from women, is a major issue. There is an open door for ethnic minorities, the disabled and others to enter public service, if they can be arsed.

    13. persephone — on 26th June, 2008 at 10:31 am  


      I heartily agree that individuals need to do something about it as it is only by joining orgns lacking diversity that you can seek to influence/change from within. Sitting on the sidelines bemoaning ones lot won’t. As to women & recruitment at a senior level that is a whole other topic ….

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