Guardian: Diversity in the Public Sector

Recent article from the Guardian.

Badge Joe Public blog

Who will encourage diversity now?

Without the Appointments Commission, diverse representation among public appointees will be less likely, says Arwa Aburawa

The government’s notion of “big society” is supposed to give communities the freedom to determine their future. But if it is not careful, the government will instead simply create a “big society” for a small minority.

Among the list of 177 quangos reportedly shortlisted for the axe by the coalition government is the Appointments Commission – an organisation charged with the big task of encouraging diversity of public appointments such as chairs and non-executive directors within the public sector. So are we really better off without it?

It’s no secret that the representation of women, people from minority ethnic backgrounds and those with disabilities in the top echelons of the public sector is poor. According to statistics from the Appointments Commission, women make up over half of the population but only represent 33.3% of public appointees, while minority ethnic groups make up less than 6% of public appointees even though they form 11% of the population. Disability doesn’t fare any better. While disabled people comprise 14% of the working population, they make up only 5% of public appointees.

If these groups are struggling to secure their fair share of the 18,500 appointments to NHS, government agency and Whitehall department boards every year, getting rid of an organisation working towards improving diversity is a bad idea.

Set up in 2001, one of the main strengths of the commission has been its work encouraging greater transparency in the appointment process for public appointments.

Left to its own devices, it’s easy to see how the public sector will fall back on old-boy networks. It’s not just potential candidates that will be losing out but entire communities who will be “represented” by boards that are decidedly pale, male and middle class.

Of course, the commission has its failings. Less than a decade old, it’s hard to judge how successful it was in making public boards more diverse. Certainly the commission is responsible for recruiting a sizeable number of public appointments. But whether it managed to successfully tackle the public sector’s exclusive board culture, so that under-represented groups feel welcome and able to make a valued contribution, is a lot more questionable.

Even so, the possible demise of the commission means the situation will probably get much worse and any progress made will be unravelled.

Who will encourage the next Shaama Saggar-Malik, an Asian women who is lay member of the Employment Tribunal and member of the National Clinical Assessment Authority, to get involved in the running of government departments or their local hospital now?

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