Upfield, also a Prospect national executive committee member, was seconding a motion from the FDA on valuing diversity and developing talent in the public services.
He said Prospect was playing its part by training members as mentors to support women in science, technology, engineering and maths.
Although the motion called for a more diverse civil service, particularly at senior levels, Upfield said Prospect wanted those within the feeder grades for the senior civil service to be able to use development opportunities, including mentoring programmes, to progress.
Civil service diversity imbalance
The gender and diversity statistics within the senior civil service do not make good reading, he added:
- 36% are women
- 5% are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds
- 4.6% are disabled.
Overall, 53% of civil servants are women, 9.6% are from BME backgrounds and 8.6% are disabled – and they tend to be in lower grades.
Latest Office for National Statistics figures showed that around 42% of grades six and seven are women, a very small increase since 2008.
The proportion of BME civil servants and those with disabilities decreases steadily the higher the level of responsibility: with 11% of BME staff at EO grade compared to 5% at senior level.
Nine per cent of staff with a declared disability are at AO and AA levels, compared to 5% at senior level.
Fewer women and BME staff promoted
A Civil Service World magazine report of responses to questions in parliament had shown that the proportion of promotions going to women fell in seven of 11 departments that responded. Disabled and BME staff were also under-represented in promotions.
“The magazine also suggested that austerity measures are having an impact on measures to improve equality and diversity, particularly as training budgets are being slashed throughout the civil service,” he added.
Upfield said that while welcome, Prospect had some concerns about a new talent action plan published by the civil service in early September:
- there are no targets or benchmarks (unlike the previous strategy)
- accountability on delivery needs strengthening
- it is not clear how the plan will be monitored
- more commitment is needed to career development programmes
- 200 senior civil servants will be required to mentor one or more junior employees.Without proper monitoring and training, some of the 200 may not be suitable.
While all-male shortlists for senior civil service recruitment will be banned, this should be extended throughout the civil service, he added.
Work with unions on talent plan
“The action plan is a good starting point with encouraging commitments. But to make it work, we must ensure that government, departments, agencies and non-departmental public bodies work with their trade unions to guarantee success.”
He praised the Positive Action Pathway initiative. But many departments had not signed up, and line managers needed support with training and budgets.
Upfield said the senior civil service lacks diversity in terms of professional backgrounds and called for increased resources and authority for heads of profession to develop existing civil servants’ careers.
The civil service had recently launched an apprenticeship scheme “but much more could be done to develop apprentices of all ages in a wider range of functions.”
Delegates backed the call for the government to invest in a long-term, integrated talent pathway for public servants that genuinely supports the promotion of talent and ensures equality of opportunity.