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Jeremy Heywood launches new network for black and minority ethnic civil service leaders as Whitehall aims to boost diversity in its top ranks

Written by Matt Foster, Civil Service World deputy editor on 25 February 2016

"One of our most important collective responsibilities is to improve the diversity of our senior leadership," says cabinet secretary, as new senior network launched

Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood pictured for CSW by Paul Heartfield

A new network for senior officials from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds has been launched by cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, as the civil service continues to try and improve diversity in its top ranks.

While BAME officials make up 10.6% of the wider civil service, the latest figures show that just 4.1% of jobs at the highest level – the Senior Civil Service – are filled by people from such backgrounds.

Meanwhile, an independent report commissioned by the Cabinet Office last year warned that policies intended to ensure that talented BAME civil servants were promoted remained “inconsistent, uncoordinated and lacking real drive". One participant told the report's authors that the senior civil service could sometimes "feel like an old boys’ network".

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There are already a number of departmental staff networks across Whitehall for BAME officials, with the Civil Service Race Forum coordinating efforts to identify race equality issues and share advice about improving the situation.

But the new network, which will hold its first meeting on March 16, is the first time that such a forum has has been explicitly aimed at the SCS, and the Cabinet Office said staff would be "encouraged to stand as visible role models and aim for higher roles and promotions".

Launching the latest diversity drive, Heywood said improving the diversity of the civil service's senior leaders was one its "most important collective responsibilities".

He added: "Networks play an important part in this and I am hugely supportive of their contribution. The civil service takes pride in its differences and we have a duty to become even more representative of modern Britain. A diverse and inclusive workforce is proven to be more efficient and effective. 

"I am passionate about encouraging individuals from all backgrounds to aim high and achieve their potential too, and in doing so to help the civil service become a truly inclusive employer where different points of view are genuinely encouraged and valued.”

The latest initiative comes on top of several recent diversity announcements.

It was announced late last year that the civil service would move to ensure that "name-blind" recruitment – where individual's names from job application forms in a bid to overcome bias – was used for all new hires below senior level. The latest figures show that 13 departments and agencies are currently signed up to that scheme.

Whitehall's permanent secretaries were also set specific objectives for improving the diversity of their departments for the first time, with top officials who fail to meet those targets less likely to get a performance-related bonus.

Matt Foster, Civil Service World deputy editor