Five minutes with… Sir Jeremy Heywood, Cabinet Secretary

Yesterday, the Cabinet Office launched its diversity and inclusion strategy for the civil service. Sir Jeremy Heywood, cabinet secretary, spoke to LEAD about how he plans to achieve its ambitious goals.

“Ever since I became head of the civil service, I’ve said that this [diversity] is one of our top three issues. We have to be a more commercial civil service, a more digital civil service and a more diverse and inclusive civil service.

All permanent secretaries are held to account re progress. They have an end-of-year review where they have to show their contribution to the diversity strategy. They pass that accountability down their organisations. They can’t deliver unless their teams, leaders, managers are all dancing to the same tune. In addition to the top-down approach, there is the bottom-up pressure as well. For example, we have a brilliant set of staff networks who keep us in check.

This is not something that is going to happen overnight. It is going to take 5 or 10 years. This is a better strategy than we’ve ever had, but it’s not something that is going to happen by a few top people making speeches. It is going to need relentless work and effort across the entire civil service.

The numbers are moving in the right direction. If you look at gender, there has been a significant improvement in terms of gender balance, but we need to do better when it comes to BAME, disabled people, etc.

There is commitment at a top political level – the Prime Minister has established the Race Disparity Audit as a top political priority, for example. She has put a huge amount of effort into that. It means that we have the political support to do what we need and want to do also.

We are very keen to address the lack of BAME representatives across the civil service. As has been pointed out today, there are lots of BAME people filling prisons but not that many working in them. We want to close that gap – not just in prisons but across the rest of the civil service.

If we are to achieve our diversity and inclusion goals, we need more people from bame backgrounds to think about civil service as a career. We have increasing numbers but not enough. In general, I don’t think that BAME families necessarily think about the civil service as a career for their kids or themselves – not in the same way as they do about accountancy, or law.

How do we make sure that suppliers and partners live and breathe the same values as the civil service? We have pretty informal mechanisms at the moment. We want to use our leadership to persuade them to do the same as us. We haven’t gone as far as making it a condition of supply to the government. I’d have to think about that carefully as there are European rules that apply which make it difficult to apply conditions.

I don’t want to create a situation where we can only work with big companies that have big HR teams and can tick the right diversity boxes at the expense of smaller organisations that find it more difficult. But in terms of the broader question – can we use our muscle, leadership and national prominence that we have to lead on this agenda? Yes, we can.”

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