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For the public services to represent the masses, the masses must be represented within the public services: Diversity & Inclusion in the public sector

For the public services to represent the masses, the masses must be represented within the public services: Diversity & Inclusion in the public sector

Reed, one of our Consultancy Services framework suppliers, discuss diversity and inclusion within the public sector.

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace has received significant attention in recent years, bringing it to the forefront of company strategy. The intricacy of this topic requires concise definitions and differentiations between the terms diversity and inclusion. To utilise D&I strategy, organisations will need to view these as separate, albeit interlinked, concepts, both underpinned by equal representation in the workplace.

To understand diversity is to recognise the differences across varying groups of people in the UK, often placing emphasis on those groups with protected characteristics in UK law who are at higher risk of marginalisation. Inclusion should be defined as the extent to which these diverse groups of people are provided with equal opportunities, in this instance in relation to the talent lifecycle.

With its scale and impact on the population, the public sector is calling out for a clear and concise D&I strategy more than ever. Most importantly of all, it will require consistent delivery by trained experts, who impart their knowledge and ensure the effort is organisation-wide. As the title of this article suggests, the responsibility of the public service is to equally represent the masses, and the extent to which this responsibility is fulfilled from an internal perspective is dictated by their people strategy. It is for this reason that the public sector must become the pioneer and lead from the front on D&I.

Issues facing the public sector

At the very core of D&I is the concept of equal representation and the feeling that everyone has the opportunity to use their voice to enact change. This concept is as intrinsic as the democracy that serves as the foundation of the political landscape of the United Kingdom. It is because of this concept that the public sector is experiencing challenges relating to confidence and workforce strategy. Perceived to be run by the elite in government, and funded by the general public through taxes, public services will face a lack in confidence if their workforces are not representative of the public that they serve. If the public services feel more equal, more of the general population will feel accurately represented.

This would be difficult to measure at ground level. However, an employee made to feel that they have been given equal opportunity to succeed will be far more likely to perceive that particular public service and, by extension, perhaps the public sector as a whole, as more likely to equally represent the UK population.

The benefits of D&I in the public sector

Studies have found both positive and negative effects of diversity on business performance, and these studies have explicitly identified that these findings may well be as a result of extraneous factors unrelated to D&I.

It is not the purpose of this article to suggest that D&I has no clear benefits to organisations. It is, however, undeniably difficult to evidence without extensive reliable research. On a surface level, there is evidence to suggest that viewing D&I as a priority encourages favourable perceptions of the organisation, which in turn leads to positive productivity. For this reason, for the public sector to enact change and lead the way in D&I strategy, it will require the pioneering belief in the notion that encouraging D&I through tangible strategies can only be seen as a positive action. It is through these perceptions that possible improvements in productivity may occur.

Common mistakes made in D&I strategies

Internally driven D&I strategies are often well planned and executed with the best of intentions. Considerable emphasis is placed on the need for empirical evidence and data driven actions as a result of the intangible nature of D&I. While this is necessary, it can result in a loss of perspective of the sociological and psychological intricacies of diversity and inclusion, underpinned by an overemphasis on targets. Instead of ‘employing one more woman’, organisations must address the criteria on which they assess candidates. Favouring an approach of hiring on potential and work ethic should replace the categorisation of candidates, and the subsequent view that their offer of employment is a means of increasing that category’s representation on a year-on-year chart.

Nevertheless, strategic approaches to D&I must be founded on reliable data to mitigate the risk of not being able to measure the strategy’s impact accurately. In fact, it is the implementation of an approach that recognises the importance of both data and sociological perspective that will ensure that diversity, inclusion, and business improvement, take place. Adopting a strategy which harmonises a human and a statistical perspective will lead to a diverse, inclusive, and flourishing workforce.

The place for consultancy

I will spare you from the sales pitch on this occasion. However I will from an objective standpoint, present the case for a consultancy to design and deliver D&I strategy. Consulting firms that specialise in HR and D&I can objectively deliver a project, driven by an in-depth understanding and genuine passion for the subject matter.

Without the specialist, project driven, and holistic approach offered by a consulting firm, a D&I strategy is at risk of becoming deflated and turning into a box-ticking exercise, as those across the organisation unintentionally impede the strategy’s momentum. It is one of the most difficult and resisted feats of our time to force widespread change across, ironically, vastly differing groups of people. Each has a need for their own tailored message and training on how to change their perceptions of D&I and consequent implementation of these changes. To ensure this is a successful and permanent change, ongoing delivery and advisory services will more often than not be required. This is currently perceived as a luxury from a headcount perspective, and therefore organisations could benefit greatly from deploying a team of external experts to implement a lasting strategy.


In a climate of uncertainty the public sector must use all available options to remain the foundation of public confidence. Adopting this mantra requires commitment to improving the representation of protected characteristic groups, predominantly through a change to hiring on potential where possible and a cultural shift towards recognising difference and celebrating the potential business benefits of this. Most importantly, it will require not losing sight of the reasons for that change, avoiding the pitfall of statistical improvement being enough to satisfy stakeholders.

If you would like to learn more about ESPO’s Consultancy Services framework (664) and Reed Specialist Recruitment, please click here.