Why diversity matters
The various events across the Office to mark Diversity and Inclusion Week provided a great opportunity to remind ourselves of the kind of organisation we want to be (and want to work in). Pam Blackhurst and her team have done a great job bringing together a wide ranging mix of perspectives into a coherent strategy to drive forward our future efforts. I joined an event in Titchfield and it was heartening to see how much those present cared about making a reality of our commitments.
We have a lot of reasons to be positive. We are an organisation focused on the public good. Public service runs through the veins of all of us who choose to work here. That in itself makes us open to the ideas of diversity and inclusion. Four specific areas stand out for me.
The first is our response to the Time to Change initiative on mental health. The stories told and the personal pledges made are full of emotion and care for colleagues. Iain Bell’s recent blog ‘Dealing with the Hard Times’ led to possibly the richest ever sharing of experience on Reggie. The generosity and mutual support shown by contributors was uplifting to read.
Second is our collective commitment on disability which was presented by the Disability Network to the most recent meeting of the Executive Group (NSEG). It is wonderful that we received a Gold Award from the Business Disability Forum, the first public sector organisation to receive it. It is even more wonderful to hear the stories of the impact that our approach has had on individuals and their ability to make the fullest contribution to the work of the Office.
Third is our support for women into leadership. The video created by Nikki Walsh featuring a variety of voices from women across the Office (and some men – men need to care about supporting women leaders too) has inspired many colleagues. That Computing magazine choose to announce its shortlists for its Women in IT awards during Diversity and Inclusion week is a signal of the importance of this topic for an inclusive workplace. That four of the exceptional women in IT in ONS are featured on the shortlist, amongst mainly private sector peers, is testament to the opportunities provided in our workplace.
And fourth, our role as a Stonewall diversity champion, and our consistent placing in the Stonewall top 100 employers, indicates that we are an organisation where people can be comfortable being themselves.
In addition to these internal aspects of our work, we have a unique role in supporting diversity and inclusion in society more generally. Our latest statistics on wellbeing, released the same day as the Titchfield event provide a rich source of insight into how various groups in society feel about their lives. These insights can help drive better decisions. Recent work by the Census team on how to measure sexual orientation, gender identity and ethnicity will provide new ways to enable people to have a place and a voice through our statistics. And our series of articles about EU nationals in Britain and British nationals in EU countries has been timely in informing current debate.
These positives should give us the courage to face up to those areas where we are nowhere near good enough. Less than 30 per cent of the Senior Civil Servants in ONS are women and none is from a Black or Minority Ethnic group. A gap remains between the experience reported in the People Survey by disabled colleagues and others, especially on bullying and harassment. And the data we have on diversity and inclusion is far off where it needs to be if we are to make better decisions on how to effect the necessary changes. We must do better.
Improving diversity and inclusion matters to me for three reasons. First, it is the right thing to do. It is not right that some people get the chance to flourish and others do not. It is not right that some seem to be more equal than others. It is not right that some people are not treated with respect.
Second, it helps us achieve more. If we bring the widest range of perspectives to the table when we make decisions those decisions are likely to be better as a result. Third, as a public facing organisation we must reflect the people we seek to serve if we are to serve them well.
Of course inclusion is a wider issue than people with protected characteristics. It is about people with all sorts of different backgrounds, identities, and experiences building successful careers in the organisation and achieving their potential. We want all staff to ‘be themselves’ at work, feeling supported, empowered, valued, and treated fairly.
So, what am I doing about it? We often talk about the basics, like personal objectives and training. It sometimes surprises people to hear that I too have personal objectives on diversity and inclusion and make sure I regularly update my training on unconscious bias. This should not be a surprise, since one of the best things I, and other senior managers, can do is to include ourselves in what others are doing.
When I started my current job, one of my first acts was to make myself Chair of our Diversity and Inclusion Steering Group. This has given me a great opportunity to see the work that is being done by our Network Groups and others and to hear first hand the experience of a diverse group of colleagues.
I also wanted to do something about the composition of the Executive leadership team. That team was entirely comprised of white men aged around 50. I was told it would be hard to change quickly since the team reflects the people in particular roles. However, by broadening the reach to include two senior leaders from the Government Statistical Service outside ONS we made an immediate change. But this still did not give me the diversity of perspective I needed. I asked for expressions of interest to become a volunteer member of the group and we now have two full members of NSEG who are volunteers chosen entirely on the basis of the interests they have shown and contribution they will make. Each serves for 6 months to enable new members of any grade or background to come on board regularly.
The launch of our Diversity and Inclusion Strategy is an important signal but much more important is what we each do next. I will await this year’s People Survey with interest to get the latest update on how well we are doing. I read all of the anonymised responses and will not be satisfied until everyone who works here reports that they feel that they are working in an organisation that is truly inclusive, values diversity and makes people feel at ease being themselves.
Now ask yourself. Why does it matter to you? What are you doing?
John Pullinger, National Statistician