Workforce equality and diversity

You could argue that local government is not doing too badly when it comes to equalities.

The average gender pay gap figure is 6.1 per cent, compared with 17.9 per cent for England as a whole, and around four in 10 of all senior council positions are held by women.

But I’m sure we all know that there is much more we can do to further equalities, diversity and inclusion in our local government workforce.

A recent report by Green Park, a leadership recruitment agency, shows that black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) chief executives make up just 3 per cent of the heads of UK local authorities. Of the top 20 senior management positions in local government, only 3.7 per cent are held by BAME leaders, compared with 7 per cent among FTSE 100 companies.

The LGA’s Local Government Workforce Survey 2016/17 shows that the percentage of BAME staff among the top 5 per cent of earners in our councils has fallen slightly, as has the proportion of people with a disability in these top posts.

The seemingly positive figures on women have been fairly static over the past few years, despite local government having a predominantly female workforce – so there is more progress to be made there. There is a reason this information matters: the evidence is clear that no organisation can thrive and evolve without increasing the agility, skills and customer focus of its workforce and leadership team. The connection between these qualities, the diversity of the team, the inclusiveness of the culture, and the organisation’s relevance to its community is irrefutable.

To put it simply, more diverse organisations perform better. This surely makes it a strategic imperative, not a ‘nice to have’, for local authorities and that’s why I’m keen to ensure this remains a priority for councils’ leadership teams.

So why, despite being at the forefront of diversity issues in the past, has progress in local government seemed to slow down? Austerity and cost-cutting restructures had an impact, but we perhaps misunderstood what we were trying to do.

“Diversity without inclusion is like being invited to the party but no-one asking you to dance

We treated equality, diversity and inclusion as one thing, and tweaked some policies and practices accordingly, but the fundamental shift in culture and perceptions didn’t happen. In the workplace, diversity equals representation. Without inclusion, however, the crucial connections that attract diverse talent, encourage their participation, foster innovation and lead to high-performing organisations, won’t happen. Diversity without inclusion is like being invited to the party but no-one asking you to dance.

We can and will change this. Councils’ transformation programmes present an ideal opportunity to think differently about our jobs and how they get done, about what talent and aptitude looks like, to reinvent our leadership competences and values.

The LGA is supporting councils with new approaches to being more diverse and inclusive. For example, it is working with central government and professional bodies to explore new roles in apprenticeships and new ways of entering teaching and social care; it is offering information and advice to manage staff with mental health issues; and investing in a range of officer and councillor leadership programmes.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to being more diverse and more inclusive. What you need to do depends on your council, your community’s needs, your challenges, and your engagement with your workforce.

The key is to do something – because the challenges around recruiting the right workforce to support our people, places and communities properly remain as great as ever.

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