Skip to main content

Diversity and the 2016-17 Annual Survey of Ministerial Appointments and Reappointments

Blog post by Peter Riddell

Wednesday 5 July 2017

Public appointments are gradually becoming more representative of the public as a whole. That is the welcome message of the annual survey of ministerial appointments and reappointments covering 2016-17, collated and published by my office from returns from departments. But progress is in many cases slow and patchy, and much more needs to be done if those who are appointed are to reflect the diversity of Britain now. This applies especially to the appointment of chairs of public bodies.

Responsibility, and the credit, for this performance lie with Ministers and with departments who do the appointing. I don’t. My role is to report and to champion diversity, highlighting good practice and urging changes which will broaden the range of potential, and actual, appointees to the boards of public bodies. The statistics that I will be discussing are an accumulation of decisions made across Whitehall, encouraged and co-ordinated by the Centre for Public Appointments in the Cabinet Office. The link between the desire for greater diversity and the outcomes is in many respects indirect and, in part, fortuitous. There are good intentions but the levers of decision making that can produce increased diversity are widely spread.

First, the good news, the marked improvement in recent years in the number of female candidates appointed has been sustained at just over 45 per cent, up from around 35 per cent at the beginning of the decade. Moreover, nearly a half of new appointments (48.5 per cent) are women, including just over half those appointed to advisory bodies.

There are also positive trends on the appointment and reappointment of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) candidates, now up to new peak of 9.1 per cent. Encouragingly, the figure is even higher for new appointments, now 10.2 per cent– though this compares with a BAME share of the total population of 14 per cent in England and Wales.

Progress has also been made on appointments and reappointments of people declaring a disability, now at 6 per cent, the second highest level in the past five years.

While three-fifths of public appointments go to those aged over 56– a reflection both of experience and availability of time– for the first time nearly 12 per cent of appointments and reappointments went to candidates aged under 45.

Now comes the but. These trends are in the right direction but there is still a long way to go to reach acceptable levels of diversity. In particular, the level of appointments to chairs for each of these groups remains disappointingly low– at 28 per cent for women, 5.2 per cent for BAME candidates, and less than 3 per cent for those declaring a disability. (This means that out of 136 appointments and reappointments of chairs, just seven were made to BAME applicants, and three to those declaring a disability.)

These figures are worryingly small and I do not believe that there are so few suitable potential chairs of public bodies from among BAME and disabled groups, while the number of women appointed as chairs is still too low. From my own contacts with people from BAME and disabled groups, I have met a number clearly of high quality with the potential to be candidates for chair positions. Departments need to do more to seek out and encourage applications from these groups.

While nearly three-fifths of applicants for all public body positions in 2016-17 were men, women were more likely to be selected for interview than men, 28 against 21 per cent, pointing to a high quality of women candidates. Moreover, women were then more likely to go on to be appointed. Consequently 17 per cent of women who applied for a public appointment were successful, against 10 per cent of men.

The relative position was less positive for BAME applicants, less than a fifth of whom were interviewed against nearly a quarter of the white/unknown category. Overall, just 8.6 per cent of BAME applicants were appointed, against 11.8 per cent in the white/unknown group. I hope to understand more of the reasons for this in discussions I intend to hold around Whitehall.

For candidates declaring a disability, the key is getting an interview. More than two-fifths (42.1 per cent) of those interviewed were appointed, against less than a quarter (24.1 per cent) of those not declaring a disability who were interviewed. Overall, 8.7 per cent of applicants declaring a disability were appointed, against 5.3 per cent of those not declaring a disability. That should reassure those with disabilities that it is worthwhile to apply, and it is good that departments are using the Guaranteed Interview Scheme to help widen opportunities for disabled people.

The statistics are, however, patchy. While only 2 per cent of appointees do not declare their gender, more than a fifth (21.3 per cent) either chose not to declare their ethnic background or it is unknown, while nearly a quarter ( 24.3 per cent) either chose not to declare their disability status or it is unknown. My office is working with the Cabinet Office and with departments to improve the level of returns.

A central underlying problem is to persuade women, BAME candidates and those declaring a disability to apply to put themselves forward to be non-executive members of the boards of public bodies. More needs to be done to publicise opportunities beyond the Centre for Public Appointments website by using social media and existing personal networks in these communities. A key argument is to persuade people that these roles are suitable for them and that the odds are not stacked against them. The Centre for Public Appointments is already building lists of potential candidates and it is clear that more can be done to nurture a pipeline here. There are already some promising initiatives to encourage diversity and I will be publishing case studies on my website.

Looking ahead, this year for the first time OCPA will be collecting statistics on those appointed covering sexual orientation, faith/religion or its absence, and place of residence. This is to give a fuller picture on diversity and the profile of those appointed, but the evidence will not be known and published for a year.

Interested in finding out about public appointments?
Full annual survey of ministerial appointments and reappointments

A version of this blog first appeared in Guardian Public Leaders