The second online disability event on Wednesday 28th April was aimed at both prospective candidates for Senior Civil Service roles who have a disability and hiring managers alike. The event was chaired by the Chief Executive of the Civil Service Commission, Peter Lawrence OBE. The panel of speakers included an independent Civil Service Commissioner, Rosie Glazebrook alongside Seonaid Webb MBE (Deputy Director, DEFRA and Deputy Disability Champion), Jo Oakley (CS Workplace Adjustments Service Team Leader) and John Knight (The Commission’s Disability Advisor).

The Civil Service Commission regulates recruitment into the Civil Service to make sure it is fair, open and merit-based. Commissioners personally chair recruitment competitions for senior roles.

The panel covered a range of topics of relevance, as well as giving hints and tips based on their own experiences:

The full recording of the event can be found through the link below:

In addition, there were a number of unanswered questions on Slido that the panel did not have time to address during the live event. The questions and answers can be found below:

1. Does the civil service have to hire a certain amount of people with disabilities into senior management? Do they positively discriminate in any way?

No, there are no targets for recruiting people with disabilities into senior management. The Civil Service does not positively discriminate on any protected characteristics, although there are often positive actions available such as mentoring or development programmes that help prepare people for the future.

2. How do you counter the self-limiting belief that questions whether you only got the interview because of your disability?

Your disability is a part of you, but it doesn’t have to define you or limit what you can achieve. Know that you have met the minimum standards to progress to the interview stage through your skills, knowledge, experience and work ethic. Review your sift scores and any feedback. Speak to a coach/mentor/your line manager and take time to reflect on your CV, Behaviour examples and Personal Statement and everything you’ve achieved in your career to date. 

3. I'm curious, why is there such a heavy presence of psychologists and psychometric testing during these recruitment processes?

Any assessments included in the process are decided in order to enhance the evidence about candidates and are tailored to the role. 

4. When you are invited to interview - do they assess who goes forward simply from the interviews or do they take the application and interview into account?

All aspects of the evidence gathered during the process are taken into account.  If there have been assessments, questions relating to these may be asked in the final interview, together with the initial application and final interview. 

5. Do you have any tips for hiring managers who are recruiters on how to break down the perception barrier of DCS/GIS declarations on applications, being considered as unconscious bias and candidates not being progressed?

By ensuring there are diverse sift and interview panels who have completed the appropriate success profiles, disability confident and/or equality and diversity training. Anonymise this information from the sift process, and ensure the sift panel have set and agreed on a clear minimum standard or score prior to the sift taking place. Only share with the sift/interview panel the information they would need to be aware of as the candidate progresses through different stages of the recruitment process, e.g. if an individual was invited to interview the panel and those organising the interviews would need to be aware of any requested adjustments such as, for example, wheelchair access requirements, extended interview time, regular breaks etc.

6. Could a dyslexic person have interview questions in advance if they requested it as a reasonable adjustment? What are the Commission’s views on whether this gives them an unfair advantage over other candidates?

We would expect departments to consider each request for reasonable adjustments on its own merits, as well as considering whether one candidate is advantaged by the process. You would need to consider whether your process could be seen as creating a disadvantage to a person with a declared disability. The purpose of the Disability Confident scheme and reasonable workplace adjustments is to create a level playing field for someone with a disability. We would therefore expect you to consider the specific nature of the disability and take advice where necessary. Allowing sight of the questions shortly before the interviews, or granting additional time are all examples of reasonable workplace adjustments, as long as we can see the justification for using them, the Commission would be content.

One consistent record of the interview should be retained by the department, agreed by the whole panel, and the appointment made on merit.

7. Is there an alternative to lodging formal complaints when things seem to have gone wrong? Sometimes the process can feel somewhat Kafka-esque!

The first step is to seek feedback and find out why you were unsuccessful – the response may well explain what happened and why, leading you to review the basis of your complaint. If you remain dissatisfied, then you can make a formal complaint through the appropriate process as set out in the original advert.  

8. With the new DELTA (Disability Scheme) programme being launched for this year's Future Leaders Scheme, do presenters feel that the way the Civil Service is run will need to fundamentally change to accommodate more disability in the SCS? Eg changing deadlines for papers, accommodating new ways of working for Board meetings etc?

As part of the CS Reform Agenda, Smarter Working in the Civil Service (formerly Build Back Better), is taking forward the positive lessons from the Pandemic on different ways of working. They are looking at hybrid ways of working, which will support accessibility and inclusion, health and wellbeing and work-life balance.   

9. How do you go about getting an assessment for what adjustments you might need? Or do you suggest them yourself?

If you think you may need workplace adjustments (you will, of course, probably be best placed to judge)  speak to your line manager and check on your department’s intranet site for Workplace Adjustment Guidance. The assessment routes will differ depending on which department you work in. The guidance should explain your department’s end to end workplace adjustment process and signpost you to the correct routes from assessments, through to the procurement of your adjustments. Some departments use the Civil Service Workplace Adjustment Service, others will have a central HR or Health & Safety team or line managers arrange assessments directly through their Occupational Health (OH) providers. 

It is worth noting that OH assessments aren’t always necessary, and can cause unnecessary expense and delay implementing adjustments. Depending on the type of disability or health condition, and how long you have lived with this, you may know exactly what adjustments you need to remove any barriers and support you effectively in the workplace. Completing a Workplace Adjustment Passport might help your line manager to understand your needs and support you better. 

If you have any other questions please email us at: info@csc.gov.uk.

Jolyon Thomson OBE

In our seventh blog in this series, Jolyon Thomson OBE, Deputy Director - International and Trade, talks about his experience of working in the Civil Service.

About Jolyon

Jolyon has been a Government lawyer for 25 years, primarily working on international and EU law in Defra’s areas of responsibility. He is currently Deputy Director (International and Trade) leading a team focusing on EU and global trade negotiations and before that, spent 18 years specialising in international environmental matters, for which he was awarded an OBE and share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He is registered blind and co-chairs the Government Legal Department’s Disability and Mental Health Network.  

What do you think the Civil Service needs to do to attract more candidates from a more diverse background into senior roles? What advice do you have for recruiters?

I shall respond on the basis of what I know best, namely the position relating to civil servants with disabilities.

Civil servants need to see and hear from those at senior levels that have made it. Importantly, the message needs to be that not only is it possible to reach the Senior Civil Service (SCS) but also that it’s a viable and sustainable role. Many potential SCS candidates are self-denying in terms of how they perceive their own ability to operate effectively at that level.

We should certainly now be in a position in 2021, 25 years after the passage of the Disability Discrimination Act, to ensure reasonable adjustments, intelligent work planning, and other suitable arrangements can be made (at the suggestion of the candidate who will always know better than a line manager what is feasible) so that those with disabilities can thrive at senior levels. But that can only be achieved when the most senior leaders can see the benefits and opportunities of allowing disabled staff to play to their strengths, and for those staff to have the confidence that the system will operate in that way.

Targets for Senior Civil Service with disabilities (for Government Legal Department, that is 10%) help provide momentum but are only the start of the necessary culture change needed for both line managers and staff.

What could the Civil Service do better to attract and retain civil servants from a more diverse background overall (at any level)? What do you see as the barriers?

I think it is a combination of visible role models and effective targeting. Whilst the Civil Service is making great strides in ensuring that interview panels are appropriately diverse, candidates from diverse backgrounds need to be enticed to apply.  There can be no substitute for a role model at a career fair (or to a lesser extent) in promotional material demonstrating how those from diverse backgrounds can make it to the Senior Civil Service (SCS).

Using the right opportunities for publicity is also important though. Many Government departments (including my own, the Government Legal Department) are members of the Business Disability Forum (BDF) alongside many significant private sector employers, thereby highlighting the fact that the Civil Service is very much open to disabled applicants.

What has been your personal experience of working in the Civil Service? What made a difference to you?

My first experience working for the Civil Service was in the early 1990s as a summer student following graduation in the Legal Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Significantly, the Legal Director and head of the department at the time was completely blind.  That showed me, at first hand, and in my very first experience of the Civil Service, that disability did not matter, and those with disabilities could reach the top positions. Indeed, I should say that that in itself did not surprise me: I have never seen my own visual impairment as any reason to prevent me from undertaking the career that interested me, namely one involving international and EU law. The fact that the head of the division was also blind seemed entirely appropriate and no big deal really.  It was only when I then moved into undertaking my legal training in the private sector that I realised how unusual that was.

Since becoming a permanent Government lawyer in 1996, my experience has been, in the main, hugely positive. I have received wholehearted support from the vast majority of my senior managers and have had no indication that joining the SCS would be a problem. Actually, in my interview for my first SCS role, the fact that I knocked over my water glass creating a wave of water that rushed towards the Panel’s notes, and the fact that we had to suspend the interview whilst they all hunted for paper towels, seemingly did not undermine their preparedness to offer me the role.

There have, though, been moments in my career where I have felt that managers have, seeking to do their best, nevertheless substituted their own judgments about the limits of my capabilities, which at the time was hugely demotivating and frustrating: following a major eye operation with an outcome resulting in significant sight loss, I was directed towards tabular work on screen rather than international negotiations, my area of expertise, which no doubt was arranged with the best of intentions by two Deputy Directors, but did not take account of my own views on what was possible.

Despite my favourable experiences, I have also come across instances where the question of disability has come up in the recruitment process. I was once asked at an interview why I thought I could do the role given my disability (and it was a simple legal advisory role), and I know of others who believe (whether rightly or wrongly) that they have been discriminated against when applying for promotion. I only hope, in this day and age, being on interview panels myself and letting my guide dog wander around the room hopefully de-stressing the candidate, that no one can be in any doubt that disability should not be a negative consideration in the recruitment process.

Why is diversity particularly important at senior levels?

The senior leadership of the Civil Service needs to represent the population it serves.  With 11 million disabled people in the UK, it is right that people at large, and those with disabilities in particular, have the confidence that policy development, decision-making and delivery are carried out by those with an understanding of their needs.

What experiences did you have working at a senior level in the private sector? Are there lessons that the Civil Service can learn from the private sector in terms of recruiting staff from a more diverse background?

My own experience in the private sector, albeit at a junior level, does not compare favourably with my Civil Service experience. This was also a factor alongside the interest in the unique work offered for my decision to forge a legal career in Government.

As a legal trainee and assistant in a major commercial law firm, I was often neglected and given no work to do at times when my colleagues were overworked and could have done with support. I took this as a misunderstanding on the part of my employers as to what I was capable of, given my disability, and my regular requests for work (and concerns about my treatment) were not heeded.

Of course, there were one or two enlightened individuals back in 1995 who did have confidence in me and provided the support that they could. But my treatment did make me feel like an outsider compared with my peers, and I was determined to make a career ultimately in Government, but first with a foray to Brussels to work for the European Commission and some EU law barristers, where my experience was entirely positive.

These days City law firms recruit on the basis of points systems, where points are added for those with extenuating circumstances, often for social mobility and other reasons designed to favour those who would otherwise be overlooked. Whilst in GLD we are particularly keen to attract applicants from diverse backgrounds, tailoring our summer placement and recruitment schemes accordingly, there is always something to learn from the way others do it. Diverse groups are more underrepresented at senior levels in the private sector in the main, and this will only improve over time as the pool of candidates at lower levels becomes more diverse.

Specific initiatives exist e.g. the 30% Club or Ginger to encourage underrepresented groups into senior roles, or to increase the self-confidence of applicants in terms of public speaking, and we need to ensure that our own internal Civil Service and Government Legal initiatives (for example Race to the Top and REACH for those with disabilities) can keep pace with what is known to work and put people into senior roles.

What drives and motivates you in your career?

Two things: firstly, the unique nature, challenge and interest of the work we do within Government; and, secondly, the wish to develop and bring on others to share in that sense of enthusiasm, passion and fulfilment. In applying the latter, it is my belief, based on my own experiences that I have relayed here, that everyone should have the chance to fulfil their potential - whatever their circumstances.

What are your interests and hobbies outside work?

There hasn’t been much time for those lately thanks to Brexit demands and the constraints of lockdown. But I am very much looking forward to the time when I can go out for a proper walk with my yellow Labrador guide dog Melody, preferably in some fresh Scottish air. When not constrained, I enjoy going to concerts and theatre.  In the meantime, talking books are keeping me going.

Jason Ghaboos

In our sixth blog in this series, Jason Ghaboos, Deputy Director - Civil Service Diversity & Inclusion, talks about his experience of working in the Civil Service.

About Jason

Jason was appointed as Deputy Director, Civil Service Diversity & Inclusion in June 2020. In that role, Jason leads the Inclusive Practice team, working with departments to promote and assure best practice on inclusive working to enable the Civil Service to be an exemplar employer.

What do you think the Civil Service needs to do to attract more candidates from a more diverse background into senior roles? What advice do you have for recruiters?

We need to have more confidence in the positives we have to offer as an employer. The nature, breadth and variety of work on offer continues to amaze me even after 18 years working as a civil servant. The opportunity to shape large, complex change, often impacting the shape of society and the quality of life experience for our citizens is such an amazing offer. These opportunities are our unique selling point, and we should push that more.

We need to engage with people in a variety of ways to ensure our value as an employer is seen and understood by all, regardless of background or experience. We know there are perceptions of the Civil Service that are not necessarily accurate, but nonetheless persevere in pockets of communities.   

We should be creative in our attraction of talent, particularly into the SCS, drawing on best practice, available technologies and outreach to engage effectively with those with a range of valuable experiences to reach the broadest audience and a more diverse field of candidates.

What could the Civil Service do better to attract and retain civil servants from a more diverse background overall (at any level)? What do you see as the barriers?

We must make the most of what we have invested in attracting and recruiting talent by improving our retention strategy. Not least, for example, by looking at how we onboard individuals at all levels from the outset of their careers. To promote the uniqueness of working in the Civil Service, our Code, impartiality and ways of working; but also ensuring the diversity they bring (of thought, perspective, innovation) is understood and embraced.

What has been your personal experience of working in the Civil Service? What made a difference to you?

I have been in the Civil Service for over 18 years, starting as an administrative assistant and have worked at every grade between that and my current position in the SCS. 

I am immensely proud to be a civil servant. I have worked in immigration, working with business to ensure the necessary talent is attracted and retained in the UK. I’ve also worked in operations, policy development, assurance, project management and process design. 

I feel lucky to have had so many different experiences: one day walking atop one of the world's few particle accelerators, examining anti-gravitational chambers where satellites are tested before being put into orbit, supporting embassy work, working with big business to improve UK PLC or undertaking regulatory action to prevent abuse of the immigration system to now working aside some of the most dedicated individuals tirelessly engaged in departments to deliver improved workplace culture.  

A key difference for me personally has been the support of my line management team. Good, effective, consistent leadership is key for all our people to inspire, motivate and support. The value of strong leadership and management support cannot be undervalued and should not be left to chance.

Why is diversity particularly important at senior levels?

Crucially, Civil Service diversity will lead to better outcomes for our citizens. It provides us with the ability to meet the pressures and demands facing us as a modern Civil Service, improving our ability, as individuals and collectively as an employer, to solve problems more effectively.

This is about attracting talent from a broad background to promote creativity and innovation. Inclusive working then enables us as civil servants to lead more effectively through a range of increasingly challenging and complex issues and decision making on a daily basis.  

What experiences did you have working at a senior level in the private sector? Are there lessons that the Civil Service can learn from the private sector in terms of recruiting staff from a more diverse background?

Whilst on secondment to the University of Cambridge focussing on workplace culture and in my Civil Service roles, I have had first-hand insight of the focus and energy applied to recruitment and retention of staff in the private sector. 

I learned much from engagement with organisations like Google about the emphasis placed on onboarding to ensure the potential of new recruits is maximised. It’s an approach that looks at both the individual and the organisation and could be very powerful in supporting our ambitions on improving inclusion. 

What drives and motivates you in your career?

Seeing the impact of decisions made on the public and our people is so rewarding. For me, working with other civil servants that are motivated in a similar way and learning from passionate, dedicated people with a wealth of varying experience and backgrounds is the most motivating driver in my career.

What are your interests and hobbies outside work?

Films, various sports, reading and spending time with my cocker spaniel on walks in the countryside.

Seonaid Webb MBE

In our fifth blog in this series, Seonaid Webb MBE - Deputy Director, Head of Secondary Legislation, Constitution and Borders Directorate, DEFRA and Deputy Disability Champion - talks about her experience of working in the Civil Service.

About Seonaid

Seonaid has been a civil servant for 17 years and is currently a Deputy Director in DEFRA where she is Head of Secondary Legislation. Prior to that, she worked in the Home Office for 15 years in a variety of policy and operational roles, the last of which was as head of the Windrush Lessons Learned Review team. She is creator and chair of the award-winning Civil Service Working Through Cancer Network.

What do you think the civil service needs to do to attract more candidates from a more diverse background into senior roles? What advice do you have for recruiters?

People need to be curious about diversity. By that, I mean learning from people with protected and non-protected characteristics about what would attract them to a role, and what they look for in leadership role modelling. 

For example,  we can improve the language and narratives in job adverts to be more inclusive. Plain English and a wider expectation of non-role related experience and behaviours, rather than just specific Civil Service terminologies and career experience, is a good start.  

What could the civil service do better to attract and retain civil servants from a more diverse background overall (at any level)? What do you see as the barriers?

I always attend my local secondary school’s careers fairs and professions events. It’s clear that many young people haven’t heard of the Civil Service, and in particular, don’t realise what excellent and diverse opportunities we offer in terms of entry (apprenticeships and Fast Stream for example) and in terms of professions (from communications and project management to digital and policy – there is something for everyone). I always take one of my apprentices or Fast Streamers with me to the events and we tag team on marketing the Civil Service as a great place to work. The response is always so inspiring – students who realise that there is an amazing career on offer with or without a degree level education. Quite often parents also take our leaflets for themselves! So, if I could suggest one mandated objective for senior managers it is to attend their local (or closest town/city if they don’t have one nearby) secondary school’s careers events and to encourage people from as many backgrounds and life experiences as possible to join us! 

What has been your personal experience of working in the civil service? What made a difference to you?

I have been a Civil Servant now for nearly 17 years. I have absolutely loved the variety of roles I’ve been in from policy to operations, strategy and continuous improvement. Having the flexibility to move departments and test my leadership skills in a new environment is so valuable. For me, knowing that I’m working on issues that really matter – and supporting the UK’s objectives – has always been my main driver. And then working in organisations that are inclusive, diverse and where talent is nurtured is something I feel personally driven to support and improve. 

Why is diversity particularly important at senior levels?

It’s easy to fall into a pattern of decision making that is ignorant of wider risks, issues and opportunities if we don’t have diversity at senior levels. Quite often the person who is challenging the status quo, and asking the “but why?” questions is the one who spots the best ways to improve the way we work and the service we offer our customers. 

For example, do our impact assessments always ask the right questions, and cover the breadth of communities affected by new policies? The Civil Service must be representative of the rich diversity of the public we serve – right now, it’s getting better but there is still a long way to go. 

What drives and motivates you in your career?

I have already mentioned that I love working on issues that matter to the UK. As a leader, I am also passionate about developing talent and creating a great place to work. I’ve mentored and sponsored people for more than 12 years now, and every person’s happiness at their achievements and successes is important to me. 

I want to make sure we build the confidence and capability of the next generation of senior managers, to remove barriers and increase opportunities. 

And finally, I care deeply about inclusion for all. As the chair of the Civil Service Working Through Cancer network, and DEFRA's Deputy Disability Champion, I am motivated to role model behaviours that increase awareness, remove barriers and improve the lived experience of disabled colleagues across the Civil Service.

What are your interests and hobbies outside work?

I love reading (I’m part of a decade long book club), and I love travelling with my family – usually to European destinations, but in 2020 I’ve really enjoyed visiting as much of the UK as possible and enjoying the rich diversity of our natural landscape; from coastlines to mountains to forests. We’re so lucky and must leave a legacy where the beauty and importance of our natural environment are maintained (and improved) for future generations.

The REACH - Senior Disability Network has recently published a series of interviews as part of their 'Empowering Disabled Staff into Senior Grades' workshop series. Please see below links to all six interviews:

Ben Merrick

Seonaid Webb

Stuart Armstrong

Shaun Gallagher

Jeanette Rosenberg

Stephen Braviner Roman

Nagesh Reddy

In our fourth blog in this series, Nagesh Reddy, Portfolio Director - DWP Change Delivery, talks about his experience of working in the Civil Service.

About Nagesh

Nagesh was appointed Portfolio Director - DWP Change Delivery in January 2020. In that role, Nagesh leads a range of programmes spanning change, transformation and delivery covering areas such as Economic Recovery, Devolution and EU transition.

What do you think the civil service needs to do to attract more candidates from a more diverse background into senior roles? What advice do you have for recruiters?

We need to engage with the social media networks both local and national to reach the diverse workforce; a mainstream approach gives you mainstream results. We also need to ensure roles that are advertised, where possible, reach the greatest diversity of potential. When drafting those adverts, we need to appeal to a more diverse group of individuals, rather than just being so restrictive that they only attract talent or promote specific talent from within.

We should use local and national networks to reach a more diverse pool and also have more visible role models - both from within and from outside - that people can relate to and aspire to be like. This would help increase confidence that you can make it into the Senior Civil Service irrespective of your social, economic or specific characteristics.

What could the civil service do better to attract and retain civil servants from a more diverse background overall (at any level)? What do you see as the barriers?

If we develop recruitment and promotion exercises with a certain mindset, the outcomes will inevitably be the same as before – we need to have a different perspective throughout the whole process. Our processes may need to be revisited and revamped to remove barriers for certain groups to level the playing field.

What has been your personal experience of working in the civil service? What made a difference to you?

I have been in the civil service for over 20 years, starting as a ‘casual administrative assistant’ in front-line operations; now working as a Director, delivering multi-billion pound programmes. I love what I do and I know it may be a cliché but making a difference to people’s lives is my motivation. What made a difference to me has been a strong network, great leaders, mentors, colleagues and sponsors who gave me the belief that I could succeed.

Why is diversity particularly important at senior levels?

We serve the communities of the country in so many ways. If we are going to do that effectively, we need the insights, experiences and knowledge of a diverse range of people to make sure the policies we develop, design and implement have those insights to develop the best solutions. Also, so that we can have confidence they will make the difference. Having visibly diverse leadership increases confidence in the policies and solutions being developed and in the recruitment of a diverse pool of people.

What experiences did you have working at a senior level in the private sector? Are there lessons that the civil service can learn from the private sector in terms of recruiting staff from a more diverse background?

Within the private sector, they are often able to move at a greater speed to recruit and also offer a more flexible remuneration package – which I know can be a challenge within the civil service. We should look at speeding up the hiring process, which can be frustrating for people and we can lose good people to other opportunities because the private sector is so much faster to take them on.

What drives and motivates you in your career?

Making a difference - seeing the difference I have made every day to society and the public we serve.

What are your interests and hobbies outside work?

Films, music and long walks with the mobile phone switched off.

In our third blog in this series, Ben Merrick, Director, Overseas Territories Directorate, HM Commissioner for the British Indian Ocean Territory and HM Commissioner for the British Antarctic Territory, talks about his experience of working in the Civil Service.

About Ben

Ben was appointed Director of Overseas Territories at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in August 2017. In that role, he holds office as Commissioner of the British Antarctic Territory and Commissioner of the British Indian Ocean Territory. Previously he was the Deputy Director of the Overseas Territories and has worked in the Ministry of Defence and Cabinet Office.

What do you think the civil service needs to do to attract more candidates with a disability into senior roles? What advice do you have for recruiters? 

The Civil Service needs to continue on its path of having role models with disabilities in senior positions to demonstrate what is possible. It needs to set out in the publicity for a role the scope for operating at that level with a disability, ensure necessary workplace adjustments are made and maintain & increase targeted leadership support eg through the DELTA programme (part of the Future Leaders Scheme). Recruiters need to be very clear in their material about roles that the Civil Service is determined to ensure the recruitment process is accessible, the job itself and working environment are fully accessible, and make clear that they are very happy to discuss potential workplace adjustments etc with candidates. Line managers in particular need to make sure they have really thought about the requirements of a role, where the flexibilities are, and how they can make the environment as accessible as possible.

What could the civil service do better to attract and retain civil servants with a disability overall (at any level)? What do you see as the barriers? 

On top of what I’ve said above, it’s about promoting aspirations of people at all levels and to ensure they feel that they can belong in the Civil Service and perform to their maximum extent. Although the Civil Service aims to get workplace adjustments in place, there are often practical barriers (eg around physical access or IT / assistive software) as well as attitudes about what is and isn’t possible from certain colleagues (and occasionally self-imposed limitations from disabled colleagues who may not know what is actually possible).

What has been your experience of reasonable adjustments and how have these helped you to do your job?

I’ve had wide experience. Many are in the very easy category, eg people telling me who they are rather than expecting me to recognise them, or the Permanent Secretary getting people to introduce themselves at meetings. Those have been straightforward, though partly related to my telling people from the outset about my situation and the changes I needed. Others have been more variable – IT provision in some departments has been very good and swift in terms of getting my assistive software on the system, but in other places it’s taken far longer -  six months on one occasion and a year on another. This has a massive impact on one’s ability to work. For example, I currently have no ability to access Rosa as it doesn’t work with screen readers, so there is still work to do. Other issues have sometimes required me pushing, for example getting learning materials for a year-long financial course on CD-ROM, where initially the educational publisher claimed they weren’t available in soft copy until I pushed them very hard.

Have you seen good/bad examples of reasonable adjustments provided to disabled employees in the civil service?

Yes. As well as my own examples above, I’ve seen lots of adjustments provided to colleagues, including by the Civil Service Workplace Adjustments Service. Those have mostly been fine for the more straightforward issues, but I’m aware of some cases which have run on for many months. This is completely unnecessary and has left the disabled individual highly frustrated. Sometimes it may be unavoidable, but almost always it relates to excessive bureaucracy or line managers just not doing their jobs properly in moving things forward, or not being given sufficient support to know what to do.

What has been your personal experience of working in the civil service? What made a difference to you?

I have for the most part very much enjoyed all my various jobs working in the Civil Service. What’s made a difference to me is having important & fulfilling work where I can identify the difference I’m making, with a strong and supportive team, and having the IT and adjustments I need in order to operate properly.

Why is diversity particularly important at senior levels?

To slightly broaden the question, I think Diversity and Inclusion is important at all levels for moral and legal reasons, but also because it gives us better policy & delivery outcomes, improves our recruitment & retention and makes us more representative of the society that we serve. At senior levels, it’s particularly important because we shape the overall approach & culture of the organisation and provide a role-model for everyone.

What experiences did you have working at a senior level in the private sector? Are there lessons that the civil service can learn from the private sector in terms of recruiting disabled staff, provision of reasonable adjustments etc?

I haven’t worked at a senior level outside the Civil Service. However, I did work for six years for Childline in my spare time as a volunteer counsellor, as well as training new counsellors & occasionally managing shifts. The recruitment process was incredibly open – when I asked if my disability would be an issue they just said they were committed to making it work, and they made various small adjustments to the training etc to enable me to do it properly.

What drives and motivates you in your career?

It’s the ability to do important and interesting work which makes a difference. More recently, I’ve become particularly interested in leadership and role-modelling side of things, coaching and building capability in those coming up behind me, and seeking to really influence the culture of the whole Civil Service and promote our values.

What are your interests and hobbies outside work?

I spend lots of time with my kids (9 and 11) introducing them to the world, even if that’s been slightly curtailed this year. I’ve taken up running during lockdown after doing Couch to 5k at Easter and now do a lot. I also like reading and Scrabble (and some cooking) in such spare time as I have. Pre-COVID we also used to enjoy travel.

The online event on Wednesday 7th October was aimed specifically at candidates for Senior Civil Service roles who have a disability. The event was chaired by the Chief Executive of the Civil Service Commission, Peter Lawrence OBE, alongside two independent Civil Service Commissioners, Jan Cameron and June Milligan and the Commission Disability Advisor, John Knight CBE.

The Civil Service Commission regulates recruitment into the Civil Service to make sure it is fair, open and merit-based. Commissioners personally chair recruitment competitions for senior roles.

The speakers covered a range of topics of relevance to candidates for senior roles who have a disability:

The full recording of the event can be found through the link below:

In addition, there were a number of unanswered questions on Slido that we did not have time to address during the event. The questions and answers can be found below:

1. Do you have people sponsors that can help those in the lower grades to get up the ladder and to get into senior leadership roles, especially those from a BAME background as I find there are very few BAME senior civil servants?

This is not something the Commission can advise on although John Knight mentioned the help that mentors can bring. Diversity Networks can often put you in touch with mentors, and not all mentors need to have a protected characteristic. Many will give you help and advice.

2. In my department recruitment boards have to be gender mixed to be diverse through male/female. Why can’t diversity be shown in a different way?

This is a matter for individual departments to consider. The Commission would encourage all organisations to consider diversity in its recruitment boards or panels, and this is slowly becoming standard practice. It is often a challenge to find diverse representatives at the right grade. Some departments are ensuring panels are diverse by having members from lower grades, which also provides a learning experience FOR the individual on the panel.

3. The national statistics show that 16% of adults at working age have a disability - what is being done to bring the CS up from 6% to be representative?

As Peter Lawrence mentioned the Commission is ideally placed to influence and encourage diversity in the senior campaigns that are chaired by the Commissioners. You should contact Civil Service organisations directly to ascertain what they are doing to improve representation in this area.

4. Do you have people with disabilities on sift and interview panels for the SCS?

The Commission always supports the use of diverse panels, but panels are usually chosen by departments and agencies. Commissioners often ask for diverse panels, and other exercises in SCS selection processes try to incorporate diversity. Staff engagement exercises often have a diverse group.

5. I have a number of reasonable adjustments in place in my current role, if I apply for an SCS role should I mention this at the very start of the application process?

If you need reasonable adjustments as part of the application process you should certainly discuss this with the vacancy holder before you apply for the role, equally if you are invited for an interview you should notify the vacancy holder as soon as possible. SCS is often managed by a small team in departments, and they are often open to conversations prior to applications being made.

If you have any other questions please email us at: info@csc.gov.uk.

The Art of the Possible – supporting the Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Strategy

The drive to increase the diversity of the Civil Service is keenly shared by the Commission. As the regulator, we’re there to provide assurance that appointments are made fairly and on merit, so internal levers to increase diversity such as talent development programmes, temporary promotion, mentoring etc.. are not within our remit.

But with the Commission’s unique perspective across departments’ recruitment from chairing open competitions at senior levels and its role in auditing processes across government, we are using our experience and influence to help departments deliver on their ambition to be more representative of the country they serve.

Challenging the Civil Service to improve diversity in the SCS is one of the Commission’s strategic priorities, set out by Ian Watmore in 2016 Key strategic aims and actions that flow from this include:

How can the Commission support departments to get more diverse candidates?

How do we help departments maintain their focus on diversity?

How do we create challenge in the diversity agenda?

Link Commissioners

Our Commissioners are ideally placed to use their influence in competitions and in their roles as link Commissioners. The link Commissioner role pairs Commissioners with the 20 or so main departments and professions with the aim to meet regularly with Perm Secs and/or HRD’s/Heads of Profession to discuss recruitment activity. Link Commissioners act impartially and champion best practice and promote compliance with the Recruitment Principles and the Civil Service Code. The link Commissioners are ideally placed to provide advice and challenge on departmental plans to enhance diversity through recruitment.

Diversity working group 

As well as overseeing competitions, our Commissioners, who bring broad experience across all sectors, engage in a wide range of Commission work, including working groups that have delivered a number of positive actions:

More information and statistics about the work of the Commission is available in our interactive annual report: https://civilservicecommission.independent.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/CSC-ARA-Report-201920-Interactive.pdf

If you would like to know more about the Commission’s role in recruitment, take a look at our short videos: https://civilservicecommission.independent.gov.uk/recruitment/recruitment-principles/

If you would like to speak to one of our team about our work in supporting the Civil Service on diversity and inclusion, please email: info@csc.gov.uk

In the second blog in this series, John Knight CBE, who advises the Commission Board on disability, talks about his own experience and what more he thinks can be done to attract and support disabled candidates into senior Civil Service roles. 

About John

John Knight’s career has spanned the voluntary and statutory sectors including the Department of Health, an international disability charity and as an assessor for the Commissioner for Public Appointments. He served on the Board of the Commission for Social Care Inspection (now part of the Care Quality Commission); the Charity Commission and was a member of a Cabinet Office Honours Appointments Committee. John was a Magistrate for 28 years. 

He is currently a Board Member of a National Housing Association (which provides accessible housing to disabled people); a Governor of an Adult Education Institute and a London NHS Foundation Acute Trust as well being an advisor on disability issues to the Board of the Civil Service Commission. 

He was appointed a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for services to disabled people. 

John brings a vivid lived experience of disability to all his work, blending the personal with the professional. 

What do you think the civil service needs to do to attract more candidates with a disability into senior roles? What advice do you have for recruiters? 

A significant and visible cohort of SCS employees with a disability would be really helpful – if you can’t see yourself in the levels above it’s a struggle to be motivated to climb up. This principle extends to the universal need for diverse interview panels – again, if you can’t see yourself… 

It is essential that we start to fully understand disabled applicant’s journeys through the SCS appointments process – the conversion rates are disappointing. What feedback, if any, are we systematically garnering and learning from those applicants who fell by the wayside? 

Recruiters need to adopt more flexible and creative approaches to interpreting applicants’ skills and experiences e.g. greater use of the Success Profile Framework. Applicants with a disability need to mine their own extensive life experiences and use examples from the everyday of resilience; planning; teamwork and creativity to augment the harder skills in any essential criteria – they are really valuable and valid.  I’d also encourage recruiters to take more risks, look at potential rather than always opting for a safe pair of hands. I would like to see the Commissioners chairing the panel to report more explicitly on their observations and experiences regarding applicants with a disability in their final reports in order to better understand how the process might be improved and raise the profile of disability.

What could the civil service do better to attract and retain civil servants with a disability overall (at any level)? What do you see as the barriers? 

Mmm… Let me ask you some questions! Why are Civil Servants with a disability twice as likely as those without to report being bullied and harassed? Commissioners should, with their Link departments, hold Permanent Secretaries feet to the fire (nicely!) on both disability recruitment and bullying and harassment.  Are disabled employees able to access the same career development postings and training opportunities that their colleagues without a disability can? Finally, unconscious bias (the “silent assassin”) training is prevalent across the service – but is anybody checking whether this training is having a positive impact? 

What has been your experience of reasonable adjustments (if any), and how have these helped you to do your job? 

All good in my experience. Increasingly adjustments are offered without me having to ask for them. It is amazing how colleagues’ knowledge, intuition and confidence have grown in working with people who have impairments, empowering them to act like this. It’s a great story. 

What has been your personal experience of working in the civil service? What made a difference to you? 

I was a very junior Civil Servant at the then DHSS (who remembers that?) for 5 years – an exhilarating and intellectual rollercoaster ride serving a then energetic administration. More recently I was a Public Appointments Assessor with OCPA where I factored diversity and in particular disability very much into my work to appoint senior people to national public roles. Now, as an Advisor to the Board of the Civil Service Commission, I have been wrestling with the conundrum of why more disabled people are not following through the journey towards appointment to SCS roles. The intellectual challenge, mutual respect and lack of judgement in the CS (and its satellites) made and still does, a real difference to me. 

Why is diversity particularly important at senior levels?  

Diverse senior leadership a) helps erode/challenge unconscious bias; b) sends out positive messages to people from a variety of backgrounds that they are welcome; c) imports positive, fresh, and sometimes challenging and innovative thinking into policy debates. 

What experiences did you have working at a senior level in the private sector? Are there lessons that the civil service can learn from the private sector here?

I worked at a very junior level in a bank for 3 years after I graduated from University (an ill-thought-out “milk round” job) before moving into the public sector where I thrived. Sure, there are things the CS can learn from the private sector – but this definitely works both ways. I’m currently a Director of a National social housing association. This involves managing physical and financial assets, brand reputation and new property developments/land acquisitions. 

What drives and motivates you in your career? 

It used to be proving myself to others but now having matured I am driven by a quiet satisfaction of moderate achievement in public service over 35 years. My wonderful, unorthodox family is a major driver also – we mind each other’s backs.   

Outside work I really enjoy Opera, cricket (watching not playing) and my grandson.

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