Commissioner Natalie Campbell talks about her drive to make the ‘Architects of Society’ more like the people they serve

People often ask me, ‘what made you want to become a Civil Service Commissioner?’ Nearly five years on my answer today is slightly different from Day One on the job. I am a public servant and social entrepreneur in equal measure, I have a sense of duty and an overwhelming desire to do what I can to benefit society. I was once asked, what happened in your life that made you want to help people, and my response back was, what happened in your life that made you not want to help people. I believe it is the gift we have as humans. 

When I joined the Commission board in 2017, I wanted to make a difference. In terms of one aspect of the work we do, chairing competitions, I profoundly believe that appointments - especially leadership appointments - must be open, fair and based on merit. What has shifted is my own understanding of the system I am in as a regulator, the nuance, and the need to balance broader ministerial or political aims, the expertise already in the dept and the skills that need to be hired. I am an idealist at heart, but I very quickly learnt that pragmatism gets better results in government. As I started chairing open recruitment competitions and getting under the skin of departments, I also wanted to make excellent hires because I realised civil servants are what I term ‘Architects of Society’. I am in awe of the work done across the UK, especially over the past two years, to make sure that society functions for the betterment of people and planet. So, when someone asks me today, why I am a Civil Service Commissioner I say it is because I want to contribute to the decision-making table that determines who the ‘Architects of Society’ are.

With this in mind I tried to find fixes for my frustrations; I believe the pace of change in relation to equity, diversity and inclusion has been slow. To help ‘fix’ this my inner idealist had grand plans; we launched ‘Demystifying the Commission’ sessions for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Senior Civil Service leaders because I wanted to unpack the opaque nature of the ‘chaired competition process’ I encouraged black and minority ethnic staff to be vocal about their ambitions;  I declared on stages ‘tell your bosses boss what job you want, that is how you succeed’. I know now that ‘the system’ remains bound by rules of engagement and that concepts of merit, or fairness don’t work on their own. This is the raw truth. I hope it is not a future fact.

Great strides have been made in terms of gender balance and flexible working and supporting Veterans, Care Leavers and ex-offenders into Civil Service employment. However, I rarely hear conversations about LGBTQI+ inclusion and as a Commission, we know there can be problems in collecting or reporting that data.  Progress on disability and race across the Senior Civil Service remains painfully poor. I am hopeful that a focus on social mobility can address some of the cultural issues. Why is this important? Well, the senior majority of the Architects of Society do not represent the people they serve. This must change.

So, in my final months I will continue to push, encourage and promote diversity across the Civil Service, including unearthing excellent recruitment practice so it can be shown and shared more widely.

This week we launched the Commissioners’ Mark of Excellence to encourage and share innovation and best practice in attracting and recruiting a broad and diverse field of candidates for Civil Service roles. If your department or organisation is audited by the Commission, you can apply for the new Mark. Winners will be highlighted in our Annual Report and able to stamp the mark on their recruitment advertising for one year.

I know there are some excellent examples out there where teams have considered how to properly open up recruitment to a broader field of candidates and, as a result, have hired individuals with new talents and experiences into and across the Civil Service. I want to hear from you – tell us about what worked so we can share your learning with others and celebrate your effort!

In my last few months at the Commission, this is my final push before I hand over to a new or future Commissioner, please get involved and apply. It has been a privilege and honour to be a part of the Civil Service Commission and even when I finish my term, I’ll be willing change on from the sidelines with just as much energy.

Richard Webb
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