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My plan to improve Westminster’s shameful record on staff diversity

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The central London council seeks to address its BAME pay gap and lack of diversity in senior management roles.

Westminster City Council: Improving inclusion and diversity

Objective: To address lack of gender and BAME diversity at middle and senior management levels; this is an overriding moral imperative, as well as a business one.

Timescale: Ongoing

Cost to authority: Part of ongoing council activity

Number of employees working on project: Various including internal comms, HR, executive and senior leadership teams, all levels of management in the council

Outcomes sought: A focus growth, learning and improving. An organisation that is representative of the people it employs and the communities it serves.

Officer contact email: Stuart Love, chief executive, slove@westminster.gov.uk

wcc ceo stuart love

wcc ceo stuart love

Changing the culture around diversity and inclusion at Westminster City Council was a priority for me before I became chief executive in January 2018. I now have not just the ability, but the responsibility to address this problem. This year, alongside our gender pay gap reporting, we published our BAME pay gap. The statistics are stark and utterly unacceptable. The mean pay gap between BAME staff and white staff is 17.7%.

Overwhelmingly, we have a moral responsibility to address this issue. For an organisation that I am incredibly proud to work for, this is the one thing that brings shame on us. Of course, there are solid business reasons for promoting diversity, but first and foremost it is the right thing to do.

We serve one of the most diverse communities in the country – if not the world – and our organisation, particularly at management levels, does not reflect the people we employ, never mind the communities we serve. We cannot properly engage with and understand those communities unless we better reflect their make-up in how this organisation is led.

We need BAME role models in the organisation, but we don’t have many; that’s the clear feedback from our BAME staff. People need to see that regardless of their background, they can achieve whatever they want.

The reality is that parts of Westminster City Council have stagnated in recent years as we had lots of people who looked the same, thought the same and said virtually the same things. As a result, we didn’t improve. The inclusion and diversity agenda is a driving force to improve and continue to deliver world class services. That is because when we have diversity of thinking, it spawns a range of ideas. In the wake of that will come challenge, innovation, creativity and that relentless focus on improving the organisation and the services we deliver.

Before I set out what we are doing, let me give you a quick overview of who our staff are. Around 28% of our staff are from a BAME background and just over half (51%) are white. For those readers who have spotted the figures don’t add up to 100%, around one in five (21%) of our staff did not, or preferred not to, record their ethnicity. We have had a big push, explaining why the recording of this information is important, and I am pleased to say those who “prefer not to say” have fallen to around 5%.

”We cannot properly engage with and understand communities unless we better reflect their make-up”

In addition to the pay gap, the other unacceptable statistic is that our BAME staff are currently far less likely to be in middle and senior management roles. There are pay gaps based on gender and ethnicity that we can and must close.

We need to go further and faster. At Westminster, we are embarking on a step change in our approach to recruiting, developing and retaining women and BAME members of staff. We need to increase the number of women and BAME staff working in middle management and senior leadership levels, and we need to ensure career development and progression opportunities are open to all.

In early April we launched several initiatives that I strongly believe will move us towards this goal. They are: 

  • Ensuring diverse shortlists (our version of the Rooney Rule) for middle management roles and above. We will ask candidates to self-   declare if they are from a BAME background on our applications forms with a view to having at least one candidate from a BAME         background on every shortlist.
  • Diverse interview panels. All interview panels for middle management and above roles must be gender diverse and include panellists  from a BAME background.
  • Reverse mentoring. This turns the usual mentoring process on its head – staff from diverse backgrounds sharing with senior managers what it is like to work for our organisation.

This action is not about positive discrimination – it is about ensuring that everyone has equality of opportunity, no matter what their background.

Diverse recruitment panels are not just about a token BAME member of staff sitting on a panel. It’s about that person being engaged in the recruitment process from the very outset, from long-listing all the way through to the final interview panel.

111 west end live sunday pamela raith photography copy

111 west end live sunday pamela raith photography copy

The West End Live festival showcases Westminster’s diversity - but the council’s staff diversity is less impressive. Photo: Pamela Raith

We’re embracing reverse mentoring so that senior managers in this organisation can understand what working life is like from the viewpoint of someone from a completely different background. We cannot walk a mile in people’s shoes or make assumptions about their lived experience – but they can tell us directly the issues they face.

There is a reservoir of talent on our doorstep that, in past years, might not have regarded Westminster City Council as a likely employer. Our apprentice programme is one way we are changing that with nearly 70 young people from Westminster learning skills ranging from construction to commercial procurement.

Apprenticeships are a start, but the culture change I envisage is also about our existing staff who may have been in entry level roles for a long time with opportunities passing them by. They might not have had the investment in their talent experienced by their white male counterparts. We are investing in developing our own staff, particularly those in more junior positions in the organisation, and helping them grow and take hold of opportunities as they become available.

For me, the diversity agenda has a personal dimension. I am South African – I spent most of my early adult life in Johannesburg – and I began working in immediately post-apartheid South Africa. I managed a large blue- and white-collar workforce for what was a private sector FTSE 100 company. Stereotypically, the blue-collar employees were all black and the white-collar were all, well, white. South Africa took an affirmative action approach to changing that, and it is experience I think is relevant to my role here. Whilst the problems are different in scale and nature, and the solutions too are different, they nevertheless exist.

As the most senior and highest paid person in this organisation I am responsible for dealing with this. I should be, and will be, held accountable by both our elected members and our staff.

Will Westminster City Council look radically different in five years’ time? That’s my ambition, however culture change is something that is continuous – you cannot tick a box and say you’ve done it and then move on.

My ambition is that the next chief executive of Westminster City Council is not at all like me, but somebody different who will bring new abilities, thinking, skills and insight to the job. That will really bring these words alive.

Stuart Love, chief executive, Westminster City Council

 

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