Cabinet Office says that within five years, half of all 5,500 public appointees should be women, and 14% from ethnic minorities
The government has for the first time committed to ensuring that a specific percentage of public appointees should be women and people from ethnic minority groups.
The Cabinet Office has said that within five years, half of all 5,500 existing public appointees should be females and 14% people from ethnic minorities. Its previous “aspiration”, made in 2013, was that 50% of new appointees should be women.
The launch of the plan marks the first time that the government has published data on the status of diversity across all public appointments. Of the 5,500 public appointees currently in post, 43% are female and 10% are from ethnic minorities.
The move will inevitably lead to claims that the government has set its first quota system following years of failing to bring representation on public boards in line with the wider population.
A public body, often referred to as a quango, is an organisation that delivers a public service, is not a government department and operates at arm’s length from ministers.
As well as quangos, the new commitment will cover large public institutions, such as the British Museum.
Some progress has already been made in increasing gender diversity among new public appointees.
In 2016/17, the proportion of new public appointments going to women rose to 49% from 34% in 2013/14, and 96% of all shortlists in 2016/17 were made up of both male and female candidates.
The announcement comes as the Cabinet Office unveiled a 10-point diversity action plan to deliver its commitments.
These include establishing a mentoring programme and developing a charter which will set standards for inclusivity for chairs and their boards.
Other plans include increasing the visibility of people from underrepresented groups who are already in public posts, for example through outreach events, and social media. Another is to improve consistency in how data on the issue is collected and monitored.
The minister for the constitution, Chris Skidmore, said: “There’s more we need to do across all aspects of diversity. Today we published a diversity action plan which sets out how we will make public appointments even more open and accessible to all.
“We need diverse ideas and perspectives at the helm of our public bodies, so it is vital that public appointees truly reflect the society they serve.”
Peter Riddell, the commissioner for public appointments, said: “The activities outlined in the plan are key to encouraging more diverse fields of applicants to apply for positions on public boards. Success will require a sustained will on the part of ministers, departments and public bodies.”
Natalie Campbell, who is on the board of the Big Lottery Fund, said that as a 34-year-old state school-educated woman from a minority ethnic background, she felt “definitely a rarity” in such positions, though matters were improving.
“Around the table it is a rarity, but every year I’m seeing more and more women coming through,” she said. “I’m seeing more and more women of colour coming through, and more women from different socio-economic backgrounds, and that’s equally important.”
Campbell, who also holds some chair positions, said she applied three times to the Big Lottery Fund before being accepted. She said: “I think a lot of people either don’t apply or they stop at the first hurdle, when they get the first ‘no’.”
The board, she said, was more mixed than most, which was vital given its work awarding almost £1bn a year in funds: “To not have diversity around the table means that we wouldn’t ultimately be making the best possible use of that funding, because there’s one type of person determining the strategy of the organisation.”