It’s all about the base(line)

Written by: Frazer Thouard is a partner in GatenbySanderson’s local government team.
Published on: 2 Feb 2023

Our purpose at GatenbySanderson is to find and develop leaders that shape a better and more inclusive society, and this lies at the heart of our client and candidate partnerships. Beyond our assignments which give us the opportunity to identify fantastically diverse talent, we feel a greater responsibility to accelerate the growth, availability and development of diverse talent across public services. Though the benefits of diversity are well documented, it’s good to remind ourselves what that means for public services. It should foster a positive, creative and inclusive workplace where the best minds come together to reflect represent and champion the needs of our communities.

A huge and satisfying aspect of our work  at GS is the reach and insight we have across sectors. We ally with under-represented groups to support, promote, and co-create talent initiatives that will bring greater equity to UK leadership and better representation in our communities. We partner with key influencers across sectors to identify future potential and consider how we can offer personal development opportunities.

However, for some time now, I have been troubled by data. Not necessarily what the data is saying, but more the lack of diversity data in our sector, particularly when it comes to leadership. Up and down the country there are projects, programmes, and initiatives running to address under-representation and break down barriers that exist, but are we targeting the right areas? In my opinion, it is impossible to know until we establish some true baselines of diversity across the sector.

The question that continues to go around my head on a daily basis is how can we improve the diversity levels of leadership teams in local government if we don’t really know where we are coming from? We have anecdotes, we have localised research and we have feedback from individual clients; what we don’t have much of is cold hard facts. And I am a facts kind of person.

But why is it so important to know the diversity profile at sectoral level? As a sector, it will help us to work together to design appropriate intervention programmes to address inequalities and under-representation which can be targeted nationally and regionally. It will provide a baseline to track progress and set goals against – how can a sector really improve if it does not know where it is starting from? And it will (and should in my opinion) increase awareness, transparency, and accountability across the sector for taking action. It will also help identify where diversity and good representation exists, hopefully enabling us to take learning forward to address the challenges elsewhere. From our own data, we can see more ethnically diverse leaders making up a higher proportion of technology, HR, transformation and finance but with less progress in property and asset management, customer services, legal and corporate resources. Interestingly, though roles are fewer in number, there is a marked increase in diversity for policy and strategy roles at final panel and beyond. This is also the case for those with a disability and there is better representation for legal, finance, technology and HR. Property, transport and operational roles still lack increased representation at these stages for disabled candidates.

Plenty of studies and surveys have been done in the past on the profile of chief executives in the sector, but little to nothing on wider leadership teams. I am thrilled that we are working in partnership with the PPMA and The MJ to collect this critical data and share it across the sector. In the coming weeks, our survey will ask all authorities a number of short questions about the top three levels of organisational leadership, and how many identify as having a protected characteristic. All data is anonymised, of course and we will not ask for any association with individuals. We aim to use the information you provide to build a picture of diversity for the sector, broken down both regionally and nationally and across all local authority types.

In collaboration with our partners, we will then package this information to make it directly available to you so that you can benchmark your own organisation and use it to assess your own baseline. In this way we can all work together to address the challenges that the sector faces.

Living our purpose to shape a better society is what drives us to do more and find out more; it’s what sets my role apart. Our promise is to work tirelessly with the sector to address under-representation. Building a picture of what that representation looks like, based upon real data, is an essential part of the journey. We hope you’ll join us help steer us towards a more equal leadership community.

Frazer Thouard is a partner in GatenbySanderson’s local government team.

You can participate in our Diversity In Local Government Leadership survey at https://www.research.net/r/leadership-diversity-in-LG