News & Insights

POSTED Wednesday 05-05-21

Public Sector Diversity and Inclusion Digital Conference

Public Sector Diversity and Inclusion Digital Conference
19th April 2021

It was great to attend the conference this month and to share a summary of key speakers and their most salient points, suggestions, and successes.


First to talk was Professor Nasar Meer from the University of Edinburgh, co-author of Taking Stock – Race Equality in Scotland.

Nasar began by noting how the employment gap for the minority ethnic population, aged 16-64, has increased between 2017 and 2019 from 14.4% to 16.4% (figures according to the Annual Population Survey by the Scottish Government).

Between these years, there has also been an overall increase in the proportion of the minority ethnic population who have reported experiences of discrimination, with 31% making a formal complaint, 22% reporting to a senior employer, 19% reporting to the police, and 10% reporting to other authorities (data from 2019). This is up from 16%, 14%, 14%, and 7% respectively in 2017.

Nasar noted the barriers to improving this situation, relating a story about one of their professional stakeholders who was a very senior police officer. This officer believed Police Scotland to be institutionally racist, and spoke at length about the matter. However, because the Scottish government was concerned about the press getting hold of this story and making institutions ‘look terrible’, they were not allowed to include a synopsis of the police officer’s findings the in the conference report. ‘Unless public institutions are comfortable with the fact that things may temporarily look terrible, we won’t be able to meaningfully have that public conversation because we haven’t got the issues into the open’, summarised Nasar.

Concurrently, Nasar highlighted that race equality has to go beyond public policy, because it necessarily evokes critical discourses of what it means to be Scottish. ‘Race is understood as a policy problem to be solved rather than a part of an emergent story of the very identity of Scotland,’ noted Meer. According to Meer, then, civil servant capacity building and policy learning should go hand-in-hand with wider community mobilisation, including public discourses such as BLM and social justice protests. This is in order to better tackle the root causes of discrimination.


Following Nasar was the talk ‘Reducing Pay Gaps’ by Anthony Morgan, CEO of Spktral

Morgan began his talk by demonstrating that in the last few years, the public sector has reported a significant reduction in its gender pay gap submissions. He noted a declining trend from 1,710 reports in 2017, 1,354 in 2019, and then drastically decreasing to 405 in 2020. While this is notable progress, he stressed the need for outcomes and not percentages, as well as action plans which reduce the gap further. By treating the pay gap like a tax return, a mistake he commonly sees, there is no room for continuous improvement or any real insight into the pay gap’s causes.

For this reason he promoted what Spktral does, with their emphasis on tech-driven solutions which turn accurate data into a useful narrative of what problems exist and why they are there. Their mission is ‘simple’, he concluded: ‘to empower equal futures.’


Morven Brooks, CEO of Disability Equality Scotland, and her talk ‘Recruiting and Supporting Employees Who Have a Disability or Long-Term Condition’

Morven noted the continuing stigma those with a disability face when it comes to seeking employment, stressing instead that those with a disability can work and want to work. Partly this is down to people’s prejudices, but she similarly noted the need for better access to education and training.

The pandemic has exacerbated many of the problems she highlighted, including a lack of support for those in self-employment, a lack of financial support for carers, difficulties accessing information about support and how to apply, and the overall concern about the UK Government encouraging people to go back to work soon for the benefit of the economy.

She signposted to some useful resources and websites, including:

  • scot, a hub which includes resources on how to best improve communications tools so that they are accessible for disabled people
  • scot, for travel information and help
  • scot, to improve awareness about accessible building and infrastructural design, including articles and case studies
  • disabilitysafety, to raise awareness of disability hate crime and to help disabled people through the hate crime reporting process
  •, a panel whose aim is full social inclusion for disabled people

Morven did provide the caveat that the best way to include disabled people depends on the community, and to listen to their needs and preferences. Alongside adjustments such as physical and sensory accessibility (the latter meaning lighting, signage, etc.), she emphasised the need for staff training in supporting disabled colleagues and developing a broader understanding of hidden disabilities as well as – in the era of Covid-19 – face covering exemptions.


Complementing Morven’s talk was ‘Recruiting and Supporting Employees who have a Disability or Long-Term Condition’ by Susie Fitton, Policy Officer at Inclusion Scotland

Susie started by introducing Inclusion Scotland as a ‘Disabled People’s Organisation’ (DPO), meaning it is led by disabled people with the aim of promoting positive change to both policy and practice. They do this by influencing decision-makers, as well as empowering disabled people to be decision-makers themselves.

She went to relay what she has learnt in terms of the barriers disabled people still face in employment, whether it is during recruitment or staying in a job. Stigma and poor attitudes remain a problem, while many places retain inaccessible application processes and discriminatory practices including a lack of opportunity for promotion, poor retention, and inflexible sick-leave policies. Accessible transport and housing need improvement also.

However, she did note that many employers, once aware of the problems, wanted to create an inclusive environment; the issue is that they often did not know how to. Consequently it is her aim to switch the focus to educating and supporting employers so that they know what needs done to include disabled people.

This switch is important not just because it is effective, she noted, but because there exists a skewed allocation of responsibility towards individual disabled people. For example, disabled people are over 60 times more likely than employers to face sanctions for noncompliance with requirements. In 2016, disabled people were sanctioned 69,570 times for missing appointments or infringing work-related conditions of benefit payments (often resulting in a reduction of benefits). In the same year employers were sanctioned only around 1,100 times, which only happened as a consequence of a disabled person winning or settling a discrimination case at the Employment Tribunal.

Fairness aside, Susie emphasised that the current allocation of responsibility to individuals simply does not work: in the last decade, welfare reform policies that incentivise individual disability management have not seen any significant change in the Disability Employment Gap.

She concluded by highlighting that during the pandemic, disabled workers were at far greater risk of redundancy or reduction in their work hours. A survey of 6,000 people by Citizens Advice in England found that 27% of disabled people faced redundancy and 48% of those shielding were similarly at risk of redundancy.

For Susie, the solutions include supporting employers by getting them to set realistic targets to support disabled workers and job-seekers, and holding them accountable when these targets are not met.


Next up was ‘Developing Inclusive Public Service Leadership’ by Bernadette Thompson, Deputy Director Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Inclusion, Wellbeing and Employee Engagement

Bernadette introduced her talk with the tendency of companies to self-congratulate on diversity issues while problems remain, showing us data which revealed that public sector workforces are still overwhelmingly majority white. When it comes to leadership, this percentage is even higher: 60.7% of NHS consultants, 92.9% of NHS very senior managers, 96% of Chief inspectors, 96.5% of headteachers, and 97.5% of armed forces officers are white. Like others, she reported poor retention and a lack of accountability as causes.

She shared with us a list of successful strategies, including mentoring, sponsorship, talent schemes with built-in stretch opportunities, networking, representational targets, robust career conversations, and executive coaching. She concluded with a quote summarising her call to act with these strategies: ‘Actions speak louder than words. We can apologise over and over, but if our actions don’t change, the words become meaningless.’


‘Systems-Led Approach to Embedding Diversity and Inclusion’ by Jaspal Roopra, Skills, Capabilities and Talent, Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Jaspal began by noting some of their successes in increasing women and BAME leadership positions, but that there was still room for improvement regarding incorporating equality policy with typical HR activity and an organisational culture that generally opposes mandatory activity. She located part of the issue in a lack of confidence in discussing race issues (what she calls ‘guardian reader syndrome’) as well as translating supportive senior leadership into departmental strategies for all levels.

She stressed avoiding defensiveness, active listening, honest reporting (no airbrushing), as well as using data and analysis to understand issues before jumping to conclusions.

In terms of engagement, she encouraged diversity network chairs who act as leaders of large communities with shared experiences and insights, with the added benefit of being able to build relationships authentically. Similarly she noted the importance of keeping senior staff in the conversation, as well as regular, accessible conversations across the board. On the other hand, she noted to be aware of ‘diversity fatigue’ and ‘compassion fatigue’, and to therefore agree on specific action and responsibilities to make progress and avoid repetitive and vague conversations about ‘diversity’ and ‘equality.’ Winning hearts and minds was key to Jaspal’s past successes, and she encouraged us to make our cases for change relevant and inspiring as well as well-substantiated by internal and external data and case studies. She warned against mandated activity and stressed confidence training, frameworks, expertise, and delivery models as examples of positive, non-coercive changes to the work environment.

Lastly, Jaspal underlined how important it is to continually review progress and transparency to ensure that those who are accountable are held accountable. Publishing clear and simple data, be clear on expected outcomes and targets, and keep using expert analytic resources so that collected data is not wasted.


‘Monitoring Equality and Diversity’, Aneela McKenna, Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Scottish Parliament

Aneela’s talk highlighted the ongoing existence of the Ethnicity Pay Gap in 2020, with a mean hourly pay difference of £3.32 between BAME and white workers (£17.57 and £20.99 per hour respectively).

She stressed the need to develop systems to record and report on equality and diversity, as well as measuring and sustaining impact. Accountability, reviews, benchmark progress, staff surveys, focus groups, and wellbeing plans all help contribute to these goals.


‘Developing Workplace Culture to Support Diversity’, Rohini Sharma Joshi, Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Manager, Trust Housing Association

Rohini started by underscoring that equality is everyone’s business; while it is important for senior members to lead by example, in reality it is front-line workers who are the faces of any given organisation. However, Rohini noted that they are also the least confident in delivering change; it is therefore imperative to give them the support and confidence to act when they are mindful of the negative impact a process is having on equality and inclusion. This includes making bullying and harassment unacceptable.

She concluded the talk and conference by emphasising that partnering with communities helps make diversity less of an ad hoc exercise, and can therefore effect real change within an organisation. Like others, she stressed not to turn diversity and equality policy into mandatory activities, but opportunities for partnerships, community-building, and ongoing communication with the goal of continual improvement.


Some great insights into the sector – I really look forward to being able to attend more seminars, hopefully in real soon.

Catriona Mackie