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Breaking down barriers to digital career progression

An image of GDS's Tia Priest at the event standing in front of a screen saying: Let's Talk About RaceWe want our teams to reflect the society we serve. An inclusive and diverse workplace will help the UK government work better for everyone.

The Civil Service has committed to increasing ethnic minority representation at Senior Civil Servant (SCS) level - the highest grades made up of deputy directors and above.

Currently, 6% of SCS identify as coming from an ethnic minority, with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) recording the highest proportion at 13%.

We are determined to change this and we wanted to give civil servants the opportunity to tell us what will help them. So, we held our first Breaking Down Barriers event last month in London, specifically aimed at improving SCS representation in the Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) Profession.

Eight people of different ethnicities talking at the event

Attendees came from more than 15 government organisations including Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Cabinet Office, Ministry of Justice, and DHSC with representation from staff at all levels. We also had attendees from Parliament.

The event builds on the Let’s Talk about Race workshops the Department for Work and Pensions set up a few years ago.

What happened on the day

John Manzoni, chief executive of the Civil Service, spoke passionately about his dedication to increase ethnic minority representation in SCS. We also heard career stories from public and private sector employees.

DigiCareersGov tweeted at 3:31 PM · Oct 23, 2018 (tweet content below)
"What is the greatest barrier to Senior Civil Service progression for digital, data and technology professionals from ethnic minority? #BreakingDownBarriers #BrilliantCivilService #DiversityinTech"

The audience was asked: “In one word, what is the greatest barrier to SCS progression for ethnic minority DDaT professionals?” The answers, as seen in the word cloud above, included 'culture', 'support' and 'confidence'.

The audience shared their experiences and we had conversations about what the Civil Service is doing - and can do - to help overcome obstacles to career progression.

Justice_Digital tweeted at 4:46 PM · Oct 23, 2018 (tweet content below)
"Some of our team were at the brilliant 'Let’s Talk About Race' event hosted by @GDSTeam & @kevincunnington today. Great conversations all round. #BreakingDownBarriers #DiversityInTech"

Cross government actions

The Government Digital Service (GDS) and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) have mandatory ethnic minority representation on all interview panels. We want this to apply to SCS interviews across the whole Civil Service.

At GDS we're taking part in a Cabinet Office Sponsorship pilot programme by sponsoring 2 Band A* (Grade 6) ethnic minority colleagues.

HM Revenue and Customs, HM Treasury and MHCLG are just 3 of the many central government departments signed up to the Business in The Community (BITC) Race At Work Charter. Fifteen ministerial government departments were included in the BITC’s Best Employer for Race.

We aim to continue this work across the Civil Service in 2019 and produce materials that will support line manager capability training across the DDaT Profession.

Get involved

Whatever your background you can be an ally. Allies help to raise awareness and encourage the change we all wish to see.

You can also join a network. For instance, GDS has the GDS BAME Network.

Or come along to the next Breaking Down Barriers event. It will be held in Spring 2019, and if you want to hear about the next event and what else we’re doing, please sign up to the Let’s Talk about Race mailing list.

All colleagues are welcome.

kevincunnington tweeted at 3:52 PM · Oct 23, 2018 (tweet content below)
"Thanks to everyone who came to the ‘Let’s Talk About Race’ event today. Good start to #BreakingDownBarriers. Note to self - need to up my selfie game."

If you are a government organisation and want to set up your own Let’s Talk about Race event, please email for creative assets.

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  1. Comment by Brian Harrison posted on

    Great to hear GDS is becoming more diverse and considering improvement in BAME engagement in #digital
    Is there an ageist barrier that needs breaking down too? It feels as if some sectors of the Civil Service feel anyone over 50 can't appreciate digital progression and development.

    • Replies to Brian Harrison>

      Comment by Tia Priest posted on

      Hi Brian, The Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) function is supporting civil service departments to achieve the aims of the Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Strategy. Our Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) Profession Workforce Planning team collects diversity data, encouraging all departments to provide a diversity report of their DDaT profession roles and age is one of the diversity categories we are looking at. We then use this information to provide advice on recruiting the most diverse talent. Our talent schemes are open to people of all ages and we actively encourage people to take the opportunity to retrain if they are interested in following a different career path, specific schemes include the fast stream and the new software development apprenticeship programme.There is also a Diversity in DDaT working group which provides a forum to address key strategic aims in relation to the DDaT Profession across government. The group's remit began with gender but is now expanding to cover further diversity characteristics.

      Would love for you to join us at the next event in April, sign up to the mailing list for more info