In 2018 I conducted an independent review for the Government exploring how to open up public appointments to disabled people. I made several practical recommendations covering data collection and transparency, methods of attracting and nurturing talent and best approaches and adjustments at application and interview stage. I was delighted that the government accepted the principle of all my recommendations, less happily, they have been far less forthcoming on implementation.

One of the key issues is data and transparency. Any Head of Diversity and Inclusion will tell you that in order to open up opportunities to under-represented groups – obviously including not only disability but often ethnicity, gender, sexuality age and class – you must identify and measure gaps in an organisation so that you can build structures and policies to address those gaps. This is exactly the point of the introduction of gender pay gap reporting.  

In terms of the Public Appointments process existing disability data is collected at application through a diversity monitoring form. In my initial 2018 report I found that although reporting rates for new appointees did improve slightly year on year, serious issues remained: appointees are seldom asked again, the form is inconsistently used, there is no mandation and there is imperfect accessibility.

My review suggested retaining the self-identifying disability question but adding a list of example conditions and a definition. Instead, the Government has decided to replace the disability question with an ONS-style two step question. The Welsh authorities have decided not to adopt the new question and this year’s data, published today, shows that the new public appointees who reported on disability were using both questions. We we cannot now track progress from last year. The cohort is split, and rates are different for each group.

The Commissioner for Public Appointments, Peter Riddell has highlighted the problem in his annual report.

“the data integrity on this metric is questionable and should be reported with care. OCPA will continue to press all departments to phase out the single
stage question as soon as possible to enable more meaningful comparison between representation of people with disabilities in appointments with our society as a whole, which is now measured using the ONS two stage question as standard.”

OCPA 2020/21 Annual Report, Published today, 23 September 2021

My review noted that poor data quality was responsible for the lack of transparency and optimistically concluded that this should be remedied once the data improves. Three years later, the partial roll out of the new disability question has done the opposite – rather than progress on data quality and transparency the need to split the data according to which question was answered has made the data meaningless. Instead of being able to compare data with last year it’s a whole new (incomplete) metric!!

Linked In research has found the number of people with the title ‘head of diversity’ more than doubled worldwide between 2015 and 2020, while the ‘director of diversity’ title rose 75% and chief diversity officer rose 68%. Whether or not this is evidence that organisations are making real progress on inclusion is yet to be seen but it’s a positive indicator. The Government has a real opportunity to be at the forefront of best practice here and are already showing the way with gender pay gap legislation.

The Government have excellent intentions, commitment to the principles of diversity and inclusion, an action plan on opening up public appointments to disabled people provided by my review recommendations, a population suddenly and dramatically more prepared to work in creative and flexible ways. I sincerely hope this means that action will now follow.

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