Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses(Questions 1300-1319)

THURSDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2003

MR HAMISH DAVIDSON AND MS ALISON CAWLEY

  1300. How many Muslim women do you have on your books, because you network, and Tim Brighouse told us that he is of interest to headhunters because he publishes a lot and he speaks in conferences and so on, but how do you find out where all those good people are out there, who are not conference speakers and do not publish things?
  (Ms Cawley) There are all sorts of ways of doing that and conferences and speeches are only one of those routes.

  1301. But this is specifically about Muslim women.
  (Ms Cawley) Our team includes a Muslim man and a Muslim woman. The woman involved won an award from the European Federation of Black Women Business Owners for her role in promoting diversity at corporate level. She is one of the most formidably networked women I know, and I think with hand on heart we would not refer to it as "on our books", but we have links with more networks and organisations representing and knowing Muslim women, or other under-represented groups, than any of our competitors, and it is very important to us.
  (Mr Davidson) One of my jobs in the organisation is to get out there and speak at public events, and I am used exactly by the individual concerned to get out there at speaking opportunities, not only the European Federation of Black Women Business Owners organisation but also at black MBA conferences and other locations like that, where I get up and preach about the opportunities that are there and how to get them, and there are also those workshops that we run.

  1302. Do you demystify it because when I read these advertisements, I think "Goodness me! Where will you get the giants to do these jobs?", and I think you just need to demystify. There are loads of people out there who could do these jobs but the advertisements are written in such a way that many people will not attempt answering them?
  (Ms Cawley) The advertisement has to grab the attention, so if you say, "Here is a moderately dull organisation which needs a moderately average person to run it", you will not get much response, but where we believe in search is in that use as a tool for diversity for other people whose attention you draw the ad to, because a lot of people will read it and think, "That is a person who walks on water and that is not me". Any person specification describes the ideal candidate, so what we need to do is make sure that we talk to a wide range of people and help them to look constructively at their own experience rather than say, "I have never been a chair of a board before", or "I have never sat on a board before". We ask "What are the things you do?". There is a particular issue about Muslim women in terms of the way they are represented in their own community. If you talk to most Muslim groups you will tend to see men, so is not realistic at this point to say that at the level we work at in Veredus, where chairing the biggest organisations are the jobs we do, it is likely that you will find people who are of that calibre—which is why we put the effort into developing capacity, so that five years down the line there will be people of that calibre.

  1303. I just think in the long run we are all dead.
  (Ms Cawley) Indeed, but if you thought like that you would never get up in the morning!

  1304. I am getting up earlier and earlier since we have had these new hours! Finally, is there a professional body for recruitment consultants? Do you have a code of ethics, and who writes it?
  (Mr Davidson) There is a professional body and there is indeed a recommended code of ethics, but there is no mandatory requirement to follow those. The cost of entry into doing recruitment candidly is very small.

  1305. Could I set myself up as a recruitment consultant?
  (Mr Davidson) Yes, you could. Whether you survive a long time is down to your personal talents and the quality of work you do, obviously—but we can talk about that!

  1306. Did you have anything to do with the House of Lords people's peers appointments? Yes or no?
  (Ms Cawley) Not directly. We appointed the people on the House of Lords Appointments Commission but not the people's peers.

  1307. But you did not sift the 3,000 applicants? That was Price Waterhouse but it was your predecessor who was involved in that, was it? You were not.
  (Mr Davidson) We were not.
  (Ms Cawley) And I have a very high opinion of my hairdresser!

Chairman

  1308. When you said that in health and local government, when you felt routinely, now, faced with a man and a woman at the end of a process organisations would now opt to go for the woman, I got the impression you felt not entirely comfortable about that.
  (Mr Davidson) I think I said I am noticing more, certainly in those sectors faced with a choice of two candidates who are absolutely equal, that the woman will have the advantage. I am comfortable if the client is happy at the end of the day but I was just observing that in these situations it is an advantage to be a woman, and in the public sector it is undoubtedly a dramatic advantage to be a black woman currently. That kind of individual is in enormous demand. As a white male I have to say I do not think that is great, because I therefore am potentially disadvantaged in going for jobs, but one has to take advantage of whatever scenario one can. I believe in robust recruitment processes, and as long as the best person gets the job that is tremendous.

  1309. And you are not suggesting that there is any compromise of the merit test?
  (Mr Davidson) No. I am noting that when candidates have got through on merit at that level, and there is really nothing to choose, the woman definitely will have an advantage.
  (Ms Cawley) When Hamish says that it is an advantage because you are in demand, it is not about being a woman; it is about being a woman with those talents. We would never encourage a client to appoint someone who is not the best person for the job simply because of gender, race or whatever. That does no one any favours, least of all the individual concerned, so it is absolutely about this merit. Certainly there is a premium on women and people from black and minority ethnic communities, people with disabilities, and differing sexualities. Anyone from an under-represented or minority group who has the talent to succeed at top level will be in demand because there are not many of them at the moment.
  (Mr Davidson) It is interesting to note, however, that the United States has made more progress in this area than the United Kingdom, which is the reason why, when we were doing recruitment for the chief executive of Birmingham first time around, we went looking for candidates there and we were staggered at the number of women candidates who were in senior posts in local government there, and also black candidates. There was a real talent pool, but then one is into the prejudice issue about different nationalities.

  1310. So is the man who walks away from this situation where there is him and a woman feeling "I only did not get this because I am not a woman" entitled to feel miffed by that?
  (Mr Davidson) I think that at that level of appointment, when you have candidates who could do the job and you are paying them to do the job, if you come through the process we are into issues of chemistry and style and fit.

  1311. And, you are saying, issues of gender?
  (Mr Davidson) And if, realistically, and it is really picking up the point that was made earlier about role models, that organisation had very few women in senior posts, this is an ideal opportunity to make that appointment.

  1312. But if it is applying this test it may have all women in senior posts?
  (Mr Davidson) I think the issue will become far less as appointments get more balanced, but I think we are a long way from that happening.

Brian White

  1313. You have talked about the process. What review do you do of the individual processes? Do you get reviewed yourself, and how you are held to be accountable?
  (Mr Davidson) We submit evaluations to our clients at the end of each assignment and those evaluations are sent out by myself. I sign the letters that go out and they are returned to me, so each of the assignments is evaluated. Our client's degree of satisfaction or otherwise of the project and how it has been conducted is dealt with. Secondly, we do not let go. We will keep in touch with the clients and the candidates thereafter to see how they are getting on. There is a commercial reason for that obviously, in the sense that there is a possibility of future business, but also you will notice that some of the appointments are for very tricky jobs in difficult organisations and I think we have a responsibility, having perhaps been involved in persuading an individual to take one of those jobs, not to leave them alone and to ensure they have the support. That may involve them in meeting fellow chief executives elsewhere or chairs who could provide that support, so that is absolutely crucial. But the final test in honesty of how effectively our job is done is whether those organisations tend to use us again and whether they think we have done a decent job, and I think we probably would not have built the skill or business we have if the majority of our clients did not feel we were doing a good job. What is very pertinent in public recruitment is that there is a great deal of gossip as to who is bad in terms of service providers, so we guard our reputation quite jealously.

  1314. So you have internal review and accountability, but do you have any external accountability? Do the NAO, for example, look at the recruitment processes and look at you and the way you have carried out your job?
  (Ms Cawley) The NAO does not because we are not a public body for them to audit. In terms of external accountability we attend the regular round table meetings that both the Civil Service Commissioners and the Commissioner for Public Appointments hold for recruitment consultants where in discussion we review incidents in the previous period, anything that requires general clarification and improvements in the process, and we discuss what those might be. If there were complaints about processes handled by us we would very quickly hear about that from the department concerned or from the Commissions, because, talking about public appointments, there is that complaint route direct to Dame Rennie. Certainly to my knowledge we have never had any such complaint, which I regard as a good positive indicator.

  1315. A lot of the posts we have been talking about are executive-type posts and/or chairs. Do you deal with unpaid posts as well, and the generality of public sector appointments?
  (Mr Davidson) Some of the posts that we are required to fill are unpaid and our sister organisation Capita RAS undertakes quite a number of those. The greater proportion of the unpaid posts we would undertake might well be in the voluntary sector, so from time to time, yes.

  1316. One of the suggestions that has been made in the Committee is that we should make some appointments by lot to try and widen the scope. Have you got any views on that kind of jury selection process?
  (Mr Davidson) I think we would say very firmly that organisations need the best form of leadership altogether and the right people. I think it is correct that posts should be defined not too narrowly. As an example of the way posts can be ill-defined, you will sometimes see advertisements listing as an essential qualification "graduate", when a more well-defined qualification would be "graduate calibre", if that were meant at all. We would certainly expect to see those posts defined. To simply fill by lot is risking the future of organisations. Nonetheless, I stand by the comment Alison made earlier, diverse teams tend to make more informed decisions, so we are trying to ensure that whatever process is used it is generating a diverse field and a sufficiently generally diverse field is key. I do not think we would be in favour of lots.
  (Ms Cawley) If I could just add to that. I think it is horses for courses. Drawing lots was a fantastic idea for the Lottery because you got people from those communities who knew those communities and you involved a wider range of people. I think it would be inappropriate to select members of the Audit Commission by that route! So there are posts where there is a close community engagement where that knowledge of the community is a key defining characteristic of what you want in that membership, and there the drawing lots idea is a fabulous one; it is a really good way of getting involvement and building confidence and capacity in people who never thought that they could do anything like that. There are inspiring tales about people who have become involved.
  (Mr Davidson) Particularly at a community level.
  (Ms Cawley) Inevitably in the jobs we deal with, it would be inappropriate, as Hamish has said.

  1317. One of the key things is whether the public sector should form panels or not, and for the future of public services we need the skills of leadership and managing change, which are skills that are in particularly short supply in this country, both in the private and public sector. Do you have a role as headhunters in tackling that and providing that solution to the government?
  (Mr Davidson) I believe we have a role. I think Capita as an organisation has a role in that regard as well. One of those is defining what those skills are and encouraging clients to recognise them. Leadership, as Alison suggested, comes in all shapes and sizes. We talked about prejudice earlier. One area of prejudice will be if, say, people think I happen to be a very effective leader or agent of change, to the extent that I understand how to shift organisations, shift attitudes, shift behaviour and shift cultures, which is what we are talking about now, and I have done that in an organisation of 600 people, why could I not do that in one of 6,000 or 60,000? The key is do I understand how I will have to shift my personal style to be able to make that transformation. If there is a demonstration that I can do that, fine, let's have a go. We challenge our clients dramatically on that basis. Typically, clients will be very wary of employing individuals who have not run something on a massive scale, defined either as people management or budget size. That is one key thing. The second is that leadership talents are learned in a variety of sectors. We think that the voluntary sector is much under-rated in terms of the numbers of very talented individuals who have learned complex skills and managed multi-stakeholder organisations, and is not used as a source of candidates at anything like the extent it should be, and when those individuals apply for jobs they are not taken as seriously as they should be. We have got to look overseas for candidates in the same way and increasingly the public sector is beginning to do that. We need to look to the private sector in the same way. There needs to be a much greater movement between the two sectors. Our business is very definitely at the cusp of the public/private sector in helping that interface. The role of our organisation is to promote that. Finally, the role is to encourage some greater co-ordination of those initiatives being undertaken, which at the moment are very fragmented, by various arms of government to promote leadership skills. The National College of School Leadership is one of the best examples of training in fundamental leadership skills around, but what it is doing as an example is not being matched and mirrored by other parts of the public sector, and the local government community is, for example, quite fragmented in that. Central government is too, really. So there needs to be greater co-ordination there. I am well aware that Rod Aldridge, the Chairman of Capita, has put forward proposals in that regard to help suggestions in co-ordinating that process.

Chairman

  1318. Would there be a case for a Sector Leadership Academy generally?
  (Mr Davidson) Yes, a strong case.

  1319. Thank you. A footnote to one of Brian's questions, is there a going rate in your experience for quango appointments, executive appointments in advisory bodies, or is it all over the place?
  (Mr Davidson) It is very, very variable. I would not say there is any particular going rate, it is highly variable. Many of these appointments are obviously non-executive and many of them are X days a week or X days a month. There is then great flexibility there because sometimes those posts in the early days of taking them up may be more full time and then reducing down to part time. There are great differentials.


 
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