The FCO's performance and finances in 2013-2014 - Foreign Affairs Contents

3  Diversity at the FCO

48. The FCO launched its first ever strategy on diversity, entitled 'Fairness for All', in November 2008.[79] The strategy was based on four key themes that were designed to drive the mainstreaming of equality and diversity further into every aspect of FCO business. The key themes were:

·  To create a more inclusive FCO culture;

·  To provide stronger leadership and accountability;

·  To bring in and bring up diverse talent, based on merit; and

·  To better represent the communities it serves.[80]

This section of the report considers the last of these four themes in detail.

49. As part of the FCO's drive to be more representative of the community, the Department set targets in 2008 to increase the proportion of women, black and ethnic minority and disabled staff in senior management. The targets were:

·  28 per cent of FCO senior management to be women;

·  Five per cent of senior management to be people from minority ethnic backgrounds; and

·  Five per cent of FCO senior management to be disabled people.

The aim was to achieve these targets by April 2013;[81] but, in the event, all were missed, and at the time of writing this Report, the FCO had still not met any of them.

Table 4: 'Fairness for All' Diversity Targets
Diversity targets for senior management (SMS grades)
November 2008 (baseline)
December 2013 (last reported)
Black and ethnic minority staff
Staff with disabilities
Not reported*
*December 2013 figure for staff in senior management grades with disabilities not reported due to low response rate

Source: NAO Departmental Overview 2013-14

We focus in this report on representation of women in senior management in the FCO.

Missed targets

50. The FCO senior management structure is made up of four grades: SMS 1, SMS 2, SMS 3 and SMS 4. The table below, which is reproduced from the FCO's written evidence, shows the number of women in each senior management grade for the last six years:[82]

Table 5: The Number of FCO UK Based SMS (Senior Civil Service) female staff, 2008 to 2014 (headcount)

Source: Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Dates are as 31 March 2014)

The number of female senior managers has increased by 34 per cent in the past six years, from 79 in March 2009 to 106 in March 2014. The most noticeable rise took place in the most recent financial year, when 11 women had either been promoted from lower ranks of the FCO or brought in from outside into the SMS grades. Despite this progress, the proportion of women in senior management in March 2014 was 26.2 per cent and still below the 'Fairness for All' representation target of 28 per cent.[83]

51. The Civil Service published a diversity strategy in July 2008, in which it set targets to increase the representation of women in senior management. The targets were:

i)  34 per cent of staff in top management posts to be women;[84] and

ii)  39 per cent of the Senior Civil Service (SCS) to be women.

The FCO has opted not to benchmark its performance against either of the Civil Service targets. It has not tracked progress against the first objective at all; and on the second target, the FCO set its mark 11 per cent lower than the Civil Service milestone. The FCO does not compare favourably with some of its Whitehall partners, most notably DFID. Not only did DFID achieve the 39 per cent target for women in the Senior Civil Service; it tracked, monitored and exceeded the other target on women in top management posts. 42 per cent of DFID directors were women in December 2013.[85]

52. FCO performance in promoting women to the very top posts has been disappointing. Only 19 per cent of the top two senior management posts are occupied by women. Only 6 out of the 29 positions in SMS 3 are held by women, and in the highest and best-rewarded branch of the diplomatic tree (SMS 4), there were no women (out of a possible three positions).[86] In the history of the FCO, no woman has ever held a post at the highest grade (SMS 4). There are a number of 'glittering posts' in which there has never been a woman head of mission: Washington, Paris, Tokyo, New Delhi, Permanent Representative at the UN in New York and Permanent Representative at the EU in Brussels;[87] and no woman since at least 1984 has been Ambassador in Rome, Bonn/Berlin, or Ottawa.[88] Out of 125 people appointed to Head of Mission posts in 14 BRIC or emerging market countries between 1984 and February 2014, just nine were women.[89] The list of women appointed comparatively recently to high-profile posts includes Dame Mariot Leslie, the UK's Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Council since April 2010, Dame Nicola Brewer, High Commissioner in South Africa from 2009 to 2013, Dame Anne Pringle, Ambassador in Moscow from 2008 to 2011, and Barbara Woodward, appointed as Ambassador in Beijing in August 2014.

Addressing barriers

53. FCO officials told us that it was "regrettable" that the 'Fairness for All' targets had been missed, and they acknowledged that it had "some catching up to do".[90] The FCO identified a number of key barriers that were still preventing the progress of women:

·  Difficulty maintaining a work-life balance in senior roles;

·  Reconciling work with caring responsibilities;

·  The difficulties of partners finding employment when accompanying their diplomatic spouses overseas; and

·  Self-confidence.[91]

Deborah Bronnert, the new Chief Operating Officer at the FCO, told us that there was still a misconception across the Office that women did not see themselves in an ambassadorial role and that it was still perceived as a role for a man.[92] Some of these problems, particularly ones related to confidence, still appear to be linked to historic policies of discrimination, such as the marriage bar.[93] Although it was lifted in 1972, Ms Bronnert told us that it still casts a long shadow over the FCO.[94]

54. We were given assurances that that the FCO was working hard to remove the remaining barriers blocking the progress of women. In its written submission, the FCO outlined its "radical policies" for improving diversity.[95] These included:

i)  Extending tour lengths for disabled staff beyond five years;

ii)  Using diversity factors as a legitimate consideration in appointment decisions; and

iii)  Allowing interview panels to be composed of staff at different levels, including more junior staff members.

In addition to these "radical" policies, the FCO said that it would run communication campaigns to encourage talented people from under-represented groups to consider a career in the FCO; run targeted coaching and mentoring schemes to help support the advancement of existing staff from underrepresented groups; make diversity and inclusion a key focus in the Leadership Conference sessions for senior staff; and encourage staff to complete unconscious bias training.[96]

55. We questioned whether any of these policies were as "radical" as the Department had claimed. It appeared to us that many of these ideas had been discussed and implemented by many different organisations for many years. Sir Simon, in response to this assertion, told us that the "absolute principle of appointments has to be…the best person for the job". He categorically ruled out the possibility of "positive discrimination in terms of actual appointments".[97] It is not clear to us therefore what is meant by the FCO in its policy of using "diversity factors as a legitimate consideration in appointment decisions".[98] We recommend that the FCO, in its response to this Report, explains how it plans to use diversity factors as a "legitimate consideration in appointment decisions", if it has ruled out the use of positive discrimination.

More positive signs

56. The FCO has argued that it has built good foundations for improvement in the past few years, and it appears to be confident that it is heading in the right direction. Sir Simon Fraser told us that the "single biggest and most important achievement" was the shift in culture of the organisation, and that diversity had been taken away from being something that is purely seen in terms of numbers and targets into something that the FCO genuinely understands is in the interests of efficiency and high performance.[99] This has become "well-entrenched" and would "drive real change" in the future.[100]

57. We have also seen signs that the FCO is willing to experiment: Jonathan Aves and Katherine Leach have been job-sharing the role of Ambassador to Armenia since 2012, on a four month on/off format.[101] Ms Bronnert told us that the Department encouraged job-sharing and indicated that there were other examples of this happening in the Department, including job shares at senior levels of the FCO. Ms Bronnert claimed that perhaps in this area, the FCO had been radical after all.[102]

58. There have been signs of positive change on increasing representation at some of the key decision-making functions of the FCO: five out the 11 members of the FCO Management Board are women; and on the Senior Appointments Board, which makes recommendations for all ambassadorial appointments, there are four women and three men.[103]

New targets

59. The FCO has set new diversity targets for its under-represented groups, including an aim to have 39 per cent of senior management to be women by 2019.[104] The FCO Board has also set a new target to have 24 additional female Heads of Mission overseas by 2017, from its baseline of 39 female Heads of Mission in 2013 to 63 in 2017.[105]

60. These targets are challenging. On the assumption that the number of senior managers at the FCO remains at the current level of 404, the FCO would have to promote 52 more women into senior management, either from the lower ranks of the FCO or directly from outside in the next five years. We note that:

·  Talented women in junior ranks would have to be retained in order to build a corps suitable for promotion into senior management;

·  A low churn rate of senior managers would place additional pressure in meeting the target. With less staff turnover, fewer positions would become available for women to occupy; and

·  If staff turnover remains at current levels, on average 12 vacancies would become available each year. Even if none of the people at SMS grades leaving the Department between now and 2019 were women, the FCO would need to appoint 10 or 11 women each year into the vacant positions that become available, in order to meet its target. On that basis, the FCO would have to appoint, on average, 86 per cent female candidates into these positions each year.

61. Persistent under-achievement on diversity targets has the potential to drain morale and risks damaging the reputation of the FCO as an employer and service provider. The problems do not appear to reflect institutional barriers but rather a lack of confidence among women that they have the same opportunities for career development and advancement as their male colleagues. We would expect the measures already in hand to have an effect, if not an immediate one; and we endorse the principle that the FCO should continue to make appointments on the basis of best person for the job. The FCO will, however, need to continue to demonstrate that cultural change is under way, if women in the FCO are to feel confident that they can make it to the top of the organisation.

79   "The FCO's Inclusion & Diversity Strategy 2008-13: Fairness for All Strategy", November 2008,  Back

80   Ibid Back

81   Ibid Back

82   FCO written evidence, answer to written question 2 Back

83   As at 31 March 2014, there were 404 people in FCO senior management. See FCO Annual Report and Accounts 2013-14, page 44 Back

84   Top management posts were defined as Director and above Back

85   "DFID Diversity and Inclusion - Annual Report 2013-14", DFID, page 19, Back

86   FCO written evidence, answer to written question 2 and FCO Annual Report and Accounts 2013-14, page 46 Back

87   "Review: The slow progress of women in the diplomatic service" by Dame Nicola Brewer, The World Today - Chatham House, June and July 2014, page 48-49 Back

88   HL Deb, 24 February 2014, col WA 170 Back

89   BRIC/emerging market countries: China, Russia, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Nigeria, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Turkey. Back

90   Q 19 and 20 Back

91   FCO supplementary written evidence, answer to written question 5  Back

92   Q 20 Back

93   Up until 1972, the FCO required female staff to resign from the Diplomatic Service if they became engaged to be married.  Back

94   Q 20 Back

95   FCO written evidence, answer to written question 3 Back

96   FCO supplementary written evidence, answer to written question 4 Back

97   Q 23 Back

98   FCO written evidence, answer to written question 3 Back

99   Q 23 Back

100   Ibid Back

101   "British Ambassador to Armenia", website, Back

102   Q 23 Back

103   Q 21 Back

104   Q 19 Back

105   "2014 Diversity and Equality Report", FCO, page 4, Back

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Prepared 27 February 2015