Public boards do not reflect the make-up of wider society but progress is being madeby Susanna Smith / October 11, 2018 / Leave a comment
Thousands of board members are appointed to public bodies every year. These range from organisations like the Student Loans Company and Environment Agency to lesser-known ones like the Drinking Water Inspectorate. Most are ministerial appointments, although some individuals are chosen directly by the Queen or prime minister, and a handful, such as appointments to the Office for Budget Responsibility and Electoral Commission, require parliamentary approval. How these organisations are governed has significant impact on citizens’ daily lives, but the most recent public appointments data shows that the diversity of board members is a long-way off mirroring the social make-up of the population. This makes it harder for public bodies to take into account the needs of people from all walks of life when making governance decisions.
The government’s Diversity Action Plan sets the ambitious target that by 2022, representation of women and ethnic minorities will be brought in line with the rest of the population. The government has already made steady improvements in the number of women on boards. The figure, at 46 per cent, is edging closer to the roughly 50 per cent balance of the population, a gradual increase of 10 per cent over the past decade or so. But the fact that the 50 per cent gender target was first set in 2013 and still hasn’t been met raises questions over the pace of change. Every public appointments annual report for the past 10 years has reinforced the commitment to improve the number of appointments from all walks of life but the record of appointing individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds and with disabilities sit at a mere 10 per cent and 6 per cent, when 14 per cent of the British public are from an ethnic minority background and 18 per cent have a declared disability.
Why does this matter? There are three reasons. Boards that have a wide range of experience are better able to understand their service-users or the needs of those they regulate. It’s a tool to improve social mobility and, as research by McKinsey shows, more diverse organisations are significantly more likely to have stronger financial returns, which is not a small point for the public bodies that have to generate some of their own revenue. So, who is to blame for the slow progress and whose responsibility it is to bring about change? We can’t finger-point at a single government as the data is relatively stagnant across the Labour, Coalition and Conservative…