LACK OF DIVERSITY: Concern over lack of Walsall Council BAME bosses
HR chiefs were grilled by councillors at a meeting of the authority’s Scrutiny Committee over the lack of diversity in the top three levels of authority management.
A failure to appoint a single black or ethnic minority person to a raft of vacant Walsall Council senior jobs has prompted a recruitment strategy rethink.
Concerns have intensified after a number of permanent and interim director appointments made in the last 12 months failed to redress the balance.
Chiefs said there was very little interest from the BAME community in the roles when advertised externally, prompting the authority to look at developing existing staff and help them rise up the ranks.
At Thursday’s (April 15) meeting, committee members said the make up of management – chief executive, executive director and assistant director levels – did not reflect the diverse community Walsall is.
But they also heard how the council has had people from the BAME community in the top levels before, most notably Hardial Bhogal who was chief executive up until 2002.
Among the recent appointments were for an interim executive director of resources and transformation as well as directors of regeneration and economy, finance and customer engagement.
Councillor Suky Samra said: “Recently there has been a lot of recruitment at executive director levels but, from my understanding, not a single person from the BAME community has been appointed to any post.
“If you look at the top 100 FTSE companies, many of their CEOs are from a BAME background. Are we simply not attracting people from the BAME community for these senior positions and if so, why aren’t we?”
Walsall Labour group leader Aftab Nawaz added: “If you’re an outsider and you don’t work in the council or understand the policies you’re trying to implement, the council looks nothing like the community we live in.
“That is a concern. I feel we need to do a lot more than say we are going to develop our own people internally.”
Councillor Bal Chatta, portfolio holder for personnel and business support, said there was no straightforward answer as to why they failed to attract applicants from the BAME community.
But she said developing and promoting from within was the right approach to ensure they were not at the mercy of the external market.
She said: “With external recruitment, it’s very difficult to predict who is going to apply.
“If people don’t apply, you can’t interview them and you can’t employ them. We have to select on skills, experience, people who are best qualified.
“When you advertise externally you are always at the mercy of the market – who is looking for a job at that time and who is applying to you.
“We are also recruiting at a time where people are reluctant to move positions. There are a lot of factors that might impact.
“One of the things we are focusing on going forward is developing our own internal talent. We’re asking the question who are our future leaders, who are our future managers, who are our future directors?
“If you want a diverse workforce and want a diverse leadership, then the right strategy is to develop your own people.
“There will be a focus on how we develop people, how we give them proper career paths, how we support them on achieving career ambitions so that more of recruitment is conducted from within our own workforce.
“So we are looking at mentoring, coaching and development plans for our own people. I understand at this point it feels like a really far off thing but it is the right thing to do.”
Interim HR director Michelle Leith said: “I was part of the recruitment to some of the senior management posts and I would have to say, however regrettable it might be, the candidates didn’t come forward.
“So part of my remit is to understand why, from an external perspective, the local authority isn’t a place they want to work.”
Councillor Ian Shires called for a working group to be set up to look into the issue and he was backed by former authority boss Sean Coughlan.
Councillor Coughlan said: “I have every sympathy with Councillor Chatta.
“I’ve sat there as the leader of the council recruiting high profile jobs and I can assure you we didn’t turn anybody down because they were from a BAME background.
“Building up from within is really important. It’s not that we haven’t been there before and we’ve been successful in the past.”
Words: Gurdip Thandi, Local Democracy Reporter
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