Buckingham Palace admits it ‘must do more’ to improve ethnic diversity among staff

·5-min read
 (PA Archive)
(PA Archive)

Buckingham Palace has published its figures on its levels of ethnic minority staff for the first time as it admitted it “must do more” and is “not where it would like to be” in terms of diversity.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex accused the royal family of racism in their Oprah Winfrey interview last year.

Following the bombshell allegations, the royal household has revealed in its annual financial accounts for 2020-2021 that its proportion of ethnic minority employees stands at just 8.5%, with a target of 10% for 2022.

In the UK, around 13% of the UK population is from a minority ethnic background, according to the latest 2011 Census data.

The Queen’s household also brought in a change to its Diversity Strategy in early 2020 - which predates the Oprah interview - to one that actively emphasises the importance of inclusion.

A senior palace source said the household had published the figures so there could be “no place to hide” and so they would be held accountable if no progress is made in the future.

“We are not where we would like to be despite our efforts,” the source said.

“It is not that we have not been progressing diversity and inclusion initiatives during this period, it is that simply the results have not been what we would like.

“We have continuous engagement with external advisers, organisations that are at the grassroots level who sit on our steering committee, people who are able to give us a different voice, a different perspective.

“And we recognise that we must do more.

“One of the key points about the publishing of our statistics, which is actually on a voluntary basis, is that there’s no place to hide.

“We fully expect you to come back and hold us accountable for the progress that we made. And if we don’t make the progress, we’ll have to explain why.”

The source described as a “significant step” the disclosing of the figures, which were previously monitored internally.

But Raj Tulsiani, co founder of Race Equality Matters, criticised the palace.

“In terms of saying ‘These are our numbers and we’d like to do better’, I don’t think they deserve a pat on the back for that,” he said.

“Amplifying aspirations for future inclusion, it’s nothing. It’s just words. You know if they were serious they’d say ‘Here’s our action plan’.”

Mr Tulsiani added that there was no breakdown of the 8.5% figure in terms of seniority of staff, and different grades.

“The concern when people provide an overarching percentage is that you can generally make the assumption that there’s a vastly higher percentage of people in lower paid jobs than there are in positions of power and influence which is part of the problem around recruitment, retention and reputation,” he said.

Mr Tulsiani, chief executive of Green Park diversity headhunters, leadership recruitment and consultancy service, added: “If they want to grow trust they have to tell people why. So to say ‘Oh we want 10%’, I’d like to know why. Why not 15% or 3%?

“Where does this target come from and what’s the purpose of it, and how do we translate that target into real numbers?”

Race Equality Matters was formed in response to the Black Lives Matter movement to turn declarations of commitment and support from organisations and individuals into meaningful change in the workforce and in society.

Royal sources guided previously that the palace was considering appointing a diversity tsar to help assess and improve representation across the royal household in the wake of the Sussexes’ allegations.

But the palace source said on Wednesday there were now no specific plans for such an appointment, although it was not ruled out.

Meghan, the first mixed race person to marry a senior royal for centuries, said an unnamed royal - not the Queen nor the Duke of Edinburgh - raised concerns with Harry about how dark their son Archie’s skin tone might be before he was born.

The Queen issued a statement saying that the issues raised would be dealt with privately as a family, but that “some recollections may vary”.

The palace source said on Wednesday that the Queen and the royal family had embraced the diversity of the UK.

“Her Majesty and other members of the royal family have actively promoted and embraced the diversity of our nation and that of the Commonwealth, and we take our lead from that,” they said.

Following the Oprah interview, the Duke of Cambridge defended the monarchy against Harry and Meghan’s claims, saying soon after they were made that “we’re very much not a racist family”.

The Prince of Wales’s household said its proportion of ethnic minority staff was also 8%.

A Clarence House senior spokesperson said: “It isn’t good enough and we are determined to do better.”

The spokesperson said that 60% of the Clarence House senior management team was female.

Kensington Palace declined to release its staff diversity figures.

Earlier this month, one of the Queen’s most senior aides revealed in the late 1960s it was not the “practice” to employ “coloured immigrants or foreigners” to clerical posts in the royal household.

Lord Tryon, the keeper of the privy purse at the time, spoke about minorities in the royal workforce in documents unearthed by the Guardian newspaper.

The paper also outlined how in the late 1960s civil servants and senior figures from Government negotiated with royal aides an exemption for the Queen and the household from legislation designed to prevent race discrimination.

Graham Smith, chief executive officer of Republic which campaigns for an elected head of state, said: “While it’s welcomed that the palace has published data on its staff diversity, it is still the case that palace staff are not protected from race discrimination, thanks to lobbying from the Queen over the past 40 years.

“There is no justification why anyone should be given an exemption from workplace discrimination laws, particularly our head of state.”

The shift in Diversity Strategy brought in by the Palace in early 2020 includes encouraging employees to make gender equality and inclusion pledges as part of International Women’s Day, employee articles on its intranet on Pride, Ramadan and Black History Month, and a planned “listening exercise” to examine employee experience.

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