Walking towards London Bridge, the landmark spanned the river as I headed towards Norton Rose Fulbright – our kind hosts for the latest masterclass session. Arriving at the law firm further fuelled my own desire in becoming a commercial solicitor – so the venue felt fitting, nonetheless. It became evident that I was eager to learn about policy making and the roles within the central government from not only an experienced civil servant but also a trustee of Patchwork Foundation.
Melanie Dawes, as the current Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, whose career – has had an impressive tenure of over three decades in Whitehall. As current Diversity and Inclusion Champion, the Permanent Secretary also served as the gender champion and asserts herself within the Civil Service Board and Senior Leadership Committees. Her distinguished career in politics has included leading roles within HM Treasury, the Cabinet Office and HMRC.
Over the years, she has been instrumental in encouraging her peers across departments to liaise closely with the Treasury and brokering deals which will see Whitehall departments giving up some of their power, passing money directly to local areas to design and deliver certain services as required.
I realised from the Permanent Secretary’s use of language that the approach she harnesses is that of soft power and influence: as leader of the department she facilitates conversations; asks pressing questions and collaborates to establish solutions for the local communities from a grassroots level.
The session cemented that Improving diversity across the board won’t be just about introducing schemes; instead it should be about building an inclusive culture and ensuring that talent programmes are properly diversity-proofed – this can be achieved by challenging our own individual unconscious bias.
All in all, it was insightful to hear from such a senior civil servant in an intimate setting. It was clear that her initial passion for individual’s stories was what saw her enter the public sector rather than pursuing her own legal career. The Permanent Secretary’s oratory was intellectually stimulating and provided me with much to reflect upon.
Above all, I recognised the importance of becoming a champion that vigorously fights for social justice.
Written by Nazrin Ysmailova