Have a look at the most senior level of Transport for London management and you’d be hard pressed not to notice that it’s exclusively white and predominately male.
Over the years this has been the cause of a few raised London Assembly eyebrows, especially as the same lack of diversity can be found on the TfL board which has more UKIP defectors than BAME members.
The next Mayor can easily address the 1950’s all-white look of the board, but changing the top management tier is going to require axing a previously unknown recruitment policy which came to light on Thursday during a London Assembly scrutiny session.
In a discussion about the large salaries and bonuses paid to TfL bosses, Boris Johnson and transport commissioner Sir Peter Hendy defended the sums as being necessary to attract candidates who could earn at least as much in the private sector.
But as the questions persisted, it emerged that the policy wasn’t just to take on competent leaders with experience in delivering big projects, Boris told AMs that what was being sought were “people who have experience of railways or buses or whatever in this country.”
Going further than his boss in narrowing the field of potential applicants, Sir Peter said: “One of the reasons the bus service has been so successful is I’ve never wanted, and for as long as I’m here I will never suggest, that somebody should run it that has not run a private sector bus operation in London.”
A look at the corporate websites for bus and train companies operating in London confirms that the senior staff in these organisations are also largely male and white.
The, clearly unintended, effect of requiring industry specific expertise for what are ultimately oversight roles is to heavily stack the odds against BAME and female candidates.
It also increases the likelihood of TfL bosses being people who’ve moved from companies doing business with the organisation to overseeing contracts being delivered by former colleagues.
Citing the example of deputy fire commissioner Rita Dexter, a former Barnet council executive, London Assembly Darren Johnson tells me: “It is possible to hire people from outside an industry who have the leadership and organisational skills to oversee complex projects and vital public services.”
Hiring good managers without pals or vested interests in the companies they deal with is good governance and, in addition to avoiding actual and perceived conflicts of interest, can bring in new skills and outlooks.
And, instead of perpetuating the apparent industry-wide under representation of female and BAME managers, TfL could do some social good by recruiting from associated sectors and more generally just looking for good project managers to create successful new transport managers who will eventually be of interest to the commercial sector.
TfL likes to use the word “modernise” when defending reforms such as its ticket office closures, but when it comes to replenishing its most senior and very well paid ranks it apparently prefers the old boys’ network approach of yesteryear to open, equal opportunities recruitment.