FDA's Lucille Thirlby discusses the key to unlock the Senior Civil Service

Thu 21 Oct 2021

FDA's Lucille Thirlby discusses the key to unlock the Senior Civil Service

Lucille Thirlby (pictured), assistant general secretary at civil service's trade union FDA. discusses what it takes to bring your skills and experience to the next level, developing your career into the Senior Civil Service

By Murielle Gonzalez

If you work in the public sector, chances are you are in the job with a purpose, and you've been working hard to gain the skills to help you deliver on your department's goals. However, you'll find yourself wondering about your career progression soon enough, and that's why it's essential to understand what it takes to bring your skills and experience to the next level, developing your career into the Senior Civil Service (SCS). 

"The initial jump to SCS1, or a deputy director role, can be difficult. Our knowledge shows that this can be particularly challenging for Black and ethnic minority members and female staff. But we're starting to see some improvements," says Lucille Thirlby, assistant general secretary at civil service's trade union FDA. 

Thirlby will be chairing the conference Unlocking the Senior Civil Service on 3 March and explains that the online event is a unique opportunity to help you prepare for the challenge. "It's all about your career development, and we want to show delegates that a career progression in the SCS is possible," she adds.

What can people do to progress into the SCS?

We can only assist so far in terms of giving people the tools to enable them to understand leadership and sound management skills.

But within the civil service, there are lots of programmes around mentoring and shadowing. So, getting exposure to those opportunities enables people to demonstrate the ability to act at the highest levels.

Is it about being a good leader?

It's about leadership and the specialism of your profession. To get into the SCS, you must have the experience and bring with you the learnings and the specialist knowledge of the role, but to break into a more senior position, you've got to be able to think strategically.

You've probably been working with a team, but in an SCS role, you will be working with multiple teams, seeing the threads and getting them to work together.

What's your view on the social mobility challenge within the civil service?Portrait photo of Lucille Thirlby

Socio-economic background, gender and race continue to be barriers to career progression, but we can see some improvements.

For example, one of the barriers we hear from our BAME members is the perception that they 'don't fit' — the candidate's profile doesn't resonate with the person who's recruiting for the role.

What role can managers play in eliminating this barrier?

There's a very prescribed and detailed recruitment framework in place, and it has been there for several years, which helps mitigate this barrier. However, it's also important that people in senior positions understand that we need diversity. 

There's still some work to be done to break down the perception that the civil service does not represent the society it serves. But we see that most people in the SCS are driving a change in leadership, understanding the need for diverse teams, and bringing people on.

What's your advice for people interested in developing a career in the Senior Civil Service?

Don't undersell yourself, and go for the roles in the SCS if it's something that you're interested in. We've got a brilliant civil service. There are fantastic opportunities for people, and the FDA would champion people embarking on that journey.

Unlocking the Senior Civil Service is an online conference on 3 March, brought to you in partnership between Dods Diversity & Inclusion and the FDA.

Some of the sessions you don't want to miss:

  • Opening address by Bernadette Kelly, Permanent Secretary, Department for Transport and Civil Service; Social Mobility Champion
  • Preparing for the SCS Success Profile selection by Richard Hillsdon, Dods Trainer
  • Personal perspectives — my route into the SCS with:
    • Sadeea Magee, HR Deputy Director - Reward, ER and Change, Home Office
    • Catherine McMeeken, Unit Head for Social Housing Services, Scottish Government

Visit the event website to explore the agenda and book your place today!


Murielle Gonzalez, content strategy manager at Dods Diversity & Inclusion, is an experienced journalist and editor. She can be reached on murielle.gonzalez@dodsgroup.com.

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