Down with short-termism. Long live real change.

Cartoon1We need to talk about Britain. It is a well-known and oft-discussed fact that decision makers in the UK are not representative of the population. Just take the House of Commons for instance:

  • Women make up 51% of the population but just 22% of MPs.
  • Ethnic minorities account for just under 10% of the population but just 4% of MPs.
  • Less than one-tenth of the adult population of the UK attended fee paying schools compared to over one-third of MPs.

Despite the first UK women gaining the vote in 1918 and well over a decade of talk about all-female short-lists, quotas in senior positions and targets for ethnic minority and younger candidates, it remains the case that more than 400, 62% of MPs, are middle-aged white men.

Outside of Parliament, too, our leaders are far from representative; women make-up just 15% and ethnic minorities 5.7% of directors in FTSE 100 companies. Even our media lacks diversity with 78% of national newspaper articles in the average month being written by men. In almost every sector, it seems, our leaders are not representative of the Great British public.

So what’s going wrong? Now we’ve discussed the issue let’s look at the core interventions that have occurred over the last few years or are planned for the near future;

Labour, 1997 General Election – All female Shortlists

Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition – Pledge to increase proportion of female cabinet ministers to 30%

Draft EU legislation concerning the private sector – 40% quota of female non-executive directors in large companies

These interventions all have one thing in common; they only address the very tip of the iceberg. Too many initiatives aimed at improving representativeness simply focus on launching more women or ethnic minority individuals into high profile positions. There is the vague assumption that by having a few more different coloured people or individuals with lady bits walking around they will not only entirely transform their working environment but make the rest of the population wake-up and go ‘do you know what? I’m a woman/ethnic minority, I should become a leader too!’.

I’m in no way inherently against quotas but, in the real world, quotas alone are not enough. Parachuting a few lucky individuals into high-profile positions might look great for the equal opportunities stats and media photo ops but it does not address the very real issues that are putting these target groups off striving for these positions in the first place. If the UK is serious about encouraging a generation of diverse young leaders to step forward some real attention needs to be paid to what barriers they face from grassroots/entry level up and what can be done to break them down. Instead of focusing all our attention on statistics at the top end we need to find the human problems underneath and work together as a society to solve them. How best to approach this? I don’t have a clue. But I know that without enacting some real change we’re going to see a whole lot more disillusionment and disassociation with the establishment in years to come.

So I say down with short-termism and over-simplistic interventions. Long live real change.


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