Monday 17 May 2010

What's happened to diversity?

No, I don't mean the winners of last year's Britain's Got Talent! I'm talking about diversity within our new coalition government.

It's impossible not to notice the distinct lack of women in the new government, and as for the so called 'Obama generation' of bright new ethnic minority MPs, there's only Baroness Warsi representing things in the new cabinet.

It's not just the media that's been highlighting this disparity, I've had conversations with people who feel the same way.

Some people will moan this is typical white middle-class male bashing, but you can't deny that at the top level of government, you're mainly going to find white middle-class privately educated men running things.

In many professions in this country, it looks like diversity is on the decrease.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's lost count of the number of cultural diversity and equality training days I've been on during my time in work.

These days my first reaction of being told I have to go on one of these is:

'not another one. What more can I possibly learn about diversity?'

But in saying this, it still appears that real diversity is elusive as ever in many professions.

I've been a little sceptical in the past about the whole diversity issue. Yes you want offices, industries and professions to represent society, but sometimes I wonder whether certain groups are in a realistic position in regards to numbers to be considered for many professions.

I live in London, arguably the most diverse and cosmopolitan city in the world, but this diversity is rarely represented in my working life. This is especially true in many of the more middle class professions.

I've always worked quite closely with lawyers and barristers. For the sake of my argument I could say I don't meet many male barristers from Bangladeshi or Afro Caribbean backgrounds.

Is this a lack of diversity? Is it the fault of employers not making enough effort? Or is it because there simply aren't enough people from these backgrounds, studying law, training to be lawyers and applying for jobs?

If it's the latter then the issue of diversity needs to spread its focus onto education, and social mobility.

Returning back to the election, clearly more efforts need to be made. I've read that in our new parliament 35% of MPs were privately educated, even though only 7% of the population attend such schools, around a third of MPs went to Oxbridge including 15 members of the cabinet. There are 511 male MPs and only 139 women. It's a very narrow base to draw your political class from.

When we talk about diversity, you have to look at the whole picture. You need more women, ethnic minorities, but you also need people from working and lower middle class backgrounds. You also need people who haven't all been educated at our elite universities.

You have to provide people with the channels to enter professions like politics, which aren't really open to many people. You have to make people aware that politics is something which can be open to them.

I don't have a definitive answer on how to solve things, but my initial thoughts make me think we need to get more people involved at a local level. That way they can be introduced into the political culture. If they have the talent and drive then hopefully they can progress up the party ranks.

My second point returns back to the issue of education and social mobility. These are key components in any equality debate and should open up greater avenues for people from different backgrounds.

I'm not always convinced as to how well educated some young people are these days. It's ironic that we have more people going to university, gaining academic qualifications but yet so many professions are a closed shop. Appearing to only be available to select groups of people.

As for social mobility, does it even exist anymore in the UK? You were probably more likely to make it into government coming from a working class background 30 or 40 years ago then you are today.

The problem doesn't just apply to politics, you can say the same about law, medicine, journalism and most media industries.

A lot of the time politics is presented as this elitist interest, when in reality, politics is everyday life for many people. As we saw with the election debates, if politics is presented in the right way people will be interested.

If the make up of our politicians both at local and national level reflects all of society then I'm sure it will encourage more people to get involved.

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