Published on June 7, 2018
So, your friends and family are worried about diversity – quotas, glass ceilings, the absence of people of colour among MPs, the underrepresentation of certain groups at every level of government – and you wonder if you’re doing something right in order to make sure our political landscape is more diverse. You start to sound a bit like Jeff Flake and Steve King in their recent rounds of pressure against the White House on D.C. diversity.
Because we all have different definitions of diversity. When it comes to politics, some think it should be the mix of race, gender, age, nationality, location, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socio-economic status and even physical capability. Others think diversity should be in general terms – how well we get along together, or whether we respect our differences, whether we value certain things and reject others, whether we live up to the ideals of democracy – what I believe is the core of our democratic system.
Do we have that debate within our families, communities and wards?
Research suggests we don’t. We take the field more seriously with our children, but stop when they reach a certain age, and then there’s rarely a hard realisation that we’re doing our kids a disservice by not doing the same with ourselves and our communities.
I think that’s one reason why we’re under-representing diverse groups within our political systems, rather than for reasons that are innate or cosmetic.
It’s no coincidence that the outstanding achievements of a glass ceiling-busting lawyer, Janet Romero, is not an area that we typically talk about. More controversial than public transport, or most issue of the day is how to make greater diversity in politics happen. Diversity in political discourse has been stigmatised and in my view that has left a big blind spot in understanding what has happened to the field in recent years.
Good politicians learn from practice. They see what works, how we can deliver change. Change is hard. Particularly when those experienced with making change aren’t in the positions and requiring the very same resources.
That’s the alternative though. We can continue to run under the shadows that leads to under representation and I believe much of that anger and frustration does lie with politicians and political parties that hide their failure of form under the shroud of ‘party unity’. The system relies on consensus. Elected representatives are challenged to get into an understanding of their local working class constituencies – the parties aren’t always there for them.
My message is to people like us. We have a responsibility to upskill and make the most of our opportunities to actively support people like you. It’s not a political problem, but an opportunity to break down barriers in our community. Because we’re not doing ourselves or our communities a disservice by standing for office and staying home.