The role of politics in inclusion

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Whilst many of us are slightly dismayed at the current lack of unity and leadership in politics, there is something to be proud of.  The UK has the most diverse parliament ever, and it’s actually something that we are world leaders at.

There are 650 MPs in Westminster and it’s been a long time since Nancy Astor became the first-ever female MP in 1919.  As we approach the centenary of Nancy’s entry into parliament, take note that the number of women has increased to 191 in 2015 and to 208 in last year’s election. Women now represent 32% of elected parliamentarians.

When you look at the breakdown by party, Labour has the most women with 119, followed by the Conservatives with 67, the SNP with 12 and the Liberal Democrats with 4.

When it comes to ethnic minority representatives, the proportion of Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) MPs has increased from 1 in 1987 to 41 in 2015 to 52 today. The numbers break down to 32 in Labour, 19 in Tory and 1 in the Liberal Democrats.

But how do these statistics compare with the population?

Women overall are under-represented (32% vs 51% of the population), as are BAME politicians (8% vs 13% of the population in the 2011 census – probably higher now). In both cases, the current parliamentarians who are female or of ethnic minority are about 60% of the numbers they would need to be to be truly representative of the UK population.

Interestingly, when it comes to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) MPs, there has been considerable progress – 7% of parliament identifies as LGBT, which is broadly in line with the population. This is a 40% increase on the 2015 parliament with 19 Tory, 19 Labour and 7 SNP MPs making 45 total out of 650 parliamentarians overall.

There are only a handful of disabled MPs, 5 total, with 2 Labour, 2 Tory and 1 Liberal Democrat. This is considerably less than the relevant UK population, with 11 million Brits having a disability, or 7 million of working age (18%) vs the 0.8% that is present in parliament.

It’s just harder for people who have no experience of, or exposure to, difference to empathise with it.

There is also much work to be done on social mobility in the UK, where it still matters what school you went to. Analysis by the Sutton Trust found that 51% of MPs in the 2017 Parliament went to comprehensive schools, while 29% went to private school and 18% selective state schools.

This was a marginal improvement on 2015, when the figures were 49%, 32% and 19% respectively, but it is still not representative given that only 7% of UK children attend private school.  

When broken down by party, 45% of all Conservative MPs elected in 2017 were privately educated, compared with 14% of Labour MPs and 6% of SNP MPs.

Why does any of this matter?

One answer lies in current affairs. When we have government ministers attending the all-male Presidents Club in the Dorchester Hotel, and when we have over a third of the Cabinet being privately educated when schools still differ widely, there is a problem of empathy failure. It’s just harder for people who have no experience of, or exposure to, difference to empathise with it

The problem, ultimately, for parliament and our democracy is a lack of legitimacy.  If the governed are not represented by the government there is a disconnect that can play out as simply unfair – morally, economically and socially.

Skin colour or sexual orientation alone is no guarantee of good government or good business. And too often, difference leads to conflict rather than enrichment.

One of the starkest examples is in the UK judiciary, where only 2 of the 12 strong Supreme Court are women, none are from ethnic minority backgrounds and most are privately educated. Lady Hale, the new President, is on the case.

When it comes to business, the potential gap is of commercial concern. If you are not representative of your customers (who are the ultimate boss) then it does become a potentially existential issue.  

Of course, it’s not just a question of representation. Skin colour or sexual orientation alone is no guarantee of good government or good business. And too often, difference leads to conflict rather than enrichment. The difference lies in how we react to difference and how we intentionally try to incorporate it, be that in to our thinking, our marketing, our strategy or our customer service.

Taking a more proactive approach to diversity and inclusion

I embed human rights in corporate decision making to de-bias systems and processes. (The long answer can be found at We call it diversity and inclusion or inclusive leadership, and it has never been more important. What was once a niche interest is now front-page news.

It’s easy to blame diversity if you don’t like it. But when you realise you are part of the problem – and part of the solution – there’s a better chance you will be positively predisposed.

If you really want to make diversity work for you, start including it instead of blaming it. Blaming diversity is just being angry at the world. Look in the mirror at your own inclusion efforts and how you can adapt, rather than expect ‘them’ to fit in. That’s a more productive and successful approach to gaining the benefits of diversity for you and your business.

About Stephen Frost

Stephen Frost - Diversity and Inclusion Expert

Stephen Frost specialises in working with organisations to embed inclusive leadership into their decision-making. His roles have included working as Head of Diversity and Inclusion for KPMG and the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, as well as serving as an advisor to the British Government and The White House.

Between 2004 and 2007, Stephen established and led the workplace team at Stonewall; growing the Diversity Champions programme to the largest of its kind in the world and launching the UK’s first LGBT recruitment guide. The Workplace Equality Index from this project has now become a standard across most leading employers.

Today, as well as leading Frost Included, Stephen teaches inclusive leadership at Harvard Business School, Singapore Management University and Sciences Po in France.


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