Representation of BAME Women in Politics
In 1918 women gained the right to vote in the UK and the role of elected women in Parliament should continue to be paramount across all the political parties. Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women are under-represented in Westminster, especially in more senior roles.
In the wake of #MeToo and the Westminster sexual harassment scandal, as well as many policies on flexible working, parental leave and sexual harassment being inadequate or in some cases non-existent at the local level, we wanted to find out more about what political parties can do to improve their ways of working to encourage more diversity and inclusion into politics.
We caught up with Morenike Adeleke who is a community pharmacist and is someone who is passionate about getting more women involved in politics and public life. As Labour Party member, Morenike currently serves as the Women’s Officer for her local Labour Party, with a drive to give more women a say in local politics. Morenike is school governor in a local primary school and a trustee for a mental health charity.
We asked Morenike for her views on how to attract more women and BAME candidates into political and non-political roles and would can be done to breakdown any barriers that currently exist.
Q. What do you see as the barriers to gender balance within the Political environment and what can Political Parties and other organisations do to improve and increase gender diversity?
The time demands of being politically active can put women off, taking into account that women tend to have more responsibilities in their families and in their homes i.e. caring for children, relatives etc. Also, given that there is still a gender pay gap in society and a financial penalty for women, in particular those who are carers, being politically involved can clash with these commitments and can be costly in terms of giving up time and money to participate in political meetings and events i.e. getting time off work etc.. Also, for those who hold elected office, the long hours spent in parliament and the commitments that come with it can be incompatible with women who want to spend time with their families.
Q. What can be done to encourage BAME women into Political Roles or jobs across the Parliaments in the UK?
First of all politicians need to openly talk about and acknowledge that parliaments and politics are not representative of the population on all levels, from local parties to party staff, to councils and council officers, to parliament and parliamentary staff. Then, the different stages of the career of a parliamentarian need to be studied and at each stage, diversity needs to be looked at. From school, which subjects to those who become MPs tend to study and how diverse is the student classroom or the university lecture hall? If they work in certain arenas before they enter politics, how diverse are the workplaces? Also, all political parties need to engage the population so that people support for them, work for them and run for office under their banner. Do they go above and beyond to attract those from BAME and female backgrounds?
Q. What do you believe can dissuade BAME women from careers in politics – how can these barriers be overcome?
I believe a lack of visual representation in the mainstream media can result in a situation where the only people who BAME females perceive to be politicians are people who don’t look like them. As such, it can lead to them believing that politics is an environment that doesn’t welcome BAME females, or indeed doesn’t have any. I also think the rise in abuse that female politicians get, in particular BAME female politicians, from a local to a national level, can put them off wanting to work in politics. The prejudices that BAME females get in everyday life are difficult. So why enter a job where you will be attacked on social media constantly, receive death threats and all sorts, for no reason other than how you look? Social media bodies taking tough action, alongside better police resources to tackle social media bullies, will hopefully lead to a decrease in abuse. Also, having a more diverse mainstream media, alongside the rise in independent media that tends to be more representative, can be a platform for BAME females to talk about their work as politicians and let people see that there are BAME female politicians out there doing great things.
Q. Do you feel the creation of specific schemes, and the support from networks will contribute to the increase BAME female job candidates applying for political roles or putting themselves forward to be an elected member?
Absolutely. There are schemes that exist to help get more women into politics, such as the Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme, and the Labour Women’s Network do training to help women who want to pursue politics as a career. There are women who are MPs today thanks in part to those programmes. Indeed, I can say that if not for the support of BAME females I probably wouldn’t be as politically active as I am now. Having someone encourage you to stand for something and making you see why you can do it is important, especially in what can be an unwelcoming environment. Support programmes help you to develop and learn the skills and the “tricks of the trade” to be successful and help create credible candidates.
Q. Do you feel that gender neutral content in job adverts and improved use of inclusive employer branding can play a role in attracting more BAME and females candidates into roles in any private company or public organisation?
I think gender neutral advertising has a role to play in attracting more diverse candidates, but I think inclusive branding will be more poignant and noticeable to those who identify as BAME and as women. If a company visibly has a diverse workforce i.e. promotional pictures and statements from those who are in such categories, rather than statements of an intent to be more diverse, it is a real demonstration of the organisation’s commitment to a diverse workforce.
We are grateful to Morenike for providing a great insight into attracting women and people from Black Asian and Minority Ethnic communities into politics and Parliament.
We must ensure these people have the support through opportunities in coaching, networking and mentoring to enable them to identify opportunities and successfully apply for them.
If we are going to create a political environment that reflects the communities it serves, we must ensure that it is seen as a career with real opportunities for progression and leadership, particularly for BAME candidates. This will require engagement from the education sector and ensuring that recruitment and progression processes are fair.
To find out more about the current job opportunities available across Local Government click here and Political roles that are being advertised can be found here.