Why should more Councillors in Wales come from Diverse Backgrounds?

This week we are discussing diversity in local government.  This discussion follows a request from Welsh Ministers to PPIW to provide expert advice on increasing diversity in local government.  Yesterday, Dame Jane Roberts gave her opinion on the topic.  Today, Diverse Cymru discuss their work in relation to increasing representation of Black, Minority, Ethnic (BME) people. 

Black, Minority, Ethnic (BME) people are significantly underrepresented in the world of politics.  A Local Government Candidates Survey in 2012 showed that only 1% of councillors in Wales were from non-white backgrounds, whilst 4.2% of the Welsh population identified themselves as non-white.

Diverse Cymru decided to find out why.

Back in October 2013, we held our first event ‘Making Wales Better’, to attempt to address some issues surrounding BME Participation and Engagement.

After the event, the Deputy Minister for Tackling Poverty Vaughan Gething AM asked us to continue to investigate this.  As a result we organised a follow-up event to discuss ideas to increase engagement and participation.

Plus, to positively influence and encourage active BME engagement we chose to develop a manifesto for the Welsh Government, with the purpose to raise the profile of BME decision making and positive promotion of BME participation in Politics.

So, from January we held a number of group meetings with representatives from BME communities and experts in the field to gather their thoughts. We set out to find out what barriers there were for people from minority ethnicities in getting involved with politics.

Why is it important that councillors are diverse?

Firstly, the group felt that politicians needed to be approachable to people of diverse communities. They thought that it was important that politicians need to speak directly to the community about issues that affect them. They thought that councillors should be able to relate to their constituents, understand their needs and speak to them in a meaningful way. A councillor who is also a member of the community is far more likely to understand what the needs of that community are than someone who is not.

Secondly, they believed that a diverse range of representatives is a more effective way of achieving balanced decision making. Having representatives available for each community allows for a more balanced review of the needs of the public.

The group also felt that having BME councillors as role models would inspire and encourage others both inside and outside of politics.

Furthermore, the group considered that low numbers of BME individuals could indicate unconscious bias, and that there may be an element of politicians recruiting “in their own image.” They thought recruiting more BME councillors and politicians would help to challenge assumptions made about language, accent and background.

Finally, the group believed that communicating and celebrating diversity and difference was a benefit to any organisation.

What can be done to increase diversity?

The meetings turned up a heap of recommendations, which have now been passed on to the Welsh Government in the manifesto. There were some great suggestions including:

  • Develop a pool of potential independent Panel Members and experts from under-represented groups that could be supported to get involved as potential councillors.
  • Offer mentoring and support to appointees and/or prospective appointees.
  • Engage with BME organisations and groups to encourage political engagement and promote public appointments to under-represented groups.
  • Ensure that adverts and job specifications for public appointments are drafted taking account of best practice in accessibility and inclusion.
  • Continually asking the questions at Council meetings:
    • Are we diverse? What would encourage people from under-represented groups to apply? What can we do to encourage them to apply? Could we be doing more?

Ultimately, promoting opportunities to a wider community is the best way to attract the best candidates from all walks of life.

You can see all the recommendations and details on the BME Engagement in Public life Group and meetings at http://www.diversecymru.org.uk/bme-engagement/

Diverse Cymru is an innovative equalities organisation in the Welsh Third Sector, created in recognition of the difficulties and discrimination faced by people experiencing inequality in Wales.

Diverse Cymru aims to make a real difference to people’s lives through delivering services that reduce inequality and increase independence; supporting people to speak for themselves and to connect with decision makers; creating opportunities for participation and development; raising awareness of equality issues; and inspiring people to take action against inequality.