The PM must learn from business and rethink his overwhelmingly white, male and Oxbridge-educated cabinet, says our editor
I believe that a government should be representative of the society it serves. This is how we can ensure that the population’s diverse interests and needs are understood and supported, as far as possible. A government that can truly empathise with its people is one likely to create equal opportunity for as many of them as possible.
So it is a positive milestone for the UK that David Cameron has just appointed the first ever Asian man to the UK cabinet – however controversial the new Culture Secretary Sajid Javid’s former comments on women and meritocracy may be, and whatever you think of his politics.
But one appointment does not a diverse cabinet make.
Every other cabinet member is white.
The departure of Maria Miller leaves just three women in a cabinet of 27: Home Secretary Theresa May, International Development Secretary Justine Greening, and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.
(Nicky Morgan, who assumes a small chunk of Miller’s former role in her appointment as women’s minister, will attend cabinet only on matters concerning women.)
A quite staggering 18 out of 27 cabinet members went to Oxford or Cambridge.
And, on this one matter at least, I have to agree with Michael Gove that the number of Old Etonians in the prime minister’s inner circle is “ridiculous”.
“It’s up to David Cameron who he puts into top jobs, and the fact is that the prime minister has chosen to surround himself with people just like himself,” the education secretary told the FT last month.
“He’s leading a government that’s completely out of touch.”
We all want the people running our country to be intelligent, talented and up to the job.
We also need them to understand us.
Businesses are increasingly realising that a more diverse leadership strata makes them more successful.
In simplest terms, it makes businesses more able to understand and therefore appeal to a wider group of target customers. It also means they can draw on a much wider talent pool. (For more on this, read our feature on why pitching with gender-diverse teams helps you win business, and on racial diversity in the boardroom.)
Innumerable companies, particularly at the larger end of the scale, have been working hard to adjust their recruiting and promotion processes to make sure they are not inadvertently excluding minority groups and women.
A crucial tenet of this work is developing ways to avoid unconscious bias, where employers recruit in their own image.
The prime minister would be wise to take a leaf from businesses’ book if he hopes to build a stronger country and a more popular government.
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