A question of representation

 One of my big goals for 2010 – but it may take the whole decade! – is to do all I can to enable more people with unusual-looking faces to be into the public eye – are any standing in the forthcoming election, I wonder?

Last Monday, I was invited to speak at a Central Government Department conference looking at how it could broaden the diversity of people applying for and being selected to serve on the (many) non-departmental or arm’s length public bodies – quangos in old language. Speakers spent little time explaining the benefits of having a broad representation of people from many ethnic backgrounds, those with disabilities and disfigurements and whatever their age, faith or sexual orientation on those committees – it is so obvious. Instead the focus was on how to attract more people to apply – the percentage of people with disabilities applying was very low indeed. 

After giving my short input on how to reach disabled people (eg: advertise in the right places, use neutral language, make sure the application process is barrier-free and your interviewers are devoid of bias, unconscious bias especially), I had to leave. As I cycled off to my next meeting, I found myself wondering what it takes to put yourself forward, especially if you have a disability or disfigurement, for ‘public service’.

Is it the heavy dose of “once tried, never again?” syndrome? If you have had previous experience of being rejected (perhaps rather unpleasantly) for formal jobs and may not much relish being interviewed – as I suspect is the case with many people with disfigurements and disabilities – why would you put yourself through it? 

But there is a very strong case for public bodies to exist, advising or making decisions that should not be left to politicians or civil servants so we all have an interest in them being as effective and representative as possible – as many voices should be heard as possible. Maybe we need a TV soap to demystify ‘public bodies’ by developing as character who applies and serves – and another one who volunteers for charity work or to serve as a Trustee, both vital to the health of our civic society.

 Later in the week I met up with the Chair of one of the selection bodies for people applying for public office and we agreed to explore how Changing Faces might encourage greater representation – watch this space!