The Holistic Review Commission had significant feedback from members on Equality and Diversity issues and on how to make the GPEW more inclusive, and attractive to a wider group of voters. The words in italics here are some of the comments members made to us.
“Democracy does not always lead to inclusion and consensus”.
It became clear that the Party was suffering from the lack of a comprehensive E&D strategy, although attempts have been made to create this.
“We are not very good on people with protected characteristics. …. The way the party has tried to handle this, huge debates at conference. Complicated area. … It skews the way we look at things. Shouldn’t dominate our discourse, [need training].”
“E&D doesn’t work well. Ironic. There isn’t a staff member responsibility. CEO has tried, but hasn’t got time. Re. good practice example of W Mids women’s group, very rare. No strategic approach.”
A clear brief, with nominated and consistent lead elected officials and staff and specific resourcing, would help address some of these barriers.
“We could do with a structured plan, HR, legal etc.”
The Party, particularly the E&D Committee, Coordinator and CEO, has done some significant E&D work already to ensure Green Party compliance, and that the Green Party is a safe place to work. However, these measures have not so far been applied consistently and effectively across the Party.
The need for awareness raising and training on positive action, reasonable adjustment and anti-discriminatory practice was evident. We have therefore recommended that a strategy is developed by an Equality and Diversity Task and Finish group. The Equality Commission guidance for political parties on Equalities legislation can provide a good starting point, as well as good practice in other Green Parties.
Some key areas in the feedback from members.
“Unhelpful online comments on members’ site.”
Standards of behaviour and the need for moderation on the members’ site was mentioned by the majority of respondents. This would form part of the E&D strategy regarding anti-discriminatory language and debate.
Liberation Groups. These had achieved a lot and offered members the possibility of a non-geographical community as well as much needed support. However, groups with protected characteristics were not equally funded or represented, particularly those with disabilities. “Disabled Greens are the poor relations”, although it was also pointed out that the access fund at conference was under-used, so better publicity for the provision was also needed. More generally the funding and support for different groups were felt to be unequally distributed, and there was a lack of transparency. A better definition of interest groups was sought.
Status of groups not clear; different types of groups – what differentiates them? Liberation Groups, Campaign Groups, Policy Working Groups, Interest Groups?
Representation. There were different views on representation of Liberation Groups on the various committees and elected roles within the Party. “At a governance level we need a broader discussion about bodies and the way they interact so they are not dominated by any one group of people”.
Liberation groups and under-represented groups should have reserved places. There is good evidence that this leads to better decision-making because diverse views are heard.
Liberation groups to have a seat? This would cause tensions. Everyone will want their own rep. Tokenistic. Not the right way to organise.
If representation was managed under positive action to remedy gaps in the Party profile, this aspect might be better understood, with more transparency. We have therefore referred to “marginalised groups” as a way of broadening the action.
Young Greens. Although age is one of the protected characteristics, the feedback did not highlight discrimination towards younger or older members, but did indicate an unhelpful divide between the YG and the rest of the Party which needed to be bridged. Members said that the Party could adopt many of the good practices from the organisation of the Young Greens and we had further discussions with the YG about these practices and have tried to reflect this throughout our Report, in particular coaching, mentoring and remote meeting techniques that the Young Greens use well.
Access, particularly to Conference There were very clear messages from members about not being able to attend conference for a variety of reasons, but mainly connected with caring responsibilities. This has led us to our recommendations about remote access to and participation in Conference. Expansion of remote meeting techniques as above would also assist wider participation.
Complex issues. An example of an issue which indicated the need for discussion and development of policy is the disagreement between some trans-gender members and some cis members on gender definition. This debate is much wider than the Green Party and like many Equality and Diversity issues is complex, requiring sensitive and informed dialogue. There are many sources, both within and outside the Party, of lived experience, other organisational policies and skilled trainers on these and other issues, which should be drawn on.
We need experts on the issues, we don’t have that. We need to seek members. How do we get it?
This might help avoid continuing divisive debates about “identity politics” which can miss the point of positive action. “Tendency of some issues, such as language, dominating the agenda. But maybe we are on a journey. Feelings of splitting off/antagonism rather than coming together”.
For all these reasons we concluded that Equality and Diversity must be a key priority for the Party, with clear leadership and focus. The way that we approach Equality and Diversity should demonstrate our appeal to voters as an inclusive Party. We believe the first step is to establish the Equality and Diversity Task and Finish group, as described in our Report, as a matter of urgency, who can build on existing work but develop a strategy that is comprehensive and has a real long-term impact.
A culture of respect and valuing difference
Generally, the Party was seen to be white, middle class and with higher levels of education than other parties.
“Assumes a certain educational background and also relies on social circle. Not inclusive. Anti-working class atmosphere, difficult for dyslexia”.
The Party had failed to attract BAME members, although the fund to support Greens of Colour was commended. There were also perceived class barriers:
“Lots of interest groups have been so empowered that they take over the space. But this should be on an equal basis, share and listen to each other…. Our E&D actions are based on those who have been able to push most strongly. Very weak on people of colour…. the people who need Green politics are suffering most from the wrongs of the system. Put that (class) lens across all our policies. (People from low-income groups).
We need to be more representative of the communities we want to represent
Party is white and middle class, dominated by groupthink. Practice belies the image. Need more diversity in positions of power, adjudicating on discipline.
This last comment about groupthink was a view shared by many respondents, about many groups in the Party, not just Local Party meetings. Having a policy, strategy and approach which can be deployed consistently throughout the organisation, with appropriate awareness raising and training, and monitoring and evaluation should address many of the concerns raised by members. The Party is not immune to the more general trend (analysed by Haidt and others) of groupthink or “echo chambers” as they have come to be known. “Proving that someone you consider wrong/stupid is actually wrong/stupid, observed New Yorker’s Osita Nwanevu.is the opposite of “proving you’re open-minded & willing to seriously consider controversial ideas”. Kenan Malik suggests “one way of quitting the echo chamber is by expressing a readiness to scrutinise our own beliefs, and an openness to accommodate others’ views”, (Guardian 9.8.18).
We believe we have listened to a variety of views on E&D and have tried to develop inclusion and the importance of difference to the growth of the Party and adherence to our principles.
Members told us they joined the Party because of the principles and because it was different from other parties. We hope to fulfil their expectations.