Political Party Diversity of Candidates ≠ Diverse Representation. Here’s Why.

Political parties in Canada have been working hard to ensure diverse slates of candidates across the country and this was demonstrated in the 2015 and 2019 federal elections. However, on election day, the results were far less diverse than the slate of candidates, according to an August 2021 CBC data analysis. Identifying diverse candidates is simply the first step. Understanding and addressing the systemic issues that influence the results is the next step and it’s harder to do.

DEI Policy Does Not Automatically = Welcoming and Inclusive

It is well known that having Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policies in place does not necessarily mean that an organization is achieving any of its DEI goals and objectives and sometimes the situation gets worse. Having a policy does not automatically equate to increased diversity and, even more important, it does not ensure a workplace – or political party – that is and feels welcoming, inclusive or Psychologically Safe.

Diversity is a matter of make-up and composition. It is setting targets for recruitment and succession planning. Inclusion is a matter of belief and behaviour. Many organizations have made great strides in creating diverse organizations, but little progress has been made in becoming and staying more inclusive, even today. As people arrive in the organization or achieve promotions, will they be supported in doing their jobs and feel included in the organization?

To Change Outcomes, Dig Deep

Iceberg of Systems Change

To change outcomes, the persistent, underlying true cause needs to be discovered and used to evoke a worldview shift. In terms of Canadian Political candidates, looking at the Iceberg of Systems Change, the surface event for the political parties is offering a diverse slate of candidates, which seems like it should be celebrated. The pattern, however, is that more white men are elected than white women, Indigenous and racialized candidates. White men represent more than 50% of elected politicians when they are just over 1/3 of the Canadian population.

In examining the structures that create this pattern, several things were discovered. The winning candidates (white men) received more money from their party (10% more) than other groups of candidates. They also ran in ridings that were easier to win: strong-hold ridings for the party, some held through many elections, and where incumbents were more likely to win re-election. Racialized women and Indigenous men were less likely to be running in ‘safe’ ridings or be incumbents than white men; and it is even more rare for white women and racialized men.

Worldview Shifts Need Worldview Alignments

This suggests that party funding needs to be allocated more equitably across all candidates. When an incumbent steps down, more effort needs to be put into recruitment of diverse candidates in stronghold ridings. Knowing this, it would seem that these patterns could easily be addressed and rectified. However, given what we know about change from behavioural and neuro-science, these adjustments will likely meet more resistance than might be expected. Worldview shifts with worldview alignments across the slate are needed. This is also true inside of organizations. To accomplish this, additional supporting structures and practices need to be put in place for worldview shifts to happen.

All of this also requires the ability to skilfully be in conversations that will challenge belief systems and worldviews, with the awareness of how to keep those conversations open and constructive even as more challenges or resistance arises. Most DEI policies stop short of these key foundational requirements for success.

Having this insight creates the opportunity for the political parties to think more strategically about how to have the population of the country better represented once the dust settles post-election. It would seem, with the 2021 election, not much has changed since the political landscape in the country did not change much, though three prominent women MPs did lose their seats. This same strategic opportunity exists in organizations.

Leader Support is Critical to Success

An additional factor in the political landscape is in the stories of several former candidates who self-identify as racialized or Indigenous. They noted that they faced racist attacks and discrimination on the campaign trail. These candidates were not publicly supported by their party leaders. Calling out these racial attacks and discrimination would contribute more to a sense of inclusivity and belonging. Until party leaders are willing to publicly advocate support for their diverse candidates in the face of these kinds of attacks, the underlying currents in society will continue to fuel the patterns and trends that challenge the ability of diverse candidates to be successful. It takes a full systemic approach to shift deeply embedded and often “invisible” patterns.

While this example is about political candidates, the same kinds of structural and worldview influences are root issues for many companies looking to implement their DEI policies and change their culture to reflect more inclusivity, belonging and Psychological Safety.