Clare Bettelley: Is tokenism an effective driver of engagement?


Prime Minister David Cameron this week announced an overhaul of his cabinet that saw the ousting of 11 ‘white male ’suits’ and promotion of eight women as part of his ongoing efforts to modernise the Tory party.

I’m all for representation, but this reshuffle smacks of tokenism at best, and we all know why.

Cameron desperately wants to persuade UK voters to keep he and his party in power, ideally not in the form of a coalition, for a second term. In short, he wants to engage voters to support and promote his cause ahead of the next general election in 2015, and he thinks that female ministerial appointments are the answer.

But is tokenism an effective driver of engagement? In this case, I struggle to see how it is without an accompanying manifesto detailing exactly how Cameron plans to tackle the male-dominated ‘childish bullying’ culture within Westminster.

The national media has had a field day in reporting female MPs’ claims about the culture which, I like to think, has helped to fuel an inquiry into the issue. Tory MP for Brent and Isleworth, Mary Mcleod, was appointed to investigate how to get more women into government earlier this year and, as part of her propoals out on 15 July, has called for penalties for bullying behaviour. This seems a bizarre solution for such a deep-rooted issue and one that, if implemented, will be tremendously challenging to implement and enforce.  

Lack of gender diversity remains an issue on employers’ boards

But I digress. Cameron’s reshuffle reminds me of the furor around the lack of gender diversity on employers’ boards in recent years and the call for organisations to report their strategies and targets. But the fixation with targets misses the point. It overlooks the need for organisations to examine their cultures and ensure that gender diversity is built into every aspect of their business models, from recruitment and pay policies all the way through to career development opportunities.

Perhaps a fairer and more engaging approach to gender diversity for employers, including government, would be to make these policies more transparent, to help us to understand the motivations behind their actions, negating the need for tokenism and the inevitable cynicism that surrounds it.


Clare Bettelley
Associate editor
Employee Benefits

Twitter: @clarebenefits