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Leaders from diverse backgrounds create inclusivity in organisations

It becomes more difficult to perpetuate stereotypes and to operate on incorrect assumptions when a variety of representatives are present and contributing to discussions – writes Lora Jane Berg

The logic of leadership diversity is that diverse and representative voices need to be at the decision-making table for the best political outcomes to be reached, at all levels of government. It becomes more difficult to perpetuate stereotypes and to operate on incorrect assumptions when a variety of representatives are present and contributing to discussions.

Research indicates that constituents are more likely to communicate with representatives who share their diversity factors, making valuable information available. Further, higher levels of racial and ethnic diversity in legislatures are related to the safety of minorities from political threats. These are some of the factors motivating the increasing number of organisations that focus on training diverse young leaders to aspire to and run for office and to perform successfully once elected.

While some of this work is conducted on a partisan basis, much of it is non-partisan and inspired by the ideals of representative and inclusive governance. Several civil society actors in the United States specialise in training specific demographic groups: military veterans, Latinos, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender, African-Americans, women, youth and first generation immigrants.

Training organisations for female candidates have seen rapid growth with some such as Running Start reaching young girls with the message that political leadership is a possible and meaningful goal. The increasingly strong presence of women in the US Congress, currently at 18.5 per cent, is due in part to some of this groundwork conducted by these civil society actors.

Inside the European Union, EU-funded organisations have also begun to take an activist approach to mentoring candidates from underserved groups. The European Women’s Lobby provides a mentoring network for women interested in running in European Parliament elections including from foreign origin and ethnic minority backgrounds. Some member countries are also home to civil society organisations that train diverse candidates. For example, in the United Kingdom, Operation Black Vote is a long time civil society actor that trains and mentors political candidates to strengthen the political voice for African, Asian, Caribbean, Chinese and other ethnic minorities.

Non-profits also operate across borders in political skills training, including the engagement of some American-based non-governmental organisatons in Europe to share strategies for strengthening leadership diversity. One example would be the National Democratic Institute’s Regional Roma Initiative, which predicts that if Roma gain political influence, government responsiveness to Roma-related issues will follow. The NDI has reached more than 1,000 Roma activists and, as a result, Roma are increasingly entering politics and are undertaking advocacy campaigns.

Similarly, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems operates in such countries as Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus. Among IFES’ goals is to “empower the underrepresented to participate in the political process”. The American Council for Young Political Leaders plays a role in bringing young European elected leaders — reflecting “the political, gender, geographic, and ethnic diversity of each participating country” — to the US for immersive leadership training. And the German Marshall Fund’s annual Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders immersive leadership training programme in Brussels convenes young diverse elected leaders from throughout Europe and the United States and connects participants with senior policy-makers.

It is, of course, possible to interpret such training as a form of meddling, particularly when it takes place in countries that hold their own democratic systems in high esteem. That said, the template for diverse candidate training is being applied with the greatest intensity at home in America, where leaders and organisations clearly perceive that there is still much work to be done in this regard. The family of bodies hard at work in the field of inclusive leadership — particularly those providing political training for underrepresented elected and aspiring officials — plays a much-needed role in improving the problem-solving capacity of elected bodies for the 21st century.

Lora Jane Berg is senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States think-tank in Washington DC. The GMFUS first published this article as part of its Transatlantic Take series: Why training diverse leaders is important for the Transatlantic community

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