Is Lack Of Diversity In The Queen’s Honours A Matter That Goes Beyond The Awards Process?

by | May 20, 2020

The announcement of the Queen’s Honours recipients always sparks controversy and debate. You could argue that this is because we are a country divided by politics and Brexit. Or perhaps it’s because we’re able to simultaneously broadcast our highly-charged views to large social media audiences. But issues of gender and racial diversity are never too far away when the Honours list is released.

Debate can be both objective and subjective, and of course the country would be a seriously dull place if everybody was thinking the same.

This is precisely why, in the cold light of day, it’s the demographic data that speaks louder than all of the noise put together. And this data, whilst improving gradually, is painting a clear picture that shows that honours recipients are still not representative of today’s society.

But does this matter lie with the awards process itself, or is it a problem still entrenched in wider society?

In 2019, almost 90% of all recipients were white. In the higher honours (i.e. damehoods and knighthoods) this figure goes up to almost 97%! Given that in the 2011 census, 19.5% of respondents identified as being from ethnic minorities, even the Government’s target of 10% of recipients to be from BAME communities is a pretty low goal. In fact, since the Government started monitoring and publishing diversity data relating to the Honours system, the gap between the ethnic make-up of the UK and the Honours recipients has never been close to representative.

In terms of gender, however, things are beginning to balance out, although they’re still not quite there yet. The Census states that the UK population is made up of 51% females, yet we are only seeing an average of 49% of awards being given to women.

Interestingly, the front page imagery of the 2015-19 Honours report tells a different story. The one that we wish we were able to evidence. But there’s no denying the facts.

The Fourth Report on the Operation of the Honours System 2015 - 2019

The diversity represented on the cover is not representative of the data on the recipients

Dame Claire Tickell is a champion for diversity in the Queen’s honours awards process and the Government has stated its intention to diversify the recipients list. But when we consider how applications are made and who might be nominated, we might be able to understand why there is a discrepancy.

For example, in the charitable sector, which is often lauded for services to the community, senior executives are overwhelmingly white (in fact, according to an article on the Charity Job website, only 3% of charity CEOs are BAME.) Furthermore, if you consider the broader business sector, there is still seeing a significant gap. The CIPD states that, out of the 1,050 board level positions in the FTSE 100, only 85 are from BAME backgrounds.

Perhaps the problem is that BAME people are not being given the same access to opportunities as their white counterparts? And of those who are in roles or situations whereby they, personally, are giving back to society, perhaps they are not being recognised for it?

Regardless of where the fault lies here, there is of course an element of influence that the Honours awards process can have.

Maybe more work needs to be done to highlight the submissions process at all levels within an organisation? Maybe there needs to be clearer communications about who is eligible to be nominated? And maybe those making the nominations should stop automatically looking to the people who are already at the top of their game? However it is achieved, racial and gender diversity in the Queen’s Honours process is a stated aim which seems to be taking too long to achieve.

You could view this as a chicken and egg situation in some respects. In recognising the outstanding talent and achievements of people from all sections of society, we are giving recruiters less leeway in terms of discriminatory behaviour.

Of course, an award won’t change the UK’s cultural inequalities overnight. But if we manage Queen’s Honours nominations fairly and proactively, ensuring that communications are accessible by the full diversity of our wider society, it shows that we can all play a role in recognising the people who deserve to be heard.

To find out more about Bayleaf Honours services and how we can help, contact us.

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