In its report to Conference the Campaign for Gender Balance (CFGB) states that it knows what works. No, really, in the year that we actually reduced the number of women in parliament, it says that it knows what works!
It is beyond my comprehension that the CFGB can suggest this when we have fewer female MPs than ever in Parliament. At some point the CFGB has to understand that it is the outcome not the activity that really counts. That we would have done better if things had been different is not a response worthy of the intelligent & sensible heads running the CFGB.
Let's stop kidding ourselves that the route to greater female representation lies solely in encouragement & mentoring - handy as they are for some women - and look at some things that actually do work, in deed, on the evidence the only thing that has ever worked in a national parliament and that is quotas. To think we'll get there with encouragement and a bit of training is to follow the blind ideology that the only way to be fair and liberal is to ignore the difference that quotas make & place ambitions of the numerous but unremarkable male party hack above the difference that women and ethnic minorities in power would make to the well being of the whole planet.
The CFGB is in danger of becoming window dressing for a party that pays lip service to female representation. Even an 'A’ list like the Tories had, would be better that the current restricted scope of the Campaign for Gender Balance. Indeed if the CFGB is a mentoring programme then the ‘A’ list could be seen as the first part of a sponsorship programme: an informed assessment of those potential candidates that warrant sponsorship.
In this month’s Harvard Business Review (thanks to Neil Stockley and Shawn Callahan from Anecdote for the hat tip) there is a fascinating article that points out that the difference between men and women's upward trajectory in business is that women get mentored and men get sponsored.
This means that it’s still men getting most of the promotions or, translated into what we Lib Dems are dealing with, getting the positions of power, seats in Parliament, the government and in the Cabinet.
If we’re not as a party ready to countenance quotas for parliament (which is weird because we don’t seem to have much of an issue when our party lists for less powerful institutions have quotas) then let’s stop pretending that a reduction in female MPs is evidence of mentoring working and think again. Why don’t we try a formal programme of sponsorship, accessed via some sort of assessment programme for our very best female, male, black, minority ethnic and white candidates? And lets make sure that list is representative of the country!
Because, can we really say, in all honesty, that those Lib Dem men, whom are now cabinet ministers, were only mentored? No, they were sponsored into parliament, backed by key influencers and given their break, their opportunity on the basis of their potential.
The point of formal sponsorship programmes, rather the informal ones that got our guys into the cabinet, is that they seek to overcome the ‘who you know’ that the privileged few benefit from. They provide links (on the basis of merit) with influential leaders within the organisation who, importantly, are required to deliver.
The Campaign for Gender Balance suffers from having a very restricted scope, no doubt designed to stop any move towards quotas or all women shortlists. There is not a year that has gone by that they haven't failed most if not all of their self set targets. It is my view that, as constituted, they are doomed to failure as they have to ignore the evidence that the only thing that has ever got near 30% women into national parliaments is quotas either at party or constitutional level.
Until we move away from this straight jacket we will never be taken seriously by the very people we need in positions of power that will make us not just look diverse but be diverse.
 Yes, I know there is an opportunity to ask questions of the Report. The deadline for sending in questions for Federal Reports at Conference was 12 noon on Monday the 6th; a fact that I only remembered just before 12 midnight on Monday the 6th.
Still, judging by the very, very, few people who tend to be in the conference hall for the Campaign for Gender Balance and Diversity Engagement Groups reports in previous years, I might just reach a wider audience with a blog!