We’ve come so far but still have so far to go… Channel 4 shows us why

For anyone actively interested in who will be our next Prime Minister, the first debate on Channel 4 gave us the opportunity to see the candidates in effectively a group selection exercise. This is a process that will be familiar to many employers.

This article makes no comment on the relative merits of each candidate. No, what was genuinely shocking – not a phrase I use frequently – was the show’s host, Krishnan Guru-Murphy’s introduction of each candidate describing what their parents did. We had a couple of professors and GPs, a pharmacist, a nurse, a teacher, a soldier and, laughably, Tom Tugendhat’s mother was simply described as ‘French’. I never knew that was a job, but there you are.

But one thing I know with utter certainty is that whatever their parents did, it gives absolutely no clue as to whether each of the candidates would be an effective Prime Minister. And in passing, it was especially surprising hearing these parental descriptions from the normally oh-so-progressive Channel 4.

I think the key point I would draw on is this: Whilst most of us would have assumed asking candidates what their parents did for a living fell out of fashion sometime around the turn of the century, the fact that people who should know better are still referencing it shows there is still more to do.

Understanding candidates’ backgrounds can be useful in building better pipelines of diverse and socially disadvantaged groups. It has no place when selecting five university-educated MPs in their 40s applying for the most important job in the land.

Contrast this with other, more progressive organisations where line managers are provided with nothing more than the name of the candidate. The talent acquisition team has already determined each candidate has the capability to do the job, leaving the line manager to focus on their relevant experience and skills during the interview.

This approach may not work for every role, and for positions where you really do need the best of the best, there are a multitude of ways in which candidates can be tested and probed on the key attributes required for a role, without it turning into a SAS selection exercise.

But in none of them does it matter that your father was a High Court judge, or your mother is French.

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