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23 October 2015

Judging Sajid Javid the UK’s most influential Asian shows how unrepresentative power lists can be

The latest set of so-called power lists for minorities don't reflect society.

By Emad Ahmed

Everyone loves lists, especially the ones ranking powerful or influential individuals. The Independent is working on its latest Rainbow list, TIME magazine’s annual list always gets attention (remember when you won in 2006? I mean me. I mean us!) and even websites like the Verge have started to dabble in this craze.

This week, I attended the Asian Media and Marketing Group’s (AMG) annual leadership awards ceremony, which included the unveiling of the 101 most influential and powerful British Asians in the UK. It was a repeat of last year, with Business Secretary Sajid Javid being crowned number one again.

The influence and importance of the ceremony has grown over the years, with David Cameron making headlines by stating his wish to see a future British Asian PM when he was the event’s chief guest last year. That honour went to Michael Gove this time round. I can’t help but mention the part during his speech where he mixed up Sadiq Khan’s name with Sajid Javid’s, saying Khan was now “around the cabinet table”. The faux pas was made even more uncomfortable when he moved on to talk about the real Sadiq Khan, and his selection as Labour’s mayoral candidate for London.

Despite the ceremonial fumbles, and the fact that we would all love to live in a society where such specialised events weren’t necessary, there is a crucial need for lists that recognise minorities in this way.

This was reinforced by Cameron in his recent party conference speech, saying black and minority ethnic (BME) individuals have a more arduous challenge when applying for jobs simply because of their ethnic-sounding first and second names. The fact a Conservative PM chose to say this in a conference speech does show the progress and signals that a serious fuss is being made in this uphill battle for equality.

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However, what’s alarming about such power lists is that they aren’t always accurate reflections of the groups that they purport to represent. For example, this Asian power list is not representative of the Asian community at large. Just take the example of Sajid Javid. Labour was once again more successful in winning BME votes at the last election, yet out of the eight politicians in the top 20, six were Conservatives. It’s quite clear “power lists” are mere reflections of those in top positions, even if the power they wield isn’t necessarily benefitting the communities they come from. It’s pretty ironic, for example, that Javid, the son of a bus driver, is seeking to push through anti-union laws when the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union (RMT) is one of the most politically active in the UK.

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Another challenge we face as a society is not to neglect other groups also confronting discrimination on a daily basis. The struggle of BME women is an example. Just 23 out of 101 British Asians on the list are women, and of the seven in the top 20, three were coupled with their husbands.  

This short-sightedness was compounded by the speech given by AMG’s managing editor Kalpesh Solanki. After a series of stereotypical dad jokes about wives being attracted to money, he concluded that his organisation’s power list shows that, “men have power”. I immediately sat up in my seat, thinking he was going to focus on this issue further and more seriously, but instead he allowed his remarks to ferment.

The media industry as a whole will never rid the world of lists. Another one released this week was the Financial Times‘ list of powerful LGBT executives, in cooperation with OUTstanding, a networking group. Whereas the AMG list has its own set of problems, this one reflected the unfortunate pale, male and stale world of business, furthering the need to add colour and gender balance in all of society’s upper echelons. But these lists can only reflect Britain properly once government, business and voices in the media represent minority groups better. Maybe they’re a sad indictment of the amount of work we still have to do.