Saying the wrong thing isn’t always a bad thing. If you want to engage with people from hard to reach groups you need to have an understanding of how they see the world. It helps if you share their interests and speak their language. I was therefore impressed that Kent had appointed a 17 year old as the first youth crime commissioner. Crime amongst young people is a recognised problem which agencies have struggled to address some innovative approaches are clearly required. It is therefore very disappointing that Paris Brown was forced to resign after only a week in post. Doubly so since it would appear that the media drove her out simply because it couldn’t resist a soft target – young irresponsible person says inappropriate things and is therefore not fit to be in office. Never mind that the remarks were made on twitter years before when she was 14.
If she was 17 going on 50 and able to communicate like a well coached politician there wouldn’t have been much point appointing her. If when she was 14 she expressed herself like a fourteen year old but now distances herself from those views then she seems ideally suited to be an advisor to those in authority on how young people think and how to influence that thinking.
I have come across similar issues with staff engagement initiatives. We encourage staff to say what they are really thinking and then we get upset because they work for social service but speak like a Daily Mail reader. Yet only when people voice those negative stereotypes and myths can we challenge them. And if we can’t provide a convincing argument as to why we have a Black Workers support group, ask peoples’ ethnicity on application forms, set recruitment targets or feel it is necessary to have interview panels that are balanced in terms of gender and race then that’s are failing not theirs.
Blair McPherson author of An Elephant in the Room about promoting equality and diversity in the public sector published by Russell House www.blairmcpherson.co.uk