The British honours system is there to recognise deserving individuals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in their line of work, either through achievements in public life or a commitment to serving and helping Britain.
If you'd asked me who deserves to be honoured by the Queen of England a week ago, I would have answered: celebrities, athletes and heroes. Not because I believe they are more worthy than anyone else, they are just the honours that I hear about most due to the media attention they receive.
However, I was invited along to a meeting at the Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) and found that my perceptions were incorrect. In fact the youngest person to receive honours was only 13 years old and perhaps the most unusual job an honours recipient has had was that of shepherdess Mary Peters.
So ordinary heroes and heroines can be honoured too, but apparently quality applications aren't being received representing the diverse nature of the UK population. The highest percentage of women being honoured each year peaked at 47% and the percentage of black, minority ethnic (BME) people receiving honours has never exceeded 8%. This is alarming low, as according to 2011 data from the Office of National Statistics the UK population is 17% BME and women make up 51% of the UK population.
So why don't the honours reflect the population?
Men nominating men
Apparently men nominate men 2:1 and get their nominations through 2:1.
Women also nominate women, so we need to get more women nominating and identifying women who deserve to be honoured and more men nominating women. We could also do with learning from men on how they produce quality nominations that are successful.
Lack of clarity on the process
The process has been a mystery to most of us until now, BIS are working hard to demystify it, and barriers that you have perceived probably don't exist. Some things that I didn't know were:
- Anyone can nominate, yes even you! I had thought that those with honours identified others to receive the same.
- The initial process is as easy as dropping an email to the BIS Honours Secretariat
- Entrepreneurs can be honoured too, and in fact are being encouraged.
- That serving your community is a big part of the evidence involved, doing your job isn't enough; you must do something to make a difference.
- You can nominate anytime, the process happens twice a year and your nomination will fall into whichever is the closest
- Those who make the decision, make it blind, they don't see your name, ethnicity, gender etc.
- If you nominate someone you are not supposed to advise him or her, especially as they might not be honoured and it could lead to disappointment.
- You don't need to identify which level of award to nominate someone for, the independent panel decide
Women in particular, take their actions for granted, serving the community as a matter of course and not realising that their efforts are making a positive impact. If you know a woman who is creating jobs or improving lives in her local community, she may well be worth a nomination.
I think a big barrier is that sense that 'people like me' don't get honours, well the more they are nominated and part of the process, the more that they will be. That is if we want them, a number of people have rejected the honours for different reasons, the artist Francis Bacon, John Lennon and the poet Benjamin Zephaniah to name a few.
These days when someone receives an honour they can use it to leverage more good work, championing causes and opening doors. It is always a wonderful surprise for them and a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit Buckingham Palace.
Lets face it we all know someone who deserves the Queens honours, doing great work, and making a difference, nominate them now, especially if they are from one of the under represented groups.