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Dental politics: Diverse representation matters

​Why diversity is fundamental to the success of our committees – and how you can nominate yourself for election.

Hannah Woolnough
Hannah Woolnough

Ten years in dental politics has shown me how vital it is that our representatives are reflective of the diversity of our profession. We make better decisions when we work together and can draw from a variety of experiences.

When I first got involved in local committee work, I was young and inexperienced. Some students get involved in the Young Dentists Committee, which can naturally lead to involvement in further committee work, but I hadn’t been a part of that. It was daunting at first and I felt very aware that I was having to hold my own in a room of men who were much older than me and seemed far more qualified. Yet everyone was welcoming and over time I got to know people and began to discover the benefits that my perspective could bring.

More diverse and inclusive representation

I currently Chair the English Country Council which is part of the UK Council that provides scrutiny for the activities of the BDA Board. I also serve as a member on the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee. These positions mean I have seen first-hand how different perspectives aid collective understanding and create change. That’s why, it is so important for our representatives to be reflective of the communities they represent. Everyone should have a voice.

I have seen first-hand how different perspectives aid collective understanding and create change.

We’ve broadened the scope of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee to include ethnicity, sexuality and disability. I’m proud to say that the work that we’re now doing will help to make a more inclusive and equal profession. There is an enormous amount of research underway currently by the committee, particularly surrounding gender and racial diversity. We have also been working with LGBTQ+ groups to understand the issues they face and how they can be supported.

Other professions and stakeholders are also working towards the same goals of building more diverse and inclusive environments. We’re coming together with the Faculty of General Dental Practice, the Royal College of Surgeons and others to ensure everyone feels protected and secure in their work environment. It is essential that we are part of this. Research like this helps provide solutions to tackle some of the issues that prevent greater diversity in committees.

Challenges to building committee diversity

Despite the brilliant work that is happening, there are significant challenges to improving the diversity of dental politics. I would love to see more women having the confidence to put themselves forward for what may traditionally have been seen as ‘men’s jobs’ within the profession. Furthermore, I wish more women felt comfortable to step forward and stand for election. Many women don’t have children, but an understanding of the practicalities of childcare arrangements and the need for flexible meetings will allow more women to get involved.

Equality isn’t giving everybody the same options. Equality is making sure that everybody has what that they need to contribute.

Time constraints impact all members of our profession. Committee members are volunteers and the majority of the work we do is unpaid. This can make committee work difficult to prioritise when there are bills to pay, a job to do, training to complete and friends and family to see and care for. The move to Zoom meetings as a result of the pandemic has improved accessibility and engagement in committee work. We hope to build on this to actively enable more groups who are underrepresented to contribute.

It can feel like a huge ask to put yourself forward for a role, particularly if the role feels aspirational, to then also ask for concessions to be made for you to be able to do it. But we need more people to do this. We can be flexible and we want to accommodate people’s needs. Equality isn’t giving everybody the same options. Equality is making sure that everybody has what that they need to contribute. We need to be actively engaging and asking people what they need and what we can do to help them get involved.

Voting and nominations

Nominations are now live for a number of positions on our committees. This year, these include specific early career seats on several committees. I hope that all dentists will engage with these elections, either by standing or voting for a candidate who will best represent them. You can learn more about the elections process and nominate yourself to an open seat today.

The best person to represent you won’t necessarily be a practice owner or someone with the most committee experience. We need the voices of young dentists from a diverse range of backgrounds and situations. I’d like to see more dentists nominated who are balancing two kids and a part time job as an associate. Those people make up the bulk of our profession and their voices should be heard.

There is much still to do, but I am extremely proud of the small part that I have played through my committee work to build a more equal and inclusive environment in dentistry. As a profession we should be at the forefront of equality. I believe with everyone’s input we can be.