Dr Ashley Steel: Why I quit as a Pink List judge

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The Independent Online

When I was asked to join this year's Pink List panel and rank the UK's high achievers in the lesbian and gay world I thought it would be an opportunity to influence a list that, historically, has predominantly drawn from the gay mainstream.

But how does one go about comparing the relative power, influence and achievements of such a diverse group, whose principal commonality is their sexuality? Is Gareth Thomas more or less influential than Nick Herbert; does Allegra McEvedy's success outrank that of Mary Portas?

I began to feel a little uneasy: if I was uncomfortable with the integrity of a ranked list, didn't that inevitably extend to the basic concept of the Pink List? I felt a little more comfortable comparing politicians with their peers, and decided to start by ranking people within their profession or sector: politics/Civil Service; business; media/ broadcasting; sport etc.

The resulting table was a revelation to me. David Laws may not have appreciated it at the time, but being gay is no longer an obstacle to a successful career in politics: in 2009 three politicians appeared in the top 10 and a dozen or so more made the 101.

But that was nothing compared with those involved in television, film, theatre, music and media. While it was no surprise to me that this sector would dominate, I didn't expect it to account for 60 per cent of the 2009 list. By contrast, those from the fields of business, sport, law, religion and the armed forces together totalled just 9 per cent of the 2009 list. My unease returned: what was the Pink List actually trying to achieve?

It's right that the IoS should seek to question the relevance of the Pink List each year. I think that it has played a valuable role in celebrating the influence and achievements of lesbians and gays. But to continue to remain relevant, it needs to change its focus. In its current format, the list risks sending a message that it's just too difficult to be out while in business and sport, and so if you're gay it's best to go into the safer havens of politics and the media.

I decided I could not participate in this year's judging process. Overall, the Pink List gives the IoS a real chance to make a difference. I hope that it takes it.

Dr Ashley Steel is a board member of KPMG Europe