MP Careers Research Shows “Very Diverse Parliament”

A new analysis of the careers that MPs held before they were elected reveals New Zealand’s 53rd Parliament represents an extremely diverse range of work and life experiences.

The research, by BlacklandPR and the Democracy Project, identified over 200 different careers, and over 500 individual jobs among Parliamentarians.

The five most popular careers for MPs are (in descending order) managers, analysts, teachers, lawyers, and elected representatives.

Blackland PR Director Mark Blackham says the findings demonstrate a surprising depth of career diversity and work experiences.

“Parliament has more lawyers and teachers than you find in ordinary life, but it also has actors, winemakers, flight attendants, cleaners and retail assistants.

“This is a wider diversity of experience than we found in the three previous Parliaments. It has also led to a very different Cabinet from those of 60 years ago, when lawyers, businesspeople and farmers dominated.”

Blackham says jobs and careers shape the way people view themselves and the world, and therefore the survey provides an insight into the perspective of Parliament and individual MPs.

Democracy Project political analyst Geoffrey Miller says the study’s findings also reflect a wider societal shift away from single, life-long occupations – in favour of multiple careers.

“New Zealanders are changing careers, retraining and working multiple jobs more often than they did in the past – and the new Parliament reflects these realities.”

Miller says the unusually large cohort of new MPs who entered at the 2020 election – 42 of the 120 MPs in total – may have accelerated change and brought about a generational shift.

“Parliament has undergone a radical refresh. MPs are now more diverse in terms of age, gender, sexuality and ethnicity – and they also come from more and more walks of life.”

The research identified more than 200 discernible careers across New Zealand’s 120 MPs, with most MPs having two distinct professions before being elected to Parliament. 90% of the careers were in social, community and service-related employment.

In addition to those careers, most MPs had been in other jobs not related to their training. In total, the 120 MPs have held over 500 jobs – about four jobs per MP.

The wide range of work experience include church ministers, children’s television hosts, national sport representatives, military, police, factory workers and shearers.

Parties differentiated by career

While the employment backgrounds of MPs have become more diverse overall, distinct differences between the different parties remain.

“While Parliament is extremely diverse in working interests, parties are far less so,“ Blackham says.

ACT has a high proportion of small business owners, including Nicole McKee, who ran a firearms safety consultancy, and Toni Severin, who operated a family-owned waterblasting firm.

Many members of the Green Party caucus have backgrounds in social and community work. Exemplifying this is co-leader Marama Davidson, who previously worked as a race relations advisor for the Human Rights Commission, and Jan Logie, who worked for Women’s Refuge. The Labour Party has the largest proportion of MPs with public sector experience, with MPs such as Grant Robertson and Barbara Edmonds who worked for other elected officials. The caucus also has many lawyers, teachers and union officials in its ranks. 14% of its employment experience is in law, compared to 9% of the National caucus.

The National Party caucus has many former private sector managers such as former Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon, and Todd Muller, who was once the General Manager of Zespri. Other prominent career backgrounds include financial services and the primary industries.

The Maori Party’s two MPs pack in a wide range of experiences. Rawiri Waititi has been a lecturer and worked in the health and social sectors through the Waipareira Trust, while co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer has experience in Maori broadcasting, management and as the former Deputy Mayor of South Taranaki District Council.

Miller says the study’s findings illustrate the benefits offered by minor parties and MMP, 25 years after the proportional voting system was first introduced.

“The demise of New Zealand First could have put overall career diversity at risk because many of its MPs came from small business backgrounds. But the Act Party has largely filled this gap.”

MMP’s list feature has also encouraged parties to bring in more diversity when it comes to occupations, Miller says. But he believes the parties still have work to do.

“Parliament largely remains dominated by MPs from white-collar, middle-class professions. We still need more MPs who have experience in the trades and other manual roles.”

CVs conceal the unremarkable jobs

When researching MPs’ career backgrounds, Blackland PR and the Democracy Project found that most MPs omitted roles from their official biographies.

“MPs emphasise work that is in tune with their political aspirations and Party values and omit work that doesn’t help that story.

“MPs should be more transparent about their backgrounds – most of their experiences reveal them to be more rounded people than voters might think,” Blackham says.

How study was conducted

Job and qualification data was gathered from MPs’ public biographies, social media, media articles, and via written responses from MPs’ offices. The research also accounted for how MPs had described what their main career was, if at all.

All jobs were categorised into the career industries and roles used by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in their Occupation Outlook tool. Jobs were also separately categorised into general career groups used in our previous surveys.

This article was originally published on the Democracy Project.

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