The Diversity Game

Creating the conditions for a level playing field is an admirable endeavour. Most of us suffer some form of disadvantage as a consequence of being born, some of us are born into poor families, some of us are born with a disability, some of us are born into societies where women are second class citizens, some of us are born with a skin colour different to the majority. Any or all of these things can affect your chances in life. 

In the grand scheme of things the UK has been one of the better nations at tackling these discriminations, both race and sex discrimination were made illegal in the seventies. Discrimination on the grounds of disability lagged behind for some years but recent legislation has improved matters although not to the extent of race and sex discrimination laws. Curiously religious discrimination remains legal, a Catholic is not allowed to become King, given the arcane interview process for becoming a Monarch I am not sure any Catholics would apply for the job in any case – but that is not my point.

The UK has made a lot of progress in creating the conditions for a fairer society but some aspects remain stubbornly unfair. I am always struck by how poverty hits women the hardest, an all too familiar story to me is the one of a woman in my social circle who built a life with a partner but never formalised the relationship by marriage or civil partnership, only to find that when the relationship broke down there was no safety net. The situation made worse by having had children and a now unaffordable mortgage all based on trust and a misguided notion of being a ‘liberated woman’. From what I have seen being a liberated woman can come with a very harsh end game. There was a reason gay men and women pushed for their rights under marriage, they are not stupid.

I could at this point drone on about how being born into very modest circumstances and attending a state school for my education limited my life chances, to a degree this would be true but when I add in my own idleness (plus the fact that I was a complete head banger for many years) I have to accept my own role in failing to make the grade as an astronaut for NASA. Besides the one disadvantage I did not really have to contend with was the colour of my skin. As a White Anglo-Irish male I probably still enjoyed better life chances than a Black British one – even one who worked harder and studied more than me. This was not only unfair but for a society it was a pretty stupid thing to do, after all we have no idea where the next Einstein will come from or what he or she will look like, strikes me it is a pretty dumb thing to shut out a certain percentage of your population before they even had a shot at things.

Overall I think the British are a fair minded people and most of us are treated reasonably well, the legal framework for removing discrimination is now fairly well established and most of us have a fairly good grasp of what is right and what is wrong in terms of how we treat one another. Yet despite all this progress we see the march of the diversity and inclusion manager – a well paid professional with the role of ensuring organisations treat people fairly, now you could argue that this is what the law requires them to do in any case but clearly one of the consequences of austerity in the public sector at least is a huge demand for these fine people. A cash strapped NHS seems to be able to find the money to promote the cause and hire a battalion of diversity and inclusion managers. Now the private sector can do as they wish, if their shareholders are content with the need for the company they own to spend potential profit on these managers then fine, its their money, the public sector is however different, taxpayers have little say over how their money is spent and building an army of equality and inclusion managers might not be as important to a taxpayer as erm….curing their cancer?

Admittedly this is not the only area where the public sector can be frivolous with taxpayer’s money but it is one of the most bone headed and discriminatory. Demanding that boards and senior roles of organisations reflect the diversity of the population sounds like a reasonable thing to ask. Yet this is where the cult of quotas shows its innumeracy, boards and senior positions in the public sector at least tend to be made of people in their forties and fifties, this cohort when they started work did so before Tony Blair rubbed the nation’s nose in diversity so they probably do represent their own cohort i.e. they started their careers when there were fewer ethnic minorities in the workforce. Demanding that these people now make room for newcomers actually discriminates against them because of their age.

Not convinced? OK – try this one, I live in London, I am constantly hearing how organisations must reflect society, I have no difficulty with this notion – I have real difficulty with the selective approach. London has now been so successful with diversity and inclusion fewer than 40% of the population is white British (you can guess the future direction of travel), so of course we can now insist that organisation reflect that. But here’s the thing, if a regional council in the West Country where the population is 95% white British insisted that only 5% of jobs could go to ethnic minorities there would be uproar (and quite rightly). Yet this is exactly the discrimination that is being legitimised across our public sector and particularly in our cities, social and housing policy designed to displace the indigenous population followed up by employment policy to ensure the few that are left are further discriminated against.

A self declared Liberal elite are pursuing these nation destroying policies, what they hope to achieve I do not know but the hypocrisy and double standards in their approach become more bizarre by the day. No good will come of this. The way we achieve a fairer society is by dialogue and making people aware of unfairness, training a cadre of people to play identity politics at the taxpayers expense is not the way to do it and I fear will provide fuel for a growing resentment at the way ordinary people in this country are being side-lined.