Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Professional Diversity and Mission Creep

One of our long established professions is asserting that “the case for diversity is simple”, and promoting forums to its members, to enable them better to understand equality and diversity, in the following terms. “Society is changing fast and with it our clients, from hard done by citizens who walk into a high street firm, to multinationals with multiple Magic Circle firms on their roster. We must understand our clients. We also need to ensure we’ve got the best team to serve them. To do this, we need a diverse workforce.”

Hang on a minute. If this was supposed to be referring to the need for a diversity of skill and expertise across a wide variety of professional specialist areas, few would dissent. But that’s clearly not what they’re promoting. It is plain in context here that “a diverse workforce” is meant as one that deliberately and overtly includes individuals with differing personal characteristics, notably those protected under the Equality Act regime.

Now consider the word “need” in the italicised sentence. Might it not be considered patronising and insulting to clients to assume that their professional needs can only be fully met by someone sharing their personal characteristics, as opposed to holding the necessary knowledge to provide accurate and cost effective advice?

The mission creep that the profession’s model diversity questionnaire displays in turn may be a taste of things to come. Over and above the range of questions that an employer is invited to put to its employees, many of which we would not dream of asking our best friends, we find a section covering “socio-economic background (education) and caring responsibilities”. No, it’s not yet a prohibition under the Equality Act to discriminate against the differently educated. But how long before it is suggested that it should be?

And why stop there, they might ask. Not long ago, there were suggestions that the visibly tattooed community might be facing difficulties in obtaining and holding employment, because interviewers and bosses found their corporal decorations offensive, or thought that customers might be similarly inclined. Well, there’s the next big thing, you equality zealots. Take no notice of the fact that these downtrodden individuals may have been the authors (almost literally) of their own misfortune. Here’s the next milestone in your crusade - the Body Art Discrimination Act. What are you waiting for?

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