Like motherhood and apple pie, everyone is in favour of diversity in the workplace. But turning well-meaning aspirations into employment figure realities is a very different story.
For a start, there’s the sheer scale of the problem. As reported recently for example, in public bodies outside Government and local authorities – organisations that include the NHS, the Bank of England and the BBC – only six of the top 268 leadership roles are held by people who are non-white. And whilst things might be slightly better in the private sector, the difference is hardly enough to be a cause for celebration.
Apart from the scale, there’s also the scope of the problem. The Talent Action Plan, recently published by the Cabinet Office, is a good example. Designed to increase diversity across the Civil Service, it has already been criticised not just for a lack of specific targets but also for a concentration on gender that militates against issues of ethnic background, disability and sexual orientation. And that’s one of the big problems. Without wishing to comment on the Civil Service plan itself, it has to be said that in order to be truly effective, a diversity strategy has to tackle many different forms of discrimination which, whilst sharing some common causes, need to be considered individually.
But even then, one has not reached the end of the minefield. Because even a plan that starts out as well-intentioned plan can be manipulated by those whose only real interest is in being able to proclaim seemingly impressive statistics – what one might call ‘diversity-wash’.
However, whilst it’s important to be aware of the problems, those problems should not in any way be used as an excuse for not making a genuine effort to solve them. Because lack of diversity in our workplaces not only holds our economy back, it shames our whole society.
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