Monday, October 09, 2006

Corporate Thought Police

"Now what I want to know is who the other 8 percent are?"

My colleague, a father of two and long time resident of the South London suburbs and Essex-born, laughs at the possibilities his statement raises.

We are talking about "diversity". To a simple soul like me diversity used to mean "variety". Someone could have "diverse interests" meaning they had many hobbies and participated in many activities. "Bio-diversity" could be found in a rain forest with many exotic species of parrot or plants. Diversity in these cases is an accident of nature or the choice a "renaissance man".

However increasingly in corporations "Diversity" (with a capital D) is becoming a requirement to "tick the box" and show that the particular corporation "cares" or has "corporate social responsibility".
Diversity now is all about the requirement to have "x" percentage of ethnic minorities, "x" percentage of gays etc etc.

This is ironic, as most people from communists all the way to arch-Monetarists will agree that the only "purpose" of a corporation is to generate profits for its shareholders. A corporation is not there to care or change the world unless of course being seen to "care" or change the world helps its profits in some way.

Technically I do not work for a corporation but for a partnership. However in a way the partners are shareholders and the aim is to generate profits for them just the same.

So, back to my colleague and the 8 percent…. We were having a Friday afternoon discussion about diversity. It had been sparked by one of the managers responsible for purchasing telling me he had had an enquiry from a Partner about whether we enquire with our suppliers with regard to their policy on anti-discrimination on the grounds of "sexual orientation".

The answer at the moment is "no". We do not ask a computer company- what are the prices of your computers and more to the point what is your anti-discrimination policy for gays?! However corporations are increasingly asking each other about their diversity policies, before they will do business with one another.

I had located a survey on our intranet that claimed 92 % of our employees were heterosexual. This information had allegedly been obtained by a survey. Quite how this information is supposed to benefit the Partnership is a mystery to me, but it did raise the question in my colleague's mind- "who are the 8 percent?". I doubt the discussion of this question was the purpose of the survey !

So why is this happening? Why are corporations suddenly concerned about how many gays work for them and how they can prove they have an anti-discrimination policy in place ?

"Diversity" is to be distinguished from the legislation that came to the UK in the 1970s against racial and sexual discrimination. This was government legislation designed to prevent discrimination against two groups seen as being at a disadvantage in the British workplace. Corporations were required to comply with this.

"Diversity" goes far beyond this. In many ways an inclusive approach by corporations can be welcomed. As the early pioneers of Diversity often pointed out, it is in the best interests of the corporation that their work force at all levels reflects the make up of their customers.

However when it comes to less obvious characteristics such as sexual orientation, I would question what an earth a corporation is doing spending a lot of time and resources ensuring that minorities are both identified and promoted ?

I am aware of little if any gay-discrimination in the context of an office- especially in London. I also fail to see the benefit of identifying gays in the workforce and ensuring their numbers are built up to an "acceptable" level.

This is largely a product of the tide of political correctness that started in some local authorities in the 1980s and the resulting "Diversity industry" as "PC" goes corporate.

I previously worked for an American mega-corp that had an established Diversity policy which made all the right noises but in reality achieved little. My impression there was that the Diversity department was a safe haven for the work shy who wanted an easy life but still to get some level of promotion within the company. There were various initiatives including a Gay and Lesbian car which predictably became the butt of some jokes from less enlightened colleagues.

Since then, a friend working for a leading global banking corporation has informed me of a more aggressive brand of "Diversity". "Champions" for women, ethnic minorities, older workers and gays have been required from each department. The failure to find a "gay champion" within my friend's department lead to a serious email from management stressing the importance of the initiative. Eventually a straight member of staff was press-ganged into taking that role.

Later, someone was pulled up for referring to the "disabled toilets". It should have been "enabled facilities". This highlights the point at which an anti-discrimination policy turns into thought policing.

In a sense, corporate work-places represent the ideal environment for thought police. No one wants to get too out of line for fear of their pay rise, promotion and ultimately job prospects.

Staff with limited ability, who would not have made it elsewhere in a corporation, take leading roles in the Diversity department. They lack the intellect to debate these points with so it is a question of obey or be marked as a trouble maker. Therefore disabled toilets must become "enabled facilities". The majority must look on passively as a "gay champion" is nominated without any desire or enthusiasm from members of staff or all orientations.

Furthermore, corporations begin to sponsor gay carnivals and similar events. The bank my friend works for is sponsoring some "gay hero" awards as well as carnival floats in the UK gay capital of Brighton.

This does not seem to help anyone in my opinion but ultimately leads to resentment from the majority that there is not such a fuss made of the straight, the white or the males.

I am not writing in support of discrimation. However I do write against "Diversity" in its aggressive corporate forms. People go to work to earn a salary. The majority do not even want to fill out a form saying if they are gay or straight, so that some middle manager can compile statistics. Least of all, no one likes being told what to say or think. Of course people should be civil and polite to their co-workers but correcting grown adults as they make a passing reference to disabled toilets?! Where will it all ends?

Recently some firemen from Newcastle in the North of England were disciplined for refusing to attend a gay-pride event because as family men they felt uncomfortable. "Conservative" councillors in Greenwich, London held a gay-only surgery. I fail to see how fire safety or local council problems are different for gays.

Now in corporations up and down the UK, politically correct enforcers are promoting their views to the captive audience of staff afraid for their jobs.

Some political correctness is ultimately contradictory. Back to the bank again, which promotes both "gay heroes" and "shariah mortgages" for muslim customers. I think the non-entities who work in the Diversity Department completely fail to see the irony of promoting "gay heroes" and shariah law at the same time. That makes these people even more zealous and dangerous in that their often limited abilities means they fail to see any wider context or history for the views they promote.

Anyway, this is all at an early stage where I work but if things continue as they are I fear it is only a matter of time before gay champions are requested, we are told what to think and the thought police come knocking.

Wake up, UK Inc, you are there to earn money for your shareholders! Somehow you got into this strange competition to prove who was the most "Diverse". It is going too far and getting too out of touch with the general population. Look at those who work in the Diversity Departments. Do you see your most able employees in there? I doubt it. Well cut the rest of us some slack. Treat us like adults and allow us to speak and think as we do outside work. As for gay heroes, there are plenty of wealthy private citizens who would be more than happy to sponsor them! It's not the place of a bank to do that. Finally, make your Diversity policy consistent. Gay heroes and shariah law? I don't think so. Don't take my word for it- ask the Taliban if they have a Village People album?!


Catharine Soulipsis said...

Hi Luis,
thanks for you comment over at my blog.

Drifted over for a quick "nose" at what you're up to. Seems like you have some interesting posts.

I've bookmarked you in my browser and will return.

Luis said...

Thanks Catharine.

As you probably worked out, I don't have one big theme at present. A lot of it is the musings of someone "trapped" in a London office.

Anyway comments are welcome whether you agree or totally disagree with any of my posts.

Have bookmarked your site also as I liked both your writing style and the range of subjects you covered.

So hope to hear from you again at some stage.