Baby and Bathwater: The New Diversity

Equal opportunities is old hat: “Employers still need to be educated that real diversity has nothing to do with quotas – it’s about getting the right mix of personalities, skills and styles,” suggests Emma-Claire Kavanagh, executive director at recruitment specialist BIE Executive.

The ‘old’ paradigm of levelling the playing field for groups of people is now outdated in the ‘brave new world’ of diversity as a mosaic, diversity as an asset. Or is it…?

I take a deep breath and pause. I breathe. I think back over all those campaigns: for equal pay, for the right not to be sacked for being pregnant, for the right not to be eliminated from a selection process because you had a ‘foreign sounding name’ or a disability or the wrong sexual orientation or religion. And I feel a rush of indignation, and find myself wondering why. It’s not just because of my personal and professional investment in equality. It’s the sheer irrationality of detaching individual diversity from collective equality.

I agree with Emma-Claire to a point – real diversity is rarely well-supported by quotas. But quotas at best are a means to an end: and even if we don’t agree with the means (and I generally don’t), we might agree with their objective: to eliminate barriers of discrimination which have sometimes existed for centuries, and which prevent whole groups of people from even getting to first base in the quest to fulfil their potential and make their distinctive contribution. Nothing is a greater obstacle to the universal human urge of self-realisation than unwitting, unthinking, habitual, lazy or malicious exclusion on the basis of group characteristics. The reason people like me bang on about it is not because we want to spend our lives in protest, but because we want everyone to have the chance to spend their lives fruitfully.

So, while the Equality Academy applauds, and joins in with, the contemporary shift towards an understanding of diversity which values the individual and goes beyond the traditional categories of sex, race, disability, religion etc, we would also like to bring a word of caution – “Remember the baby when you throw out the bathwater!” That baby is the talented employee who keeps hitting a glass ceiling for reasons that have nothing to do with ability. That baby is the customer who is willing to spend, or has a need, but just cannot get an appropriate product or service. It’s not an either/or: we need to implement equality of opportunity and access in order for individual diversity to thrive.

But equally, I fully accept, it’s easy to get stuck with the old paradigm and forget that the reason it came into being was to support a much more inspiring goal – a creative, innovative, dynamic society in which each person can be recognised for her or his talents and aspirations and supported to put them to work for personal and collective benefit.

Razia Aziz – the Equality Academy
tel: 07976 916250