Diversity and Inclusion. Tolerance and Respect. Gender Equality.
These are the sacred creeds of the new corporate world. They’re also highly ambiguous words that often seem to be lost on the page, languishing desperately in the absence of any context or rigour. We all appreciate diversity, right? Diversity is inherently good, and anyone who disagrees with such an innocent statement as that must be a mouth-breathing cretin with a system of personal values untouched by the great enlightenment of the last five years or so. Have you taken the time to purchase a rainbow lanyard for your office pass? You do support equal rights for the LGBTQI community, don’t you? Is your HR department actively addressing the Gender Pay Gap via the implementation of gender equalised candidate lists for senior positions? Have you taken the time to review your unconscious bias?
When I first entered the universe of white-collar employment I was to some extent extraordinarily naïve, believing that my sole function would be to complete certain tasks to the best of my ability to help the company make money. I was obviously extremely wrong, with my wrongness being pointed out to me in myriad ways from the day I commenced. I wasn’t there to increase revenues or reduce wastage or anything as distasteful as that – I was there to serve the customer and make a difference in the community. Phrases to that effect were weaved expertly into emails, they were casually absorbed into the office vernacular in the same manner as any other company-specific jargon. The only tell was in the form of subtle winks at times, sly smiles and overly verbose suggestions for ways that we could improve our stakeholder relations.
Ah – I remember thinking one day. I get it – we’re all playing a game. We have to say these things, we have to phrase our communications in this way. After all, we’re a business with relatively large public presence, we obviously have to go through the motions to make it look like we really care. It all made sense at the time. In any event, it was extremely easy, I never read the employee guide and somehow I was still able to participate, the ability to eloquently articulate my social concern increasing exponentially over time.
One did not have to consult the diversity and inclusion policy to know that it was good practice to start every meeting by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land. Similarly, those little charity ribbons are surprisingly cheap – most seasoned veterans merely recycle them from year to year, their uppermost desk drawers containing at a bare minimum white, red and pink. Bonus points for a brass slouch hat – but that’s becoming more contentious.
Over recent years I’ve changed employers, I’ve bounced around between the public and private sector. The only unifying theme between the two has been the steady decrease in people that seem to be giving the wink. I caught up with a friend from my old job who expressed her immense frustration at the fact that she was asked to consider methods by which to ensure her hiring practices favoured females. “But that’s ridiculous,” I complained, launching into an animated explanation of the affirmative action fallacy and the work of Thomas Sowell. “Doesn’t matter,” she said, sadly, her face betraying no small amount of inner turmoil. “We need to take steps to address the historical unconscious bias against females. I’ve got no choice.”
I sat there defeated, equally by both the absurdity and bluntness of the situation. I felt even worse when I considered that it was likely the same logic wasn’t confined to a single company – because why would it be? We’ve been spreading these platitudes around for years now, like seeds thrown indiscriminately onto fertile earth. Should we be surprised when others take it upon themselves to address the inequalities that they’ve been assured exist?
You can poke the monster safely for some time, that much has been true – but you must expect that eventually it will wake up and will be positively ravenous.
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