Saturday, May 9, 2009

how diverse is diversity?

I'm just back from some mandatory diversity training. I was somewhat apprehensive on the way to Huntingdon (birthplace of Oliver Cromwell), where it was held, but my fears were mostly groundless.

I am worried by the lipservice given to diversity by many organisations today, which I think is summed up by a hymn pointed to by the Church Times blog, spotted by the Guardian (so it must be true) blogger Andrew Brown:

Lord of our diversity,
unite us all, we pray;
welcome us to fellowship
in your inclusive way.

If this isHarriet Harman true, it indeed rivals the previous nadir of hymnody, If I was a fuzzy wuzzy teddy bear, I'd thank you Lord, for my fuzzy wuzzy hair. (Or was that a parody with shades of the Golliwog? We may never know...)

My initial apprehension was due to the shibboleth-like nature of the mere word "diversity" in self-styled progressive society, which is such that Harriet Harman - Deputy Leader and Chair of the Labour Party, Leader of the House of Commons, Secretary of State for Equalities, Minister for Women and Lord Privy Seal - called confusedly for "positive action" to boost staff diversity. As the Telegraph's Richard Tyler reports,
Ugly Betty, played by the rather attractive America Ferreira
employers will be allowed to favour a person from an under-represented group where there are two 'equally suitable' candidates...But positive discrimination, seen in TV show Ugly Betty, where someone is employed regardless of merit, will remain illegal.
However, I was impressed when a left-leaning friend who attended the course pointed out that "diversity", interpreted as awareness and acceptance of differences between human beings in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation etc has of itself no moral value, and pointed to Adolf Hitler as one of the most diversity-aware leaders of modern times. I'm working on putting my friend in touch with his inner Conservative.

We worked through several scenarios, of which I'd like to share three with you.

Firstly: a twentysomething graduate on accelerated promotion takes charge of a hospital department over the heads of several people who express their unhappiness that their decades of experience has been overlooked.

This was a clear case of ageism towards the younger person, which the scenario's writer designed to be easily found. But it was also clear that ageism was also flowing the other way here: is it right that people who have worked their way through almost every job in a department should have their experience comprehensively undervalued in favour of graduates at a time when degrees in certain British universities are being egregiously dumbed down? I wouldn't want to minimise the gains that can be harvested from the discipline of studying for several years, but the other side of the coin is that if people who have proved their worth time and again were allowed to ascend past the glass ceiling that is a hangover from a bygone age, then we might not have the situation in Stafford General Hospital and elsewhere whereby 400-1200 preventable deaths occurred with the board of directors possibly revelling in glorious ignorance of the fact.

Secondly: a woman in a self-help group for drug users refers to her partner, at which the facilitator asks aout her boyfriend, and the woman, after an uncomfortable silence, explains her partner is another woman; afterwards, the facilitator explains to colleagues that the lady hadn't looked like a lesbian, wondered whether she was the "butch" or "femme" of the relationship, and said "I think she fancied me".

There was, of course, discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation going on, something condemned by the Catechism of the Catholic Church when it says that "Every sign of unjust discrimination in [homosexuals'] regard should be avoided" (para 2358). However, it was noted that many stereotypes about homosexuals come from the gay community itself, and not a little buJames/Lauren Harries - click to see evidence of continuing bullying by the gay pressllying: witness child antiques prodigy (and Oprah veteran) James Harries, whose outrageous treatment by the gay community, to whom he tried to reach out in search of an identity that would make him feel whole, on account of his relatively high voice may have fuelled James' emotional and surgical transformation to Lauren. It was telling that one was tempted to assume that the group facilitator was a man, whereas the facilitator's gender wasn't mentioned.

Lastly: a Muslim arranges with his employer to move his shift back an hour during Ramadan, and also to take an hour's annual leave each Friday during the month so that he can go to the Mosque to pray - during a business meeting, there are comments made about his arrangements.

There was a consensus that an annual leave request is precisely that - a request, and that anybody unhappy with another person's arrangement with their employer should be invited to mind their own business. I had tried to start a conversation about how moderaabuse of freedom: click to read Thomas Harding and Richard Edwards' account in the Telegraph - thanks to the South Beds News for the picte Muslims are victims of the bad feeling generated by Islamists - for example, the Muslim community in Luton has lost its Islamic Centre to arson as a reprisal for a handful of Islamist protestors branding returning soldiers as "butchers", "cowards", "killers" and "extremists" - but there was no great enthusiasm for going down that route. A pity: it would have demonstrated that the recipients of our diversity policies do not always feel a need to respect diversity themselves. It would also have been good, I thought, to discuss outfits that go into apoplexy at the prospect of offending minorities like gay people or Muslims (who are actually quite good at offending each other), but are happy to tighten the screw on people from a Judaeo-Christian tradition.

What made the sesssion was that the facilitator was no ideologue but an experienced former managclick to go to the whistleblowing charity Public Concern at Work, which was awarded damages for 'botheration' for time-wasting and maladministration on the part of the Department of Trade and Industryer in the probation and drugs-services area who had worked his way to that position through a variety of jobs in many areas of those services. He was the first to agree that whistleblowing abut oppressive practices, which the Government pays lip-service to but in reality militates against, can leave you ostracised, isolated and vulnerable. The only point where I detected olitically-sensitive sensibility was when he referred to a joke made by actor David Jason ("what do you call an Asian cloakroom attendant?", but feKrazy - click to go to Toonhound's page on the 1970's comiclt unable to verbalise the punchline "Mahatma Coat". I was surprised by this, and informed him that a character called "Mahatma Coat" once popped up in the late 70s British comic Krazy, and was also the name of an instrumental by rock group Slade in their 1981 album, Till Deaf do us Part. Personally, I laughted when I read the joke, which sounded like more of the "laughing with" type than the "laughing at", and saw it as a measure of how sections of Asian communities had become integrated into British society.

On the way back to Huntingdon bus station I passed the Oliver Cromwell museum, but unfortunately, being late in the day, it was shut. Although seen by some as a divisive figure because of his admittedly indefensible actions towards (especially Irish) Catholics, I believe he did show some awareness of "diversity" through the blinkers of his day by encouraging Jews to return to Britain. I wonder if members of all of the groups named in diversity policies would agree with me?


  1. The trouble is Frugal, that you are too bright for these diversity training sessions. They are designed for those who have only have knee jerk reactions to such prejudice. you have not only thought through the issues (though I prefer 'problem' rather than a description of 'giving out tickets' or 'having had descendants') but are able to cogently see the weaknesses and flaws in the attempted generalisations that the 'politically correct' wish to foist upon us all, regardless of logic.

  2. Thanks, David! The facilitator was actually more of a resident in the real world than I had expected, but there were lines he would cross, eg in not saying "Mahatma Coat", despite telling us not to tread on eggshells. The upshot of the idolatry of diversity, I believe, will be big gains for the BNP in forthcoming elections - New Labour has been the best thing ever to happen to them!


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