Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Discrimination at work

I'm getting so tired of all the identity politics we suffer from these days. It seems that so many issues come down to whether you're black, white, Asian, male, female, gay, straight, gender-fluid, disabled, blah blah...and often the implication, nay, the explicit message is that if you're in any group other than straight, white, able-bodied male, you're at some kind of disadvantage.  You're discriminated against.

Now, I realise that as a straight, white, able-bodied male, I obviously have all the advantages that could ever be available to anyone, and so am automatically disqualified from commenting on anything due to my 'privilege'.  But that's not going to stop me.  And I have to tell you, I see discrimination all the time.  I work as a management consultant, and experience the inside of many companies.  And I see them discriminate...

I see them discriminate against people who can't read properly, or express themselves clearly, on paper or verbally. Against people who are negative, or can't solve problems, or work effectively with their co-workers. Or can't turn up on time and meet the appearance or presentational requirements of the job. Or make it clear they don't really want to be there. Or, at a different level, can't meet targets, or work quickly and effectively.

What I don't see is them discriminating against women, people who aren't white, gay people, disabled people, or any other perceived minority. The vast, overwhelming majority of the senior managers and board members I work with are solely interested in appointing or promoting people who they believe are best suited to the role in question - because it makes them look good, hit their targets, get financially rewarded, etc.

Ah but, I hear you say, what if they have a bias towards their own type because those are the people they believe are best suited to the roles they're seeking to fill?

Again, I just don't see it. It would be taking things too far to say they're colour- and gender-blind, but I see fair and neutral processes that - while flawed in many respects (an interview is not necessarily a good predictor of on-the-job performance) - result in lots of appointments that more right-on people than me would call "diverse".

(Incidentally, in the one large organisation I worked with where there were quotas and targets for getting women job interviews and senior appointments, the greatest critics of the policy were women managers, as they felt it compromised their ability to create high-performing teams).

I'm not saying there's no prejudice in society, or that it's equally easy for everyone to acquire the knowledge and skills that make them attractive to employers.  Parents, schools and universities need to take a hard look at themselves and ask whether they're really equipping their charges with the attributes they need in the outside world.  Resilience, reliability and the ability to accept and work with others' points of view are critical among them. So it's not helpful or productive to give children or students indulgence, safe spaces or the impression that there's only one acceptable 'belief' in any circumstance; that's going to lead to the kind of behaviour that employers shy away from. With good reason.

So these days when I hear or read reports about gaps in achievement or reward between genders, or races, or people of different sexual inclinations, I turn off or tune out, laced as they always are with some sense of victimhood, or "it's not their fault".  Again, to repeat, I'm one of many straight, white, able-bodied males in British industry, making the private sector money that the taxes on create the wealth that pays for public sector spending, and do you know what? We don't give a monkey's about the gender, race or any other identity politics-based characteristic of the people we need to fill our jobs - we just want them to do a good job, and if we don't think they've got the attitude or ability to do so, well frankly, it's not our fault, whoever they are.


  1. Agreed...

    I run my own business. The ONLY criteria of any importance in our selection process is.... "can you do the job?"

    Black/white/straight/gay.. not interested.
    Male/Female/Trans? - who cares.
    Uni educated? Not worried either way.

    Cold hard economic self interest is the driver and "outcomes" (ooooh horrible jargon alert), all that matters.

    As my business partner sagely advised our newly minted (female) MD when she was moaning abot an employees timekeeping a while back - "don't manage behaviour, manage performance".

  2. I used to agree with you 100% but then became accountable for Diversity and Inclusion for OC so decided to acquaint myself with research findings and other facts. The situation is more complex. Shades of grey (or gray as they write here).
    I could reel off lots of examples on how businesses thrive when they ensure employees bring their whole selves to work, how your approach that it "doesn't matter to me" actually ensures you get less productive and engaged people. It may not matter to you, but it matters to them.
    But I'll encourage you to google and read the McKinsey research on why Diversity matters. Homogenous businesses are less profitable, and the more diverse you are, the more successful you are. So really, it's in your interest to create an environment where everyone thrives and you encourage different types, gender, race, orientation etc etc into your workplaces.
    Happy to help or discuss, my middle name is pragmatic these days. And I'm convinced.


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