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“The needy and the greedy”: Why diversity plans should be scrapped

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Denis W. Barnard, director of consultancy HR Means Business, criticises the current trend for pushing racial and gender diversity in organisations; a strategy which suggests the workforce should be composed not of the best employees, but of “the needy and the greedy”.


A recent HRzone article floated the idea of “positive action” as part of a strategy to acquire and retain female talent. A part of the premise for this was that “thirty years after the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act, the Equal Opportunities Commission reports that women make up only 11 per cent of directors at FTSE 100 companies, only a fifth of MPs and 16 per cent of local authority council leaders.”

Almost unanimously, the people – professional and otherwise – with whom I have discussed this were of the opinion that this was an issue that has passed its time.

It won’t go away, however, because a) it makes good press, b) there is a powerful lobby for “diversity” and c) we have a government that favours inducing a “victim” mentality in sections of our society.

“We have a government that favours inducing a “victim” mentality in sections of our society.”

In the body of the original article, Richard Ciechan, Director of consultancy organisation In My Prime, averred:
“So an organisation should only deliberately recruit more women if there is a business case for introducing more of the particular skills that women might bring… communication skills, coaching skills, team-building skills, multi-tasking abilities.

“These are by no means unique to women but generally tend to be found more often in women. [There is also a case for positive action if] clients or customers perceive that you ought to have more women – though in order for this to be valid, you need again to be clear about why they feel this and what benefit they will receive, or feel they would receive if this were the case.”

All of this may or may not be true, although there is strong evidence of stereotyping in those statements. It is a sad fact, however, that a large number of organisations that I have spoken to on these matters seem to think that diversity is best represented by “a black face, a wheelchair and a woman”, and just to make sure the box is well and truly ticked they tend to appoint them to diversity posts.

“To carry a theoretical example to its absurd limit, based on various statistics, to reflect its homogenous client body, service organisations dealing with the public would need to employ 19 percent of its staff under the age of 16, 21 percent over 60, 20 percent with a criminal record and nine percent ethnic minority.”

Diversity has also insinuated itself into business via the Tender process; I have seen cases where potential suppliers have to demonstrate their commitment to diversity to ensure being considered.

Broad arguments for diversity include two assertions:
a) That an organisation should reflect the make-up of its clientele,
and b) That organisations will benefit from the different strands of thinking, creativity and operation that a “diversified” workforce can deliver.

If we look at each of those in turn:

Are we saying that part of the Board of Camelot should be composed, in the relevant proportions, of the greedy and the needy?

That public services should employ within their ranks, in the prescribed proportions, people who are lazy, lying, treacherous, adulterous and unintelligent as, after all, these categories certainly exist in the populace as a whole? All of this is diversity, although perhaps not in the way that the social engineers would wish us to see it.

If different viewpoints and working styles benefit an organisation, then there is surely some serious ground to be made here. Are the people at the top of organisations at all interested in independent thought from their employees? Well, I leave you to answer that question in the light of your own empirical evidence, and yet these same entities then pay homage to diversity!

I have yet to see a good business case for diversity, certainly in the form in which it is currently manifested. A very good point I heard once this topic from David McQueen of SDM Training is that “diversity should not be physically visible, but comes from within”.

To carry a theoretical example to its absurd limit, based on various statistics, to reflect its homogenous client body, service organisations dealing with the public would need to employ 19 percent of its staff under the age of 16, 21 percent over 60, 20 percent with a criminal record and nine percent ethnic minority.

“Are we saying that part of the Board of Camelot should be composed, in the relevant proportions, of the greedy and the needy?”

Presumably, if they were unable to meet their publicly stated diversity targets, organisations would have to settle for the best that they could get in order to prove that they were meeting those targets. A real formula for success.

Organisations must find out for themselves how best to attract and manage the talent they require; logic and common sense both decree that this will be by looking for the optimum required skills and harmonious personality irrespective of gender, creed, ethnicity etc. There is no place for legislation, discrimination or “positive action” in this quest – it is strictly about merit.

The key issue that I see in all this is that we should move away from magnifying such physical differences as exist between all of us; does a woman or someone in a wheelchair experience any more or less disappointment than anyone else at the loss of a deal that they have been working hard on? Of course not – we are all human beings.

We see headlines such as “Only 11 percent of FTSE 100 directors are women” engender the same reaction as “First black chief constable appointed”. Why do we never see the likes of “First ever homosexual minister of culture” or “Catholic appointed as head of local council”?

Do we ever see “another black chief constable appointed” or “another woman appointed to board of FTSE 100 Company”? Of course not – they do not constitute “news” in the ceaseless quest for attention-grabbing material.

By qualifying these statements in terms of sex, race, and so on, the effect is to polarise the differences between us all as human beings, and merely prolong the problem. Let us dump the patronising, “do-good” agenda, and try to move forward with the key objective being: “the best person for the job”.


Important Note:

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own opinions and are not to be automatically attributed to any of the business interests in which the writer is involved.

3 Responses

  1. More measured replies, please!?
    I thought Denis Barnard’s article was a balanced and thoughtful piece, and as a subscriber to HRZone that is the tone and content I am looking for to help inform my judgements.

    However what I previously thought HRZone was mercifully free of was the vitriolic tone of ‘disgust’ in comments on the article! In a measured and thoughtful opinion piece surely we do ourselves no favours by personal insinuations against the author?

    The whole area of ‘diversity’ is now so contentious due in no small part, in my humble opinion, to the lack of measured replies and comments in the media and from the vested interests that we are in danger of undoing any good work done to date and of driving any intellectual and thoughtful comment underground!

    More measured replies please, and keep the thought provoking articles coming Mr Barnard!

  2. Business Interests
    Lauren,
    thank you for taking the time to comment.

    Just to clarify, I am involved in businesses other than HRmeansbusiness Ltd.

    I feel that it is quite appropriate for me to comment as an individual, as this was not a company position piece, but, rather, a subject for discussion.

    My views will not always concur with those of my colleagues and associates, but then that, surely, is the value of true diversity!

    Best regards – Denis

  3. Interest and disgust
    I read your article on hrzone.co.uk with equal parts interest and disgust.

    Most large businesses now realise that in order to serve a culturally diverse customer base it is necessary to have a culturally diverse employee base. It is about understanding customer needs, wishes and aspirations.

    In addition, diversity plans have been necessary because of attitudes which have directly and indirectly barred the paths of many intelligent and talented workers just because they don’t look, sound, worship, work or think like those with the power to make hiring decisions. Racism and other kinds of prejudices are not left at home when one goes to work, I am sure you realise that.

    It angers me and makes me wonder if we will ever get through to people like you. Your arguments are ludicrous and I think you know that. When business people talk about diversity in organisations they are talking, for the most part, about representing all genders; visible minorities; people with disabilities. These are all groups which have been discriminated against in the past — your arguments smack of someone who is unwilling to acknowledge this fact.

    Few would advocate recruiting unqualified candidates solely for the purpose of bolstering the diversity numbers. Something entirely different is being advocated — recruiting qualified candidates. End of story. The only difference is an understanding that the traditional methods of recruitment may have discriminated against certain groups either directly or indirectly.

    You are wearing your prejudices on your sleeve by insinuating that by hiring with diversity in mind businesses will end up with a second-rate workforce.

    I agree that Richard Ciechan’s view was way off base; it shows that diversity education still has a long way to go and even those with the best of intentions don’t always get it right.

    The aspect of your article which I found to be most disgusting was the disclaimer which followed it. If you are going to make a statement in a public forum, have the integrity to stand by it. I see from your website that you are a founding director of the small business “interest” which you promote in your bio. I think it goes without saying that your ideas truly do represent “the business interests in which the writer is involved”.

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