Is ‘Diversity’ enough?

June 29, 2016

 

It’s funny how things seem to pop up in waves, and this week I have happened upon a number of comments, discussions, and articles around Diversity.  I’m not sure that it’s the good old ‘cookie police’ doing a great job of tracking what I’m looking at and sending me more on the same subject, or just pure happenstance. It has led me to do a bit of thinking around it that I’d very much like to share.

 

I found the following definition of diversity (note the little ‘d’) which explains it as …

“… diversity encompasses acceptance and respect, understanding that each individual is unique,  and recognizing our individual differences.  These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.  It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment...[and] understanding each other “

 

And finally very simply “...moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.”

 

This is very much how I feel, and it’s with this viewpoint in mind that I view the current efforts around ‘Diversity’ (with the big ‘D’) and, to a certain extent find them lacking.  Don’t get me wrong, I think there are some tremendous efforts that are being made throughout many areas and industries, but I just don’t think we’re doing enough of the right things enough of the time.

 

Let me cite a couple of examples:

  • The Oscars: http://variety.com/2016/biz/news/oscar-nominations-2016-diversity-white-1201674903/. Reviewing the details around the ’lack of diversity’ surrounding the nominees and then reviewing what has happened in previous years we haven’t really moved on. For instance, flick through YouTube and you’ll see videos about the same thing over the years, indeed there is a cringe-worthy parody on the subject, entitled ‘1977 Oscars - Chevy Chase Busted his Ass’, which refers to the final seconds and has nothing to do with 2:55 second speech itself.  Almost 40 years on we’re still in the same place.

  • Stereotyping: O2’s HR Director, Ann Pickering appeared on BBC World recently (28th January 2016), to talk about research they had conducted that showed deeply engrained and outdated stereotypes are still alive and kicking … in children as young as four.

The backlash to the Oscars will start to move the issues forward, but until the ‘old guard’ moves on and those voting have the diversity that is seen in the wealth of offerings, we might not move forward as quickly as we’d like.  Within STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), the gender bias is being addressed; this week for instance Accenture hosted ‘Girls in STEM’ for 1800 girls, aged 11-15, at location across UK and Ireland, and Ann Pickering and the O2 team already offer both internal and external programmes to support and promote girls and women.              

 

We are starting to move beyond simple tolerance to embracing, and celebrating, the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.  My concerns, however, run a little deeper.

 

I’m old enough in the tooth to remember IT from its fledging days of ‘Computer Studies’, ‘Basic Programming’ and the excitement of a PC that was affordable for the masses.  I have watched with awe how our youngsters knowledge has expanded exponentially in line with the strides in technology.  Although I did belly-laugh when I saw a baby of around a year, possibly having been exposed many times to the electronic nanny of an iPad, become very flummoxed when presented with a laptop that didn’t have touch screen.

 

But through this period I’ve seen the ground floor opportunities in IT being eroded away to be replaced by ‘graduate trainees’, or an expectation of a candidate owning a degree before they can even present a CV, let alone hope for an interview in one of the larger companies.

 

Like many others of my generation, my route into IT started from the ground up, I left school and learned on the job.  Through perseverance and, thankfully, my managers’ recognition and support across a number of companies,  in the same time it had taken me to complete senior school, I achieved the skills, knowledge and gravitas to be a UK network manager for a major IT company.  And if I was to try the same thing today, I don’t believe I’d get the same chance.  Yes, I understand that the competition is fierce, but not all children / young adults mature scholastically at the same time.

 

Take aviation then, this appears to be the same.  A colleague of mine was talking about his father, again leaving school without qualifications but getting a ‘decent’ electricians apprenticeship, which ultimately led him to sorting out the electrics on the British Concorde.

 

Barbara Hamer, who was one of only two women Concorde pilots, was, initially, a hairdresser.  The qualification channel for pilots, with the official training, was way too expensive for most, but it was also augmented with the opportunity to build up hours and qualify that way.

 

 

We are living today in a qualification driven environment, where you are judged on how many A*’s you get when, to coin my colleagues words, ‘you leave the school gates’.  In the past, college and university education years ago, was mostly for the upper echelons of society, and not for the ‘working class’, thankfully over the course of time we did move to a greater level of diversity, and opportunity, and as a result society benefitted.

 

My worry is that this trend may be reversing and so, if you cannot get a good education, and cannot get the qualifications to allow you to apply for the jobs in the industries where we need diversity, we may be faced with a different dilemma in the not so distance future.

 

We need to ensure that, where ethnic groups are not fully represented this is addressed, and the Oscars and other such institutes are finally waking up to that.  We need to ensure that the gender balance in STEM is addressed from grass roots to boardroom, and every level in between, and with companies such as Accenture and O2 and their efforts, we are making great strides.  But what of the other areas of diversity, how can we nurture and celebrate the rich dimensions of diversity contained within?

I’ve heard some fantastic stories from the likes of Timpson, employing ex. offenders and helping them get on the right track together with Beaverbrook, a family company that likes to promote from within; both of whom encourage the “grass-roots up” approach, allowing individuals with limited educational opportunities to excel through hard work. 

 

I think ‘Diversity’ is enough, but we need to look at all areas, not just the current high profile initiatives surrounding gender and colour.  Can you provide other opportunities yourselves?  Can you embrace the changes necessary in the workplace to accommodate them?  

 

Can you give inspiration to members of a generation that have previously missed out on the elevator to success, by providing a ladder for those that are prepared to climb it? 

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