Diversity, Inclusion and Equality stories have been hitting the headlines in the press for some time now, and this month has been no different. In just the past week a story which caught many people’s attention was regarding a piece by Lionel Shriver in the New York Times on efforts to engage those underrepresented in publishing.
“From now until 2025, literary excellence will be secondary to ticking all those ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual preference and crap-education boxes,” she wrote. “We can safely infer from that email that if an agent submits a manuscript written by a gay transgender Caribbean who dropped out of school at seven and powers around town on a mobility scooter, it will be published, whether or not said manuscript is an incoherent, tedious, meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling.”
This quote one part of an overall piece questioning the diversity and inclusion strategy announced by Penguin Books as a subsidiary of Random House. Their own review along with sector wide statistics revealed a stunning lack of diversity in the writers that were being given opportunities to publish their stories and Penguin wanted to address this by taking Positive Action to engage and encourage a wider talent pool.
While many will debate the use of one quote from an overall piece or whether all diversity and inclusion strategies should be implemented without critical appraisal the underlying tone in the piece is all too familiar, which is that efforts to widen the talent pool automatically creates a reduction in standards even before the initiative has started!
Diversity does not exclude excellence
In construction, I typically hear about a “one-legged black lesbian” who through the omnipotent power of non-existent “positive discrimination” legislation will take the industry down due to ineptitude. And all because some “do-gooder” wants diversity at all costs.
It is beyond disappointing to continually hear efforts to spread fear about taking positive action and to rationalise the lack of diversity in many of our Industries and our workplaces. The thinly veiled subtext being that the current mix is simply a result of talent rising to the top rather than active exclusion only further supports and entrenches the status quo. And the belief that those from diverse background lack the talent to succeed.
I believe talent comes in packages that are not prescribed and neither I nor anyone else can tell from your place of origin, your orientation or being differently able whether you can tell me a great story, run a brilliant business or be an amazing scientist.
In order to ensure that the widest talent is able to thrive, organisations must reflect, review and take action to encourage, welcome, support and foster diverse talent.
“Seeking diversity automatically leads us to excellence, just as focusing on excellence inevitably leads us to diversity.”
William C. Steere