I am sure you have all heard of the phrase equal
opportunities and the diversity agenda, though it may mean slightly different
things to different people. They are
rightly an important part of corporate and political life. One of the difficulties such agendas have,
however, is that they are often seen to be driven by quotas, quotas which
themselves risk being extremely unpopular.
For instance, the equal opportunities agenda currently sees the
government imposing state school quotas on top universities to manage social
diversity; or, admittedly in more drastic times, equal opportunities in
post-apartheid South Africa meant the government imposing racial quotas on
sporting teams. Both of these moves
require in selection what is known as positive discrimination; ie giving
advantage to those groups in society who have often been discriminated against
by dint of gender, race, religion etc. The main problem with positive discrimination,
of course, no matter that it is done for all the right reasons, is that it is obviously
a form of discrimination in itself.
Just before half term, I heard a lady called Claire Harvey
speak at the Head Masters’ conference.
She works in London for the multinational accountancy firm, KPMG: a huge
company which I strongly suspect some of your parents work for. The subject of her talk was “inclusion – a
new way of looking at equality and diversity”.
She is a quite remarkable lady; female, openly gay and disabled, she has
had to overcome a number of personal challenges which few in this room will
face. In addition, and against that
backdrop, she is a Paralympian in volleyball and track and field and currently
a diversity champion in one of the major firms on the planet.
She explained that inclusion is all about everyone in an
organisation, whoever they are, feeling valued and feeling part of the decision
making process of that organisation. It
is, as the word implies, about being 100% inclusive. She told a lovely story about how KPMG had
been wonderful since she arrived, changing a lot of their policies to allow for
her physical disability; and going to meetings in cabs with her now, rather
than taking the tube (which, in a wheelchair, she found impossible); but, she
concluded in a lovely, quiet tone, what a pity that it took her to come along
before the company thought about doing these things.
One of our school Governors has an OBE for his work on
inclusion, advising, as he does, large companies and governments on this
agenda. He, too, is a remarkable
man. One of the challenges for the major
corporates (or indeed governments) over the past decade or two has been to
increase the number of women on boards of directors. His answer to this is not simply to say “we
must have 50% of our board as women” with the implied suggestion that a company
must show positive discrimination in the selection process, but instead it is
this. If you only have one woman on the
board, make her feel included: 100%, thoroughly and rewardingly, included. Both genders will feel the benefit of this;
and more importantly that woman will tell all the other women in the
organisation how good it is to be on the board.
The board will adjust itself naturally and normally over time.
It seems to me that this way of looking at equality and
diversity issues makes complete sense. Indeed,
the philosophy of inclusion essentially eclipses that of equal opportunity and
diversity. No matter who you are, it is
about “all of us” rather than “some of them”.
Do note that inclusion does see and acknowledge difference in people,
but rather than be suspicious of it, it loves it and wants to know more. And this last point is important. Our own pupil body is pretty diverse: we have
boys from all around the world, from all the major international religions, a
fairly broad racial mix and a whole host of different interests and
abilities. The question we must ask
ourselves is not, therefore, how diverse can we be, but how inclusive can we
be. Can we all ensure that every single
person in this room feels valued? Not
80% or 90%, but every single person. I
think we can. It does not take much
imagination; but it does require opening your eyes and showing the courage to
step out. In other words, can you spot
the guy who is not feeling included; and are you brave enough to go over to him
and bring him in? We must show interest
in one another – genuine interest. Ask
questions of people; listen to the answers; value people’s judgements; and go
out of your way to help those left out.
We will all be better for it; as I said at the start, inclusion really
does make sense.