DE&I: make sure it does what it says on the tin
In this guest article, Sarah Phillimore, Co-Founder of Fair Cop and family law barrister, discusses the importance of recognising and respecting the diversity of political opinions.
The drive for greater equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace has exploded in recent years. The ‘global diversity and inclusion market’ is estimated to reach $23.4bn (£19.2bn) by 2030 and I will assume the majority of those delivering or commissioning such training have noble aims and genuine motivation to tackle inequality and discrimination which blights to lives of many. But in business and in life, we should not focus on intent to the exclusion of outcomes.
I raise two serious issues with the whole endeavour. I am going to speak from the perspective of a disabled woman who believes in the immutable reality of biological sex, which means I have experienced the very sharp end of both the issues I raise.
First – there is very little evidence that equality, diversity, and inclusion training has a positive impact, and may actually enforce bias, particularly if mandatory and involving the ‘blaming’ of a dominant group’s sense of belonging. Despite being around since the 1960s, few programmes have been subject to rigorous evaluation of assessment of positive long-term outcomes.
A focus on what is merely performative risks harming people’s willingness to engage as well as encouraging a ‘box ticking’ culture which avoids the need to make real (and costly) changes to harmful practices and may thus cement inequality.
If all this training was having a generally positive impact, it is curious, for example, to see the recent report from the National Centre for Social Research which found the proportion who characterise themselves as ‘not at all prejudiced’ against people who are transgender fell from 82% to 64% in four years.
I have frequent online arguments on social media with those who object to me calling myself a ‘disabled person’ rather than a ‘person with disabilities’. Quite apart from the fact that I will insist on my right to call myself whatever I wish, I have not noticed the re-ordering of these words to have any magical impact on the hostile physical environments I must attempt to navigate every day as a person with a mobility impairment. If you want to show you value me in your organisation, I don’t want any ‘training’ or colourful lanyards – I want accessible parking and lifts that work.
Second, the drive for ‘equality, diversity and inclusion’ appears to be at the expense of including diversity of political thought. A key example is the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in Maya Forstater’s action against the Center for Global Development in 2021. The EAT determined that a belief that sex is real and it matters was protected by the Equality Act 2010 as ‘worthy of respect in a democratic society’. Therefore, discrimination against a person who holds this belief is unlawful. Forstater went on to win aggravated damages because of the oppressive conduct of the then President of the CGD – who has recently announced his decision to step down.
Crowdfunding has changed the game for those individuals who wish to litigate to protect their rights. The Green Party now risks bankruptcy from the costs of at least three legal actions from members declared to be ‘transphobic’. I was investigated for two years by my regulator for a variety of alleged ‘phobias’. It took me at least 50 hours to respond to the allegations, which were eventually dropped. I shudder to think how much time in total was wasted on what was in my view little more than an exercise in virtue signalling or what would be the impact of all this on individuals who do not have the resilience, time or money to defend themselves.
These continued distractions from core functions are curious. I assumed the fundamental aim of any business is to excel in its sector and thus make some money, not to attempt to compete with charities or elected politicians as agents of social change, nor to act as life support to a multi-billion dollar training industry that appears to offer no discernible benefits, and which may actually do harm.
When I hear the words ‘equality, inclusion and diversity’, I hear instead ‘conformity, exclusion, and performance’. I am not confident it is a sensible business strategy to insist on a particular course without at least some evidence of positive outcomes. However, as so many continue to embrace this strategy and pay considerable sums in the process, perhaps I am mistaken. Surely we don’t repeatedly do things that don’t benefit us? As ever, history will tell. One lesson of history is to exercise a little humility about which side of the line you think you will fall.