The UK is a melting pot of cultural influences, with a population consisting of a whole host of different nationalities. Our country is a beacon for multiculturalism, and the rich contribution made to the UK by both staunch Brits, with gene pools confined to the shores of the land of hope and glory, and people whose roots reside in more exotic locations, have made the country a vibrant and exciting place to live.
The famous quote states that
“Being British is about driving in a German car to an Irish pub for a Belgian beer, then travelling home and grabbing an Indian curry or a Turkish kebab on the way, to sit on Swedish furniture and watch American shows on a Japanese TV”.
and it is true. Our country has so many external influences that it is impossible to define what being British actually is. And this is exactly how it should be. The world is decreasing in perceived size due to the advent of the internet and global connectivity. The influences upon our daily lives are as far reaching as they have been at any point in history. We should be proud that our population represents nationalities from the world over – our understanding of these cultures are already in place as, by the time we are doing business with these countries, we have shared a classroom with one of their nationals, opened our A Level grades with a speaker of their language, shared a beer with a descendent from their shores, and studied well into the night for a university exam with a holder of their passport.
As well as a cultural diversity, our workforce is moving towards gender equality. Moving towards is probably the right term, as our boardrooms are yet to be filled with the volume of female influences we desperately need, and our pay structures still require some balancing to fully consider ourselves leaders in the battle for gender equality – but we are moving in the right direction. And rightly so. The only consideration a company should take when employing a person is their ability to do the job in question. Nothing else.
As a result, is diversity in the workplace an unattainable nirvana?
As mentioned above, one indicator that people often cite is the diversity of the CEOs of FTSE 350 companies. Our aspiration is to move away from the stereotypical white male and incorporate more of the demographics that make the UK wonderful. This is an overly simplistic measurement, as in order to achieve CEO-dom, you need to have been through a whole career. During the career progression of your average CEO, there are numerous touch points where diversity gets diluted, and these occur at the various selection processes that people go through to get to the next point in their career.
This starts with selection for schools, then GCSE courses, followed by A Levels, pursued by university entrance, and then the selection process for a graduate job. Then, during a career, there are various points at which people are promoted, move jobs or change roles and the selection process again comes into play.
Diversity is a supply and demand problem. Our workforce can only be representative of the population it represents. This is not a simplistic process. For instance, certain careers require a degree in engineering to pursue. The perception is that engineering is a subject predominated by males. As a result, men outweigh women on the degree course, and as a direct consequence, the subsequent workforce is male dominated. To try to contrive a greater balance between men and women at this juncture is impossible, as the supply of graduates simply isn’t there to do so. Diversity in this instance can only be considered as achieved if the subsequent workforce is proportionally representative of the graduate pool it selects from.
And this proportion will carry on through the company ranks and eventually rise to the top. It makes sense that if engineering firms choose former engineers as their future CEOs, then the majority of CEOs will be male, as these are the predominant demographic who choose engineering as a degree. Diversity should be representative of this supply. If the supply of graduates into a particular profession is 70:30 in favour of women, then the subsequent workforce should represent this same proportionality. To try to claw back the balance to 50:50 would be unachievable, unfair, and unrepresentative.
So the question is this: Is the onus for diversity upon companies, or educational institutions to ensure the supply of labour exists? The answer, in my opinion, is two fold. Education should be there to actively encourage the throughput of diversity into all fields. It should work hard to remove the barrier of perception that only certain demographics take a particular subject and should strive to attain a population of students representative of the population as a whole. Once schools and universities achieve this representative supply, recruiters in charge of early stage selection should maintain this proportion by selecting employees representative of the demographics presented to them in supply.
Is this nirvana? I think so. There will always be predispositions and tendencies of certain demographics towards certain lines of career. Will men ever be as well represented in the realm of primary school teaching as women? Probably not. Does this render the exercise of trying to improve diversity pointless? Definitely not. As Aristotle said, you are what you do most often. By merely striving for diversity, we will produce incremental improvements that will get us closer to our ideal goal. And that can only be a good thing.