Diversity and the Modern Corporation

Via JuliaM on Twitter, this story:

Britain’s biggest businesses must take action to improve the diversity of their workforces and publish a breakdown of their black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employees, a new report has urged.

The report by the professional management body the CMI and the British Academy of Management focuses on ethnic diversity at management levels below the boardroom and highlights the importance of the issue following the vote for Brexit.

The latest report sets out a seven-point plan for business leaders to adopt, including “breaking the silence” on diversity, including training on the subject as a requirement for career progression and setting targets for progression of BAME individuals.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I am not in the slightest bit bothered by this. When reports talk about “Britain’s biggest businesses” what they mean is companies run by Establishment types who lurch from one cushy position to another, and enjoy cosy relations with people in government which they use to engage in rent-seeking, erecting barriers to entry, and writing laws which benefit them at the expense of everyone else. They are certainly not talking about companies operating in a free market whose focus is on delivering a quality product or service at the cheapest price such that shareholder value is maximised.

The heads of major corporations wedded themselves to the whims of government years ago, perhaps believing they’d increase share prices and dividends by being seen to cooperate. And maybe they were right: perhaps in this day and age it is not possible for a company to get on the wrong side of the state and survive? But cosying up is what they’ve done, with the results looking suspiciously like a stitch-up of the general public.

Via the silent adoption of ever-increasing regulations, corporations have effectively offloaded swathes of what ought to be business decisions onto the government. I can see why individuals running firms would do this: if I was paid a few million a year to make bold decisions and carry the can and somebody offered to shoulder half the responsibility with no reduction in privilege or pay, I’d bite their hand off. Nothing pleases a modern corporate manager more than citing a regulation to explain why something stupid was done or something sensible not.

Modern corporations have, without a single exception I can think of, signed up to the notion that more women and BAME people in cushy positions is intrinsically better for the company and shareholder value. If this is so self-evidently true, it is somewhat surprising that companies haven’t been putting this idea into practice for years, and instead need to be bullied into it. It isn’t true of course, but they have to pretend it is and they think any resistance will make the public think them mean and quit buying their products and services. But by going along with it at the behest of governments, they are effectively turning their companies into partial welfare programmes. Anyone who strides along the corridors of a modern corporation on a daily basis ought to have reached this conclusion anyway.

I’ve written previously that I believe the smartest in society will begin to shun corporations and, like small, nimble fish which swim between whales, make their living on the fringes, doing what everyone wants but no big company can or dares to in groups of between one and five. These areas of the economy will boom and corporations will be the preserve of those who tick the government-approved diversity boxes and listen to people like this:

Business executive Pavita Cooper, who has worked in senior roles in the banking industry, will chair a new body, CMI Race. She said it was time to “reboot the conversation about race and ethnicity”.

This would be the same Pavita Cooper who spent her entire life in HR, racking up 8 companies in 20 years, rarely staying for more than 2-3 years at any one place. Business executive, indeed!

I welcome corporations going down this route: the more dead wood, dimwits, arse-lickers, and time-wasters that can be gathered in a handful of large, easily-identifiable places, the easier it will be for smart folk to avoid them – or to take advantage. Reports like the one just issued can only help with this process.

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24 thoughts on “Diversity and the Modern Corporation

  1. It looks like the UK is nearing completion of the final phases of the first stage of the demoralization element of it’s overall subversion program.

    LOVE
    LETTER
    TO
    AMERICA

    BY TOMAS D. SCHUMAN

    “The American traditional solution of racial and ethnic problems is slow but efficient: the ‘melting pot’ which raises the less developed groups to a HIGHER level. It has worked for more than a century of American history and created the most harmonious and productive nation on Earth. The present day ‘solution’ to racial inequality is borrowed from Communist mythology: EQUALITY of all racial and ethnic groups LEGISLATED by the government and ENFORCED by state bureaucracies. We know perfectly well that neither races nor INDIVIDUALS are equal, in every respect. We know that every nation and race has its peculiar character, abilities, traditions, mentality, and ability to learn and its individual PACE OF DEVELOPMENT. By mimicking the Soviet ‘national policy’ of equality America simply erases the distinct racial characteristics that have made this country great.”

    http://uselessdissident.blogspot.com.au/2008/12/love-letter-to-america-part-one.html

  2. On a related note, would you want to belong to a trade union which is, in effect, suggesting that the profession it represents is “too white” and that 68,000 of them should be replaced with BME career-entrants? The logic here is not even that teaching staff are disproportionately white compared to the adult population from which they are drawn – “Just 13% of state-funded schools’ teachers are currently from a BME background”, which is more or less in line with the UK population – but because the students they teach are now 27% BME and staffing numbers should reflect that, not the adult population.

    The really worrying thing is why they might believe teacher ethnicity should reflect student ethnicity. It strikes me that this is a potentially logical position, but only if you believe that it is somehow “inappropriate” for white teachers to teach black or Asian students, because of Deep-seated Cultural Reasons. That is surely grossly insulting to the trade union’s membership – we represent you, but don’t think you can be trusted to be culturally sensitive when dealing professionally with people who do not look like you. It is also bloody dangerous territory to be heading towards. If an Asian kid messes around in class, is it racist for a teacher to give him a detention? If a small-town school has only a handful of black kids, is it inappropriate and institutionally racist for them to be brought up in that environment – should we ship them off to the nearest conurbation where they can be with other black children and maybe have a couple of black teachers to act as role models? What happens when they leave school and they’re still a tiny minority in their town and they have to either deal with being surrounded by white people, or move? What happens to white British pupils in majority-BME schools? This is less opening a can of particularly tricky worms, more like laying a social and racial minefield.

    Besides which, there are British-Bangladeshi kids growing up virtually homogeneous Bangladeshi parts of town, with their Bangladeshi family surrounded by Bangladeshi neighbours, who attend both school and their extra-mural cultural/religious activities surrounded by their Bangladeshi peer and friendship group, with their satellite TV channel at home tuned to a Bangladeshi channel. And at some point, to get on in this country, they are going to have to interact with somebody who is not like them. Surely, even from a pro-diversity point of view, it would be a good idea if some of the teachers they had at school were not Bangladeshi, because they will be pretty much the only non-Bangladeshi people they encounter. Yet if the school were “representative” of the community it serves, the staff would be, to a man and woman, Bangladeshi too. And there are pockets of this country where you can replace “Bangladeshi” by “Pakistani” or “West Indian” or “Indian” or “Polish” and the same would apply.

    Incidentally, can’t wait for the trade union for care home staff to suggest replacing the bulk of their workforce membership by white British people, because it’s “culturally inappropriate” for a Polish or Thai or Filipina lass to intimately wash the predominantly white British care home clientele.

    I’m generally in favour of Diversity an’ all that, probably far more than the majority of commenters on blogs like this, but things like the NASUWT “BME teachers for BME students” line or what Tim has posted today, do not appeal to me one bit. I’m told one of the key roles of an in-house PR/Comms exec is to stop their organisation sticking its foot in its mouth by scrapping press releases that have clear potential to blow up on them. Was there really nobody at the relevant meetings who pointed out “are you really sure you want to publish this – do you really think that releasing it is going to further our aims and objectives? Have you considered the risks of push-back on this if we are seen as going too far?”

    The more people see “Diversity” as some externally compelled, bureaucratic nightmare that leaves them unable to tell whether their colleague’s promotion (or even their own!) was merited or token, the more cynical people are going to be about the “good bits” that diversity was meant to bring.

    For what it’s worth, I am a freelancer and I can only partly go with what you’re saying, Tim – maybe I’m just not smart enough, but even with the extra “nimbleness” and flexibility of self-employment, there is no way my pay can match what I could have achieved if I had pursued the corporate ladder. However, I do earn plenty anyway, and I value and enjoy my autonomy. If I had more drive and ambition, I would likely have followed the more stultifying corporate route. (I like to think I’m actually too smart for that – that I realised I didn’t need the money and it wouldn’t make me happy, so chose my own optimal path. But I can see plenty of smart young people chasing the big bucks for many years to come.)

    One nice thing about what I do is that nobody sends me away for compulsory diversity training (and other things, though this one seems relevant for today’s topic) anymore. I don’t think that has metamorphosed me into a culturally insensitive thick racist twit quite yet. My UK client base is very diverse. My global client base far more so. And if someone in my position hadn’t got my head around how to deal with respect with people from different backgrounds, then it would have cost me dearly in the bottom line. Getting to know people, and understanding their different cultures and practices, is just part of the job (coming up to Eid? Check in advance with your Muslim clients whether arrangements are going to need rescheduling) but you don’t need to make me sit through a workshop on it. And I most certainly don’t need my “representatives” and betters to inform me how much better I would be doing if only I sacked myself and replaced myself by someone with more desirable sociodemographic statistics.

  3. Perhaps we ought to give these organisations B-Ark sequence numbers. I suggest Crapita be B-Ark1

  4. Good essay Tim
    The only problem I can see is that it’s wrong.
    Diffused responsibilty seems to allow nimble start ups to get in to the market space. But the regs are such a thicket that only big companies, who lobbied for them, can afford to comply. Cue the cartel racket which is the EU

    MBE
    Slow day in the freelance?
    Mostly I agree with you. But I think, once you get past the obvious, skin colour, headscarves, etc ethnic tribalism is a lot of bollocks. There are so many parameters, religion, voting, festivals, marriage practirce, funeral rites… Ethnic is something usually imposed, by a church or a state. And sometimes it can be chosen. I’d prefer the choice.
    BTW go to your local pharmacy or optician. It will be an Asian girl who does your eye test or fills your prescription. Cultural / educational choice, hooray.

  5. @myburningears.

    “I’m generally in favour of Diversity an’ all that”

    Diversity aka racial equality has no other purpose than to demoralise society, this is why it was created as part of an overall subversion program. Some of the other areas you touched on such as mass education and trade unionism are other planks of the demoralisation element. They have no other purpose.

    I have posted earlier a reference from “Love Letter To America” that in my view explains the overall program and its objectives, it’s awaiting moderation from Comrade Tim but I am sure it will eventually get past his team of censors.

    Seriously and with all due respect you have been duped, the subversion program is well entrenched and has been running for a long time in the West.

  6. “I’m generally in favour of Diversity an’ all that, probably far more than the majority of commenters on blogs like this, ”

    I think you would be surprised. Everyone I see post here seems interested in diversity, they all seem to be individuals and how can you be more diverse than that?

    These Diversity shills are not at all interested in diversity, they want homogeneity. Everyone must think the same and act the same.

  7. @james

    Actually a very busy day, but with an irritating timezone-induced gap between clients in Hong Kong and Panama! I love speaking English and I love being at, meridian-wise, the centre of the world … a lot of Brits don’t realise just how incredibly lucky we are.

    I think monocultures are risky because they lack resilience – their solidity and uniformity can create an illusion of strength and permanence, which can be swept away in an instant if it succumbs to a threat it is particularly vulnerable to. Among other things, that strikes me as a good reason to cultivate diversity.

    But I’d draw a distinction between “real” diversity and the kind of “tick-box” diversity that you can fit on an application form or a Human Resources pie chart. We benefit from being exposed to a range of experiences, perspectives, value systems, technical or professional backgrounds, risk preferences, long-vs-short-term planners, creative vs analytic thinkers, people with different strategic insights…

    It would be very easy to create a roomful of employees who score wonderfully for diversity of skin colour, ethnicity, faith or non-faith background, first language, gender identity, sexuality and disability, yet who suffered from terrible group think. In fact management processes may actively create such an environment if they all had to be seen as a “good fit” for the office culture to get through the selection or promotion process, and they had since all thoroughly onboarded themselves with the corporate mission statement and brand identity. Frankly they might as well have selected for “diversity” based on musical taste, subcultures belonged to, dress sense and body art – if they prefer drones built in the firm’s image, even if it’s a trendy and multicultural image, you won’t get that diversity of thought or insight or output.

    Must admit to being a tad surprised that the last optician I saw was black – but most of her colleagues were Asian! White British working-class kids now have such abysmal education and employment outcomes, we are getting to the point where a diversity-boosting “white kids from an estate like yours can become doctors/dentists/opticians too” type of campaign could be justified, certainly at least as much as equivalent ongoing campaigns targeted at some non-white sociodemographic groups that are wealthier and have better outcomes than them. I have heard from a doctor active on a med school selection committee that the WWC issue is now being discussed (one suggestion is that they will have to become more accepting of chavvy-dressed applicants with tattoos and piercings) but that’s not the same thing as an active recruitment drive.

    Self-perpetuating “stereotypes” of employment choice within different communities often represent knowledge passing between (or horizontally across) generations – plenty of kids who pick their A-level options at 15 haven’t heard of an “optometrist” or have no idea that a pharmacist earns a high multiple of the shop assistant at the same store, but if their cousin or uncle or parents have shown you the inside track then you get some tempting propositions put in front of you, while other professions may seem more mysterious, riskier or even gated-off. When I was growing up, there were only two jobs I really considered: what my mum did, and what my dad did.

  8. I’ve been looking for a way out of the corporate world in recent months, but have a ways to go to figure it out. As an example, Intel Corporation, which sent me to Russia originally, now has a corporate goal to hire “people of color” at 45% of all new hires. They even have a tracking system on their website. I think I missed a memo where it says that this is legal. You may say “so what, if they want to do something stupid, let them.” However, if more and more companies start doing this, it’s simply not scalable for the white male blokes. I have no choice but to find alternative employment.

  9. @David Moore

    That’s a very fair point – was a mistake to conflate them, actually the commentariat that Tim N attracts are generally more open and less visceral than at many of the other blogs I read. Might be the continent-crossing thing?

  10. MBE
    Thanks for response.
    If you’ll allow, I would point out that you are repeating Adam Smith, David Ricardo and even the Cavendish banana.

  11. @Howard Roark

    Looking at http://www.intel.com/diversity it seems that the 45% target include women as well as “underrepresented” ethnic groups. Not that that’s much consolation if you are a white chap rather than chapette.

    I’m no fan of this percentage-chasing thing, but to give Intel their due at least they haven’t tried to artificially boost their diversity numbers by throwing in the 35% “Asian” figure as well. When I was at college, I once got roped into helping out at a day to encourage black applicants, where “black” meant “anyone who isn’t white”. Was allocated a very well-spoken, well-dressed, ambitious young Asian lad to show around the campus. He already knew what it was all about really – international rankings, subject choices, how to play the application game. I wondered why he had come along. “Pretty much nobody from my school applies here,” he explained, “we almost all go to Oxford.” (His school turned out to be Harrow, current fees £38k per year.) Our diversity figures looked pretty “good” when you included all the well-heeled Indians like him. How many Afro-Caribbean kids got in? A number you could count on your fingers, but they didn’t publicise that.

    Best of luck finding your way out. No earth-shattering advice here, though what I found starting up is that it’s a big stress-reducer if your lifestyle and savings allow you to weather out lower earnings for a while. If you have skills that allow you to flourish in a corporate environment, there must be a marketplace for some subset of those skills, or for a set of closely related ones, you just need to find it.

  12. “they all seem to be individuals and how can you be more diverse than that”

    Ah the war on the threatened species formerly known as the individual, no longer credited with achievement and creative solutions and now frowned upon as lone nuts from the relative safety of our politically correct and group based modern society.

  13. If this is so self-evidently true, it is somewhat surprising that companies haven’t been putting this idea into practice for years, and instead need to be bullied into it.

    The problem with this is it assumes that modern corporations aren’t hotbeds of cronyism, patronage and nepotism, which they are. The notion that maximising shareholder value will trump racist or sexist hiring decisions runs up against the undeniable fact that many, many office or workplace environments make staggeringly stupid hiring decisions all the time, based on who went to college with the boss, who’s related to who, who’s banging who behind the copier, etc.

    I’ve worked for an engineering firm where every single executive was terribly crude in the “dudebro” mode, although not actually discriminatory that I could tell. They did have to field a hostile environment lawsuit at one point, but all of that paled by comparison to the fact that executive decision making in the firm was strictly limited to members of the GM’s family (his two brothers were on the payroll) and people who attended university with them – regardless of experience, credentials or skill.

    It’s difficult to claim that Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand will prevent racist or sexist hiring when this kind of thing goes on for the better part of a decade.

  14. For what it’s worth, I am a freelancer and I can only partly go with what you’re saying, Tim – maybe I’m just not smart enough, but even with the extra “nimbleness” and flexibility of self-employment, there is no way my pay can match what I could have achieved if I had pursued the corporate ladder.

    Absolutely, but I think that will slowly change, perhaps in 1-2 generations. Obviously now most of us have to work in a corporation, but I can see a situation unfolding over the next 20 years whereby large corporations fail to attract proper talent as they slowly stagnate and become little more than employment programmes for the dim middle classes and government client groups (as much of the public sector has become). The smart people will simply set up alongside and live off the lumbering carcass: one thing I have noticed is as corporations get larger they outsource more and more of their core business. Major oil companies are nowadays management companies, having outsourced all their engineering and construction capabilities. For now they have kept their geosciences, without which they’d basically be needed to raise finance – and perhaps not even then.

  15. Diffused responsibilty seems to allow nimble start ups to get in to the market space. But the regs are such a thicket that only big companies, who lobbied for them, can afford to comply. Cue the cartel racket which is the EU

    Yes, but there is money to be made in outflanking the regulations: look at the impact Uber and Air BnB has had, for example. We’re also seeing the effect of faster, more nimble companies in the oil industry: the tiny shale outfits are making money hand over fist while the majors are still lumbering around waiting for “the recovery”. It will take time, but I think in the next 20-30 years we’ll reach a point where working for a small, fly-by-night company is more normal than a corporation.

  16. I have posted earlier a reference from “Love Letter To America” that in my view explains the overall program and its objectives, it’s awaiting moderation from Comrade Tim but I am sure it will eventually get past his team of censors.

    Yeah, sorry: was a bit slow on that one.

  17. It would be very easy to create a roomful of employees who score wonderfully for diversity of skin colour, ethnicity, faith or non-faith background, first language, gender identity, sexuality and disability, yet who suffered from terrible group think.

    Exactly: diversity in everything except thought. I think most people I rub shoulders with agree that diversity in thought and character is much more important than diversity in skin colour and sex.

    In fact management processes may actively create such an environment if they all had to be seen as a “good fit” for the office culture to get through the selection or promotion process, and they had since all thoroughly onboarded themselves with the corporate mission statement and brand identity.

    Yes, it is quite deliberate: they want absolute compliance and conformity.

  18. actually the commentariat that Tim N attracts are generally more open and less visceral than at many of the other blogs I read. Might be the continent-crossing thing?

    The quality of the content and congeniality of the host, surely?!!!

  19. I’ve been looking for a way out of the corporate world in recent months, but have a ways to go to figure it out.

    Yeah, our generation are stuck with it, as are the next. But the one after? I’m not so sure.

  20. If you have skills that allow you to flourish in a corporate environment, there must be a marketplace for some subset of those skills

    Used car sales? Drug dealing? Politics?

    Sorry, I’m trying to think of another use for arse-licking and back-stabbing.

  21. The problem with this is it assumes that modern corporations aren’t hotbeds of cronyism, patronage and nepotism, which they are.

    I acknowledge this in the next sentence: I know damned well why companies act like they do.

    I’ve worked for an engineering firm where every single executive was terribly crude in the “dudebro” mode, although not actually discriminatory that I could tell.

    I’ve yet to encounter a company where all the top bosses were not incredibly pally with one another.

  22. @Howard “I have no choice but to find alternative employment.”

    It always pays to check your parachute before you take off, if you don’t have a golden handshake clause then my best advise would be to negotiate your next move from where you are now and yes make sure you get the golden parachute locked in before you move.

  23. “Absolutely, but I think that will slowly change, perhaps in 1-2 generations. Obviously now most of us have to work in a corporation, but I can see a situation unfolding over the next 20 years whereby large corporations fail to attract proper talent as they slowly stagnate and become little more than employment programmes for the dim middle classes and government client groups (as much of the public sector has become). The smart people will simply set up alongside and live off the lumbering carcass: one thing I have noticed is as corporations get larger they outsource more and more of their core business. Major oil companies are nowadays management companies, having outsourced all their engineering and construction capabilities. For now they have kept their geosciences, without which they’d basically be needed to raise finance – and perhaps not even then.”

    It’s happening now. I’m seeing it a lot because it’s happening in software, but that will end up everywhere.

    The attitude I always take is to look at where tech is going, or has gone and follow it. If you went back 30 years, people had to work in the same building because of comms. OK, maybe you could phone someone in another office. But send them a specification? That meant getting in a car. So, there was a lot of cost in getting someone more than a few miles away doing work for you. Along comes fast comms, you don’t need the software guys in the same building. They can be half way around the world.

    Look at zero-hours contracts and the “gig economy”. That hasn’t appeared because of greedy capitalism. Capitalists have always been greedy. It’s that you now can. You don’t need employees driving parcels around on an hourly rate. You can pay by the parcel because there’s a tracking system recording parcels signed for.

    I do freelance work and more and more I see WFH adverts: Work From Home. And this is why I’m convinced places like London, San Francisco and New York are heading for huge bubble bursts. London companies are hiring geeks working anywhere. That means cheaper rates and no expensive office space. And lots of investment is going into collaborative tools making this better and better all the time. It’s now not just geeks. It’s media guys. They have workflows for designing ad campaigns through the approval processes.

    I know a large retail company and they have almost no staff. They really just pay for services and have manager/buyers. So, their IT staff is now 10 people. For a company with 600+ shops. None of them write code. A few have in the past. All they do is there’s a problem with the tills, or the HR site, they get onto the supplier and manage the problem with them. If they need a new feature on the main website, they specify it with the supplier. And they have huge numbers of small companies doing little things for them.

    The ne plus ultra of this is Instagram who have 13 employees. Billion dollar corporation with 13 employees.

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