Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Stale, Male and Pale...

Diversity and Inclusion, now there's a contradiction in terms. Thanks to Tony Blair and his henchmen we have seen an avalanche of legislation on this subject in recent years and a matching explosion in 'professionals' to manage it within organisations. Another great opportunity for the function to build its part. But what now? The market is shrinking faster than a lambswool sweater in a boil wash and all of a sudden (some public sector organisations aside) the opportunity to meet diversity 'targets' in terms of appointees is looking rather bleak. In the boom time of 'jobs a plenty' even the most ignorant of employers begrudgingly made some effort to extend the makeup of the workforce beyond stale male and pale because there was opportunity all round.

However, in these challenged times the pressure is on to fill those limited vacancies with 'only the best' and, for some, I’m afraid, that doesn't include you. There is hope though. If you are not of English origin or you have a sexual orientation that is anything but industry standard heterosexual, you are far less likely to suffer the public hand of discrimination. Despite fairly rampant levels of bigotry in our corporate society you won’t hear anyone say "No spooks or fags on my manor" in a public setting. Well, maybe in construction... but nowhere else. Ok, ok maybe the legal profession as well. But in the main, racial, and more recently, sexual orientation discrimination are pretty much more taboo in professional circles. It does go on as we know, but mainly behind closed doors.

Gender and age seem to be fair game however. Over 50 and male, or female in the wrong environment and you’re stuffed. The odds, as they say, are well and truly stacked against you. I suspect that there are many men out there in their early to mid 50's, at the mid level in management or professional careers who are shitting themselves right now. Unless they are at the top of their game or have been exceptionally wise financially, a lost job could see their worlds implode. And it’s ugly out there in the world of the great unwashed. The recruiters and head-hunters - many of whom know only the boom era - have no perception of the 'on the shelf' phenomenon and they really couldn’t care. Weeks away from their own demise, they are ruthlessly cutting out anyone that doesn’t fit the bill exactly.

And whilst women are less likely to fall victim to the age issue its no better for them. "Look, no women ok? It’s a tough environment and a woman wouldn’t be able to stand the pressure." or "Can't really see a woman here - too much male banter, before you know it we'd be at a tribunal" or "Let's avoid women of child bearing age can we, we can’t afford for the person in this job to go off and start dropping babies all over the place right when we need them focussed on the job". I could go on but you get the picture.

And where is HR in all this? Ironically those who have spent many months and years producing policies and guidelines and spouting chapter and verse on discrimination are guilty, albeit somewhat indirectly in most cases, of perpetuating the situation. Powerless to challenge the line, they are often left to try and translate their requirements, without giving the game away, into a candidate brief. Do they push back and insist on an inclusive and diverse shortlist? Don’t be stupid, to the back of the class with you. No. Be it subtle or overt, where it exists they chose in the main to let it happen.

But for all you old bags out there, there is hope. The blunt knife of diversity and inclusion might be proving ineffective, but there is a social revolution coming that might just be about to re stack the deck. Watch this space. But only if you are young, dynamic with great academics with blue chip experience and can survive in a challenging predominantly male environment obviously. Pigs need not apply.

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