Diversity hits headlines for right and wrong reasons

When a profession renowned for its high proportion of white, middle-class, middle-aged men takes steps to make its workforce more ‘inclusive’, you could argue that diversity has finally become a mainstream work practice.

That certainly seems the case with law firm Herbert Smith’s announcement that it is hiring the sector’s first ever inclusivity manager, who will provide training, advice and action plans to deliver the firm’s diversity strategy (see Law firm sets bold precedent with new inclusivity manager).

As we know, there is a huge difference between employers promising to promote best practice and committing to actually making it happen. So having a person on board who will be measured on their ability to achieve diversity goals is likely to be more effective than a well-meaning committee that is little more than a talking shop.

However, if we were being cynical, we could suggest that it is a ploy to keep clients happy, win contracts, and generate some good PR in the process.

Only a couple of months ago, we reported that Barclays Bank was demanding diversity information from the legal firms it uses. And companies hoping to win the government’s New Deal contracts will also have to prove their commitment to workplace diversity. So it makes good commercial sense for suppliers to prove their diversity credentials. But sometimes you have to question the motives of organisations that carry out diversity audits of suppliers.

If it is to reflect the make-up of the community and customers they serve, then fine. Otherwise, what is the point of finding out how many of your suppliers are run by bisexual or transgender people, as the London Development Agency is attempting to discover in its questionnaire (see Transgender question takes diversity drive to new level)? To set more diversity targets? More boxes to tick? A new way of selecting suppliers?

Surely the point of diversity is to select the best person from the broadest talent base. Pushing diversity to this level of detail is taking it a step too far.

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