Diversity, but how diverse?

The world is a diverse place and humans are a pretty diverse species. By age, by intelligence, by size, by gender, by hair and eye colour, the combinations are almost limitless and when we add sexual orientation to the mix the possibilities become huge. If you are living in a “western” society then tolerance of diversity is accepted as reasonable. Indeed it is, in many cases, a legal requirement that diversity is accepted and that discrimination is prohibited. So much for society. But what of the company? Clearly here there are limits to diversity, limits which are a result of different levels of ability.  Obviously a business is not a microcosm of society. In order to succeed (and in many cases it is illegal for directors to take actions which might jeopardise success) the business has to employ a “fitness for purpose” kind of discrimination. So there is discrimination based on ability.

Looking deeper we can see that discrimination in fact has two elements, active and passive.

Once we accept that we discriminate on the grounds of ability, passive discrimination means that we accept any that fulfil that criterion, not recognising differences of gender, age, hair colour etc.

Active discrimination however is rather different. Somewhat like the positive discrimination used in the USA to ensure that African Americans are awarded places in universities or that working class children the the UK from poor performing schools are favoured over the rich and well taught, positive discrimination has been widely accepted as a good thing. Thus a company, observing that gender balance is beneficial to long term success might seek to positively recruit based on gender. Would this be illegal? Clearly a workforce entirely composed of fertile young women is at risk from mass pregnancy but are we able to discriminate in order to protect the well being of the company?

Similarly can a firm discriminate for failure to accept that gender balance is a good thing? Would a public rejection of gay marriage be grounds not to hire somebody otherwise well qualified or is diversity of opinion something to be welcomed, even if the diverse opinion fails to embrace the pro diversity rhetoric?

As it says in the popular press, “The public have a right to know”.


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