MT Masterclass - diversity

What is it? 'Let a thousand flowers bloom,' said Chairman Mao, long before the days of gardening makeover shows. The phrase sums up the ethos of diversity - even if, as with Chairman Mao's cultural revolution, the rhetoric might cover up a less attractive reality. In the business context, believers in diversity argue that today's diverse customer base is better served by a diverse workforce, one that looks and sounds more like the customers it is trying to please. A diverse workforce, the argument runs, will be more creative and more dynamic than a mono-cultural one. The same old faces will only ever come up with the same old ideas.

Where did it come from? After the toughening of equal pay and race discrimination legislation in the 1970s, the drive for genuinely equal opportunities became more urgent. But cultural and attitudinal change proved elusive.

Partly as an attempt to rejuvenate the tired old 'equal opps' debate, experts hit on the term 'diversity' to convey the benefits of achieving progress in this area. Taken together with its partner 'inclusion', the 'D + I' agenda has become a business priority, whether managers believe in it or not.

Where's it going? With legislation either already in place or due (next year) to prevent discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, disability, age, religion and sexual orientation, bosses have plenty of incentive to make sure that their workforces are as diverse as possible. No more 'hideously white' organisations (as Greg Dyke labelled the BBC), no more 'institutional racism' (Sir William Macpherson's allegation against the Metropolitan Police). The diverse organisations of the future will have less room for the 'male, pale and stale' managers who have been in charge till now - though somehow you suspect they will cling on to power for a while yet.

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