Why 2017 was disastrous for diversity

From Trump's inauguration to Brexit to Grenfell, the events of 2017 prove we have a long way to go towards achieving diversity and inclusion.

by Stephen Frost
Last Updated: 14 Dec 2017

In October 2015, the Davies review heralded the progress made in more than doubling the proportion of women on FTSE100 boards to 26%, Barack Obama was US President and the UK was a major player in the European Union. 

Two years later, as we finish 2017, things look very different.

Time magazine made the women who have broken the appalling silence over sexual harassment their "People of the Year" but it was a collection of angry men, from Trump to Putin to Weinstein, that drove the agenda in 2017.

There exists a growing profusion of diversity awards, prizes and league tables. While there is undoubtedly progress, many of these initiatives also mask the real work still remaining. Here are the seven events that prove we're not as advanced as we thought we were:

20th January: Trump's inauguration

The US President is a fairly obvious entry at number one, but the inauguration was less about him and more about what he symbolizes. The appalling silence of the good people is fundamentally a crisis of leadership. We have placed our faith in an authoritarian demagogue.

He has banned Syrian refugees from entering the US and trans people from the military, withdrawn the US from UNESCO and the Paris Climate Accords, and nearly caused war in the Middle East and Korea. He has acted as a fulcrum for other populist figures worldwide from Le Pen to Wilders to Duterte.

It’s not just what he’s done, it’s what he hasn’t done. He’s failed to criticise the white supremacists in Charlottesville, given succour to racist and misogynist behaviour and failed to criticise harassment scandals (partly because he can’t and has no credibility to do so).

Many white folks thought Obama heralded the end of racist America. Trump is the very definition of a leadership crisis; the ugly American who has always been there, and proves racism is alive and well.

29th March: Brexit 

In second place, a wonderfully home-grown crisis, Brexit. Whichever way you voted, it’s fairly evident that when Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 she unleashed a wave of behaviour detrimental to inclusion efforts. Practically, companies and workers are struggling with labour mobility – in September the government had to launch an investigation into reports that EU nationals in the UK were being illegally blocked from applying for jobs and renting properties. Socially, a July report revealed the highest levels of hate crimes since the Brexit vote. Politically, an event meant to unite the Conservative party has ended up dividing the country.

14th June: Grenfell

When Grenfell tower burnt to its core, needlessly killing 70 innocent people in the middle of one of the wealthiest parts of the UK, profound questions were posed about social mobility in modern Britain. How could a building burn like a roman candle in London in 2017? The tentative answers pointed to a council detached from its voiceless poorer residents, cladding put up for decorative purposes for those living outside (rather than inside) and the establishment guilty of ignoring citizens in the false belief it was being inclusive.

This all seems a far cry from the Prime Minister’s July 2016 inaugural address on the steps of Number 10 when she promised to place diversity and inclusion at the top of her agenda, 'fighting against the burning injustice that, if you’re born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others'.  

Social mobility remained a theme with a damning report in October, revealing that levels of diversity at Oxford and Cambridge universities were decreasing. 7% of students are educated at private schools, yet Oxbridge colleges recruit 40% from the independent sector. Cardiff university research has proved students from state schools gain better degrees than the independently educated with the same A-level grades.

19th July: BBC publishes its gender pay gap

As part of its license renewal, the Conservative government made the BBC reveal its gender pay gap. It’s worth noting that a right-wing government played the diversity card against a supposed left-leaning organisation. The gender pay gap provoked a media storm with questions asked about why men could justify salaries significantly higher than their female counterparts for equivalent work. This is a taste of things to come; by April 2018, all major companies have to reveal their gender pay disparities. To be fair to the Prime Minister on this one, she did promise gender pay legislation and it is happening. The devil will be in the detail and how companies will try and present a rosier picture than is actually the case.

1st October:  Las Vegas shooting

The Las Vegas music festival shooting was the deadliest mass shooting perpetrated by a lone gunman in US history. There had been two tragedies in the UK earlier in the year with the Manchester bombings in May and the London Bridge attack in June. Yet while we were quick to rightly condemn terrorism by people pupporting to be Muslim, Trump et al moved purposely slowly in responding to the US white terrorist, and not even using that name. This is cognitive dissonance in action, also known as double standards.

5th October: #MeToo

Two smart, courageous female journalists published an article in the New York Times accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. This set off a wave of revelations about male power and privilege.  Here was a progressive Democrat who had been accused by multiple women of being a misogynist abuser of power. As more and more women came forward to out not only Weinstein’s behaviour but also that of other powerful men, the #MeToo campaign went viral. In an era of discussing gender pay it seemed we were back to the most basic of rights: women’s safety.

1st November: Michael Fallon resigns after 'inappropriate behaviour'

In an interview with Laura Kuenssberg, former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said: 'What might have been acceptable 15, 10 years ago is clearly not acceptable now.' That statement clearly demonstrates the lack of understanding amongst many men that it’s never acceptable to sexually harass people, it’s just that 10 years ago you had more chance of getting away with it, and today you got caught.

But don’t despair: 2017 also saw gay marriage in Germany and Australia, millions of women (and men) joining the Women’s March in Washington, DC, and the UK General Election resulted in officially the UK’s most diverse parliament ever.

Over two million Brits have petitioned the UK government to ban Trump’s visit to the UK next year. Apparently, he’s coming. Buckle up, it’s going to be quite a year again.

Stephen Frost is the founder of Frost Included, a consultancy that works with HR professionals to help them embed inclusion in their decision making. For more information go to www.frostincluded.com

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