Magazine article The Spectator

D Is for Diversity - and Delusion

Magazine article The Spectator

D Is for Diversity - and Delusion

Article excerpt

Job advertisements can be misleading. When I was just out of university in 2001, I sent my details to the Department for Education, lured by the promise of an exciting temporary opportunity in a dynamic and innovative area of education policy. I wanted to work in the public sector and the government website, with its photos of beaming, larger than life jobseekers, had been my first port of call. One year down the line I had Icamt to take words like dynamic and innovative with a pinch of salt. In fact, I had been busy only about 50 per cent of the time. Some of my colleagues seemed to have a lot to do, though I can't help hut suspect most of them were simply trying to nab a bargain on eBay, or beat their best score on Minesweeper. Our lack of very much to do was balanced by the ability to make work for other people. Often it was the staff of the hapless hut hopeless exam boards. Occasionally we got to bully a local education authority.

A year later the novelty of being paid to do not very much had worn off. I decided not to apply for a permanent position. After a couple of months in the wilderness, I found myself with another government job, this time at the Foreign Office. The diplomatic service had never seriously appealed to me; I get nervous going on holiday, let alone actually living in far-flung and occasionally dangerous parts of the world. Still, I had an interesting six months there, which I took as an opportunity to examine a bizarre world I knew I was never going to be a part of - a world of consular emergencies and confidential telegrams.

The contract ended and I was once more left looking for some means of supporting myself. Like a dysfunctional romantic, always making the same mistakes in love, I kept applying for public sector office jobs. I had one final fling before I broke out of the pattern - a short spell at the Cabinet Office, where everybody had the air of being extremely important, high-flyers at the beginning of their trajectories. Before three months had passed I left, unable to stick the daily diet of punching holes in pieces of paper and surfing the Internet. My Civil Service odysscy had come to an end.

All in all, the experience had left a bitter taste in my mouth. It was with some satisfaction, then, that I first heard of Mr Brown's plans to cut a swath through Whitehall, starting with the department whose mantra, 'creating opportunity, releasing potential, achieving excellence' still sets my teeth on edge, as much for its 'innovative' grammar as for as its facile sentiment.

What I noticed most at the Cabinet Office and the Department for Education, though less so at the Foreign Office, was that my job was unnecessary. It was there to lend a kind of structural symmetry to the organisation. Every team had to have a certain number of administrators, whether they needed them or not. My boss would often send attachments over to me by email so I could print them off, or leave papers in his out-tray marked with a cross so I knew they needed to be thrown away. Why he couldn't do this himself was a mystery to me. There were other areas of waste, believe me there were, hut I'll focus on the one that stuck out, for three reasons. Firstly, it happened in all three departments. Secondly, it's a growth industry. Thirdly, given the climate of moral certainty encouraged by New Labour ministers, it is immune to criticism. Welcome to planet diversity.

The D-word is acutely fashionable. And like many words made popular by management consultants, it embodies not a precise concept, let alone something concrete, but a feeling. It seduces by its very vagueness. Because no one really knows what it means, it has acquired a certain mystique, and now everybody's using it. You can barely move for diversity action plans and diversity monitoring grids in modern public organisations. It's a good example of a modern-day shibboleth, a code used among members of the same clan, a word used to identify loyalty to, in this case, a project to spread niceness to the four corners of the kingdom. …

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