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time for CSR Hobbits to get real on diversity

April 2004

Tick-box political correctness is in danger of undermining CSR, argues Peter Knight

There are five of us in the office, two men and three women – all pinkish-grey in colour, depending on the season. We recently hired two more people. The strongest candidates were women, again pinkish. This means we will fail to reach our diversity target.

I can hear that scary sucking noise as the researchers at Pensions and Investment Research Consultants and all the other self-appointed judges of good CSR practice draw in their politically correct breath.

CSR pundits say we should reflect the diversity of the society around us. We will fail as a business unless we do. We are, of course, not alone in our shame.

One of our clients employs thousands of engineers. These are clever people who all think in a very methodical way. The sort of chaps who collect War Hammer models, watch Lord of the Rings repeatedly, and can be seen on dark wet days lurking at airports and train stations, scribbling on Palms.

Most of these people in the UK are pinkish-grey men. That’s the reality. An engineering company has very little choice but to recruit pink men from this, its only serious labour pool.

CSR judges, such as Pirc, tut-tut and mark down these mono-crop companies when they rank them in The Times. They do the same if businesses can’t demonstrate that they engage with their stakeholders.

It’s the same daft PC logic at work. The judges want companies to provide matrices showing whom they spoke to (broken down by type), when they did this (dates and times please) and how much they factored in stakeholder ideas in their business strategy.

Late last year, Pirc marked down a well-known consumer company (a client) because it did not publish enough evidence of its stakeholder engagement. The good people at Pirc seemed to be blissfully unaware that the company has prospered for over 100 years mainly because it has been fully engaged with its prime stakeholder, the consumer.

To criticize such a company for failing to listen to the stakeholders demonstrates the Tolkien-like world in which so many CSR Hobbits exist.

It’s this naivety that leads them to expect companies – no matter what their sector – to set and achieve diversity targets that reflect the social mix around them, not the labour pool reality. It’s just silly.

This pathetic emphasis on political correctness undermines the integrity of the CSR community. If the Hobbits fail to grasp reality, business will call their bluff and all the progress that has been made over the past few years will be lost. C’mon Hobbits, get real.

Peter Knight is a director of Context,
a strategy and communications consultancy www.econtext.co.uk




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