The View

Choose inclusivity in business, not diversity

A focus on diversity alone can be damaging and divisive. Let’s instead seek inclusivity, an acceptance of all by each other, writes Richard Harris

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 December, 2017, 10:13am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 December, 2017, 3:40pm

“I have a dream that my children will one day live where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King.

I remember when my parents were arrested. I was about six and we were frolicking in a playground on our first day in South Africa. As we were dragged off the swings, I recall my mother in the background saying, “but nobody told us!” We had strayed into a “blacks-only” playground. A bush conveniently obscured the sign.

I have experienced both sides of discrimination in a varied global business career; the unlevel playing field of positive prejudice, and the bitter taste of racism – working without prospect of promotion or bonus. I had two choices: accept it or move.

Diversity is a welcome part of the rich tapestry of human existence and an important part of the talent mix within any organisation. Diversity especially springs from the rainbow colourfulness of Hong Kong. But emphasising diversity alone is damaging, divisive, and detrimental. Anti-discrimination laws have made it easier to right a wrong, but have also been misused, spitefully and frivolously. We should not seek diversity in business – but rather seek inclusivity, an acceptance of all by each other.

It is right that our leaders should not be limited to the male, pale and stale. It is right that women, gay people, the disabled, different races and religions and the elderly have a place, if merited, at the very top of our organisations. Many battles for inclusivity have already been won but there is still a lot of discrimination out there – especially in areas where the victims are too weak to fight.

The fact that Hong Kong won the Gay Games 2022 against tough opposition should be celebrated – yet this celebration of diversity became divisive. It may come as a shock to some but, nice as winning the Games is, it is not an Earth-shattering event. Yet members of the government from Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor downwards were castigated for not instantly lauding an event some four years away that by definition excludes most of Hong Kong’s people. In the criticism, it was wildly suggested that they were letting their personal Christian faith stand in the way.

I emphasise with the unnecessary torment that committed gay people have endured over the years. I count at least eight same-sex couples as my friends, all of whom I like very much. Nearly half of those couples are dedicated Christian believers. Yet this was a cheap and ignorant accusation and unworthy of the intelligent articulation that gay rights supporters usually bring to the debate.

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I have decided to come out. Yes, I am a Christian. I know that the mere admission of my faith orientation will have some readers calling me an arrogant bigot (but I love recounting messages from online trolls at parties). That reaction is no less offensive than those who say that because you are gay or a priest you are a danger to vulnerable people. Any group contains a tiny fraction of dysfunctional extremists who do not represent the whole. Diverse opponents must respect lifestyle choices without resorting to name-calling.

The battles against discrimination that began with the great 1960s civil rights movement in the US have enjoyed much success – in most Western-orientated societies. Our woman Chief Executive and Ireland’s gay prime minister confirm the fragility of today’s glass ceiling. Naturally, there will be skirmishes to maintain the balance but it is time for aggressive battles for social justice in other areas too.

We should be fighting just as hard for those vulnerable members of society where obvious discrimination still takes place; such as the disabled, the elderly, the abandoned, tortured refugees, those of different race, even prisoners. This is not just in employment but also with issues like accessibility for the disabled, acceptance of other races, and a chance for criminals willing to repent.

The Christmas message of “peace on earth, goodwill to all men” reminds us we are all human, and each have loves, fears, jealousies, hopes, and ambitions. But for the grace of God go each one of us.

We should drop the myth that diversity is good for business and accept inclusivity. This Christmas, judge the person next to you on their own merits and the content of their character.

Richard Harris is a veteran investment manager, banker, writer and broadcaster – and financial expert witness