Sunday 1 October 2023

Problems with the EDI Agenda

The CIPD is the leading professional body for those who work in Personnel/Human Resources/People Development (or whatever we are calling it this week). It publishes best practice guidance, as one might expect.

I have been reading its recently published (September) guide: Transgender and non-binary inclusion at work (Fletcher, L., & Marvell, R. (2023) Transgender and Non-Binary Inclusion at Work Guide. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Doi: 10.15125/ BATHRO-271384630).

I was initially struck by the claim that it was evidence-based, followed quickly by the claim that sex is 'assigned at birth.' I may not be a biologist, but I am a father and a grandfather, and I know that the sex of all my children and grandchildren was observed well before they were born, and was not assigned at all. 

I admit to a degree of pedantry when it comes to language, but that is (at least in part) because I think that conveying meaning clearly and accurately is important. It struck me that the choice of language here was driven by political considerations, rather than truth. (If there is an evidence base for the assertion that sex is assigned at birth, please let me know!)

Akua Reindorf
Reading on, it struck me that the document was profoundly problematic. On the one hand, it takes a very partisan approach throughout: taking the Stonewall (and allies) perspective as the gold standard, when as Akua Reindorf's review of events at Essex University highlighted, that is an unsafe approach.

But more problematic still is the problem of Equality that is unaddressed (and indeed subverted) by this text.

The Guide says that one of the day-to-day actions managers could (and implicitly should) take is to encourage: authenticity – empowering transgender and non-binary workers to express their authentic self in the workplace, and showing outward acceptance when they do.

It also says: The Equality Act (2010) may also protect gender-critical views, as holding these views is not in itself unlawful discrimination. A number of recent cases (See Appendix A: List of employment tribunal and employment appeal tribunal cases) have collectively reasoned that gender-critical beliefs can meet the criteria to be a protected belief. For example, in Forstater v CDG Europe, Forstater’s belief was that sex correlates to reproductive biology and that it is impossible to change sex. A person cannot be treated less favourably at work due to holding these views, and holding these views does not amount to unacceptable behaviour. However, this does not give anyone the right to manifest any beliefs in a discriminatory way at work, and the manner of expression of these beliefs could amount to unlawful discrimination depending on the circumstances.

It seems clear to me that the treatment of those with gender-critical views is not in any sense equal to the treatment of trans and non-binary people. One group is to be accepted and celebrated, the other to be (at best) tolerated. 

In terms of equality, the document should (I would argue) also say (or at least allow for):  authenticity – empowering gender-critical workers to express their authentic self in the workplace, and showing outward acceptance when they do. Yet immediately, we see that it could not possibly do so.

Likewise, one might consider other workers with protected characteristics: say those with religious beliefs that conflict with the beliefs of those who identify as transgender or non-binary. Again, one would expect:  authenticity – empowering workers with religious beliefs to express their authentic self in the workplace, and showing outward acceptance when they do. Againwe see that the guide could not possibly say such a thing.

My point is: it doesn't work. This simplistic approach, which lacks any reciprocity, doesn't work.  What it does is prioritise one group of people over others: equality is out of the window, as is inclusion (imagine how you would feel if you were gender-critical, or a devout believer of a faith that doesn't accept the trans world view...), and thus diversity.  

We need to think - and talk - with much more sophistication and nuance about these difficult topics; but there is little appetite for doing so.  We deserve better from the CIPD; and Universities (my primary sphere of work) need to engage much more intelligently and courageously with the difficulties here. 

Indeed, one of the reasons I wrote this blog post is because I know many academics who self-censor: they don't say (or in some cases teach) what they believe to be true because they fear that the repercussions from those who preach inclusivity will be so terrible. And when I realised that I too was feeling some fear about broaching the subject, I knew that I had to do so.

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