I learnt the value of diversity in one of the last places an Asian boy from the East End would expect
Farage and his ilk are completely blind to how important having a mixed workplace is, and how much our economy depends on it. I said as much in my recent article in the Independent, which you can read below, or here
Nigel Farage thinks that anti-discrimination laws are no longer necessary. He believes that employers should be allowed to prejudice employment based on nationality. Farage calls himself and his party colour blind to race.
He’s half right. He is blind to the current state of Britain and the true value of diverse workplaces. Anti-discrimination laws have cultivated creative, innovative diverse workplaces. They continue to protect us in light of more young ethnic minority people unable to get jobs. The laws are good for business, and good for Britain.
Farage’s has made his comments in the same week that ONS figures reveal that since 2010 the number of ethnic minority people aged between 18-24 in long term unemployment has risen by 49 per cent. Last year alone, there were over 3000 cases of racial discrimination lodged under the laws Mr Farage wants to repeal.
In the wider context of society, reports of anti-Semitism andIslamophobia are on the rise. I appreciate that pesky facts and statistical truths won’t get in the way of our man Farage telling it like it is to the British public. But the bigger point is about how limiting prejudice instills diversity, which is good for innovation and commerce.
More than just prohibiting what was wrong and unfair, the Race Relations Act and its descendant legislation pushed for a norm in the workplace. That law (as all good laws should) nurtured a normative behavior, where people were judged on their work and not on their skin colour. Consequently, it gave way to the idea that diversity is good for business.
I learnt the value of diversity as a lawyer at Allen & Overy, perhaps one of the last places an Asian boy from London’s East End would expect to find it. In a typical day at one of the largest law firms in the world, I’d have to advise clients in the Middle East about four different sets of laws in three countries.
Despite that breadth and variety of experience needed, I was struck by how many of my bosses all looked, talked and sounded the same. For a law firm that prided itself on being able to advise on law from all around the world, our advisers were eerily similar.
One of the company's senior partners recognised this, and sought to make things a bit more representative of how society actually looks. He focused on selling the idea of diversity to partners as good business, as well as being the right thing to do. The firm worked on two access schemes for school students from poor backgrounds, called Smart Start and PRIME.
If you’ve ever worked on social mobility you’ll know the three key elements to breaking down barriers are personal confidence and self-belief, access to people who have succeed who can be mentors, and experience to know what to do on your first day. Smart Start and PRIME aimed to provide all of this through year long mentoring.
It won't be a surprise to learn that the overwhelming majority of the students on these programs were from ethnic minorities. When I wasn’t tied to my desk, I relished helping out on these programmes. They made me realise what diversity in the work place can really do.
In my experience, ethnic minority students felt more at ease seeing a face of someone who clearly had the same challenges they were facing. They feel they could ask me the questions in hushed tones, the answers to which they wanted (and needed) to know. The classics were: "can you make it here if you aren’t white?", "are they just being nice to us or do they really think we could get a job here?", and "you sure this chicken they say is halal is halal?". The answer was invariably yes to all three.
By working with junior lawyers from diverse backgrounds, I realised people of various backgrounds with second (or third) languages look at solving problems differently. They communicated in different ways to different people. That made us more relevant to more types of clients.
Having the same the type of person look at the same problem will get the same result: that's not innovative or dynamic, it's bad for business.
Anti-discrimination laws are still relevant today because getting a broad mix of people into the work is only the first step. For the true value of diversity to continue and sustain itself, that diversity must be protected while in the workplace.
As someone who belongs to an ethnic minority, I can tell you that wider discrimination is sadly still present in society. And I can also tell you that based on my experience, narrowing the equality gap between different races in the UK is the key to prosperity.
If it was up Farage, we'd be missing out on the huge talent pool provided by our multicultural society. For the sake of , and our economy, we cannot let that happen.