Technically diversity is simply a state of being different. Such a state exists in all human beings; our DNA is unique for everyone (virtually) so when I was required to fill up a questionnaire about diversity (it was a mandatory requirement) I found it hard to understand what diversity meant. I asked the inquiring authority, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, who referred me to various regulations that require them to “encourage an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession” but no one explained what diversity meant. I am obliged to have a diversity policy and an equality policy that is suitable for the size of my law firm, but that requires someone to define diversity beyond the technical definition with which I started this essay.
When you delve deeply into the rules that apply to solicitors and diversity you find the word linked with equality but diversity and equality are almost opposite concepts, unless we adopt the rubric that all animals are equal but some are more equal than others. The rules on the face of it are perfectly fair:-
“encouraging equality of opportunity and respect for diversity, and preventing unlawful discrimination, in your relationship with your clients and others. The requirements apply in relation to age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.”
In other words respecting differences and not unlawfully discriminating. So the problem is the use of “diversity” as a catch phrase, which then seems to import other meanings and send people in the wrong direction. The Solicitors’ Regulation Authority have been sending questionnaires which seek information about gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity, the answers to which some may think to be none of the SRA’s business. I think even the SRA understand that some may not want to supply the answers because there is a “prefer not to say” option.
At the root of this regulation is a suspicion that lawyers cannot be trusted to behave decently. Of course there are always some people who cannot behave decently – some lawyers, some judges and even some regulators, but I very much doubt if regulations written policies and questionnaires are the way to ensure that people behave decently.
I entered the law at a time when there was among many of the public at large a prejudice against people with odd names. It was not always easy. However, I generally found lawyers of all sorts extremely fair in their treatment of me, and as far as I have been able to tell I think that lawyers tend to be fair folk. I am not sure what purpose these regulations about “diversity” serve. It is an ill defined concept which, like the concept of “inclusion”, gives an impression of motherhood and apple pie, but which by virtue of it being so badly defined, can lead to tyranny by regulators and officialdom.
Modern liberal laws about homosexuality and racial discrimination have been on the statue books for almost half a century. When they were brought in they were needed but now the spirit of the times has changed. In Britain the vast majority of the population with their inbred tolerance now generally regard our black people and our gay people fondly. They are ours and they belong to us and we belong to them. We do not need a regulator to police our relations with them; there are more important things for a regulator to police.