It was reported recently that Channel 4 has set itself 'diversity targets' which includes the target that at least 6% of its staff must be LGBT. While diversity is absolutely important in every walk of life, I believe very strongly that such targets move us backwards, rather than forwards, toward our goal of equality for all. But please, allow me to explain.
At the age of 23 I came out to my parents. It was one of the toughest decisions of my life, but it's a decision I'm glad I made. I often reflect on the times when I was 'in the closet'. I remember the anxiety, the awkwardness I felt in hiding my sexuality from others, but I look back on those times completely baffled now about why I felt it to be such a big deal. Because, quite simply, it isn't. When asking myself the question of why I thought it was such a big deal, I can only come to one conclusion, it's because society makes it a big deal.
Every day of our lives we face social pressures from various sources. Our friends, our family, our co-workers, the random person on the street, they all expect us to act in a certain way. If you buck that trend and act against the 'norm' then you're considered an oddball, or a freak. This, in a lot of ways, is still the way gay people are seen by the majority. Even in a country that now grants LGBT people equal legal status in pretty much every area of life, we are still, to an extent, expected to be a certain way or to comply with the 'norm'.
Granted, many who argue in favour of such targets no doubt have good intentions. Banning discrimination in the workplace was a positive step forward. It is a despicable thing to think that someone can be refused a job or access to a service simply because of trivial matters like their skin colour or their actual or perceived sexual orientation. But then, aren't these types of targets just another form of discrimination? Aren't you, by implication, discriminating against someone who may not fit into a certain category, by choosing someone who does?
Let's consider a scenario. You're interviewing two candidates for one job. The company sets out diversity targets, and they're desperately trying to fill the quota for gay disabled staff members (I'd be a shoe in for this job). Here are your two candidates:
Candidate 1) Is a white, heterosexual, atheist, able-bodied male with extensive experience in the field you're employing for. Knows the job inside and out. Has a reputation for being a solid and committed worker. Has a likable personality, would get on well with the staff and is known for being both sociable and professional. The company already has a lot of white, heterosexual, atheist, able-bodied males working in the office.
Candidate 2) Is a white, homosexual, Christian, disabled male with absolutely no work experience whatsoever. Does not know the type of work he is applying for, has a reputation for being lazy and abrasive toward others. Is known as being anti-social, swears a lot and very unprofessional. He is also known for having terrible personal hygiene.
Logic would dictate that Candidate 1 would be perfect for the job based on his experience in the area and reputation for professionalism. That is, of course, how most companies still operate. But as we become more obsessed with the idea of 'diversity targets' or 'quotas', then Candidate 2 may be a more common feature in your workplace, and while that is great for Candidate 2, it's not so great for the company and other staff members who would have to work with him.
Most jobs still employ people based on talent. They look for people with skills and experience in a particular area, yet this is gradually changing. Last year I was looking to leave my job where I'd been for close to 10 years and absolutely despised. I engaged in frantic job-hunting exercises just looking for somewhere that was looking for people and would be willing to give them a chance with little experience in the particular field.
During my search, I would read descriptions of jobs which would have an end note stating things such as "All disabled applicants are guaranteed an interview" or "Preference given to members of the Asian community". These weren't jobs coaching the local wheelchair basketball team or whatever positive stereotypes may be applied to the Asian community (I don't want to offend Twitter). These were just normal, run of the mill, jobs. Offices, call-centres, law firms etc which were given preference to 'minority groups'. This annoyed me because I don't want to get a new job being the token gay, or the token disabled, I want the job because they legitimately think I will be a good fit at the company and will be able to do the work.
You want a truly diverse workforce, you don't have people brought in because they fit a label, you bring them in because they're talented. It's a matter of pride and self-worth to refuse a job if you know you're only being offered it because you fit into a particular category. Diversity is an issue in our society that absolutely must be tackled, but the go-to excuse for a lot of people when asking the question of why group X, Y or Z isn't properly represented in a particular company or a particular form of employment is 'discrimination' which simply isn't the case.
If we're going to argue about women not being properly represented in the board room, then why aren't we making the same arguments about women not being properly represented down the coal mines or on the oil rigs? If we're going to argue that the disabled don't get a fair deal when it comes to employment, don't automatically assume it's due to discrimination, there are a lot more factors than just employers being discriminatory.
In a nutshell, if you accept a job you know you're only being offered because of your 'special characteristic', then more the power to you, but don't expect people to take you seriously in the profession when everyone knows you wouldn't be anywhere near that job if you didn't have that characteristic.