IT WAS our vicar on Sunday who suggested the leadership of the Church of England is misguided in insisting that its clergy ought to reflect ‘the society it serves’. This is a line that’s long been agreed upon by pretty much all corporations, government bodies and institutions. It’s one of those shibboleths that even the most sceptical can get behind, we nod along sagely agreeing that boardrooms, MPs, the police, now the clergy and so on must reflect society. Who could possibly disagree with a such a banal and obvious sentiment? But as our vicar pointed out, this is a false aspiration. The clergy need not attempt to reflect society but instead ought to aspire to reflect something higher, something better: God.
Because let’s play along with this idea. What exactly is this society we are attempting to reflect? It’s lazily interpreted to mean 50/50 men and women with a vague colour coding system attached. Sometimes sexuality and neurodiversity are added into the mix. But what about all the other differences found in society? What about the fat? Ought 63 per cent of MPs be obese to reflect society? How about the short? What about the out of work – now numbering over five million? The prison population – surely they must be reflected too? Illegal immigrants, a growing percentage of the population – why are they excluded? The elderly? Children? Vegans? People who rent? The tattooed? We’re told by Mind that one in four of us will experience mental health issues – are CEOs doing all they can to ensure that a quarter of their board are so afflicted? Perhaps the Metropolitan Police were honestly trying to reflect the 16.4 per cent of society who have very poor literacy skills when they began to recruit people unable to speak or write English.
The other glaring fallacy with this business is the selection of jobs that it is insisted ought to ‘reflect society’. There is never a campaign to encourage more women into the skilled trade of motorway maintenance. Let’s get 50/50 men and women up in the dark hours slinging traffic cones alongside speeding traffic before drilling until dawn. Our septic tank has never once been emptied by a woman. Nor is there a national push to entice desperately needed men to teach in primary schools, or working in care or HR; just cosy boardrooms or the green benches of the House of Commons.
And this endeavour is not without its costs. Companies beguiled into attempting to ‘reflect society’ are in danger of taking their eye off the ball when it comes to competence and integrity. Just ask the Conservative Party. It’s unlikely Nadhim Zahawi MP will be wheeled out again as an example of how the party is admirably reflective of modern British society.
So let’s forget the whole business of companies and institutions ‘reflecting society’ – society is too rich and amorphous to be pinned down. Our differences, qualities, experience, and backgrounds are so varied that we might as well be judged as individuals beset with our own unique skills and flaws.
Instead, let companies, MPs and institutions be like our village vicar and aim to reflect something higher than ourselves. Let’s have companies and institutions and governments that aim to reflect truth, virtue, excellence and honesty.