THURSDAY’S ‘debaters’ on Colin Brazier’s GB News afternoon show clashed over diversity training – is it necessary or is it indoctrination? The debate was prompted by the story of the rail conductor sacked after being caught questioning ‘black privilege’ during video-conference diversity training on ‘white privilege’. It touched a nerve with Colin, who told of his regret for not challenging or questioning at the time – against his better judgment – his last employer’s imposition of diversity dogma. This is what he said:
Are you old enough to remember a time when work involved a fairly simple transaction? You gave up your time and labour in exchange for a company’s cash. Provided you did your job reasonably well, hit targets, met standards, pleased customers, then all was well. There were clear lines of demarcation. The firm was in the business of making money. You were in the business of making a living. But then something happened. Companies started to think it was okay to tell employees not just what they could earn, but what they should think. You may have experienced this shift yourself. Unless you work for yourself, or for a small family business, you will have noticed how modern corporations now insist on a role in the moral formation of their employees, a role once reserved for spiritual or political leaders. One manifestation of this urge to shape the character of staff is the unconscious bias course. Perhaps you’ve attended one. I did, a couple of years ago, and it was pretty much the final nail in the coffin of my 24-year-long association with Sky TV. My employer got off on the wrong foot straight away. You see, language matters, doesn’t it? And when, along with everyone else, I was ‘invited’ to participate in a course that was described as compulsory, my hackles went vertical. An invitation, by definition, can be declined. But how do you refuse a compulsory course, where attendance is mandatory? To my shame, I agreed to that invitation without a bat-squeak of dissent. And worse still, at the end of the online session on Microsoft Teams, when the moderator asked if anyone had any questions I sat on my hands. Which was cowardly and supine. Because I did have a question. I’d found the presenter’s thesis – that as a white man I was guilty of seeing the world oblivious to my own prejudices – utterly unconvincing. It was snake-oil and pseudo-science dressed up as Holy Writ. Any questions? Of course I had. ‘How much are you charging for this twaddle?’ is what I wanted to say. The words formed in my throat, but that’s where they stayed. Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience. Maybe you were tempted to critique an unconscious bias course, but thought better of it, having a mortgage to pay or a promotion in mind. Maybe you just kept your gob shut, and shared your true feelings with an intimate later on. That’s what Simon Isherwood thought he was doing in March last year. The 60-year-old also had just finished an unconscious bias course on Microsoft Teams. He, like me, thought it was meretricious guff and told his wife so. Unfortunately, he did so without turning his computer microphone off. His colleagues seemingly heard everything. As the Daily Telegraph reported today, there were complaints and, after a disciplinary, Simon was out on his ear, even though his 11 years at the company had hitherto been successful. What did he say that was so offensive? Apparently he wasn’t complimentary about the course and dared to wonder whether there was such a thing as black, as well as white privilege. Specifically, and because he has a friend from West Africa, he wondered whether there was such a thing as black privilege . . . in Ghana. If that’s all that was said, it sounds incredibly innocuous. But in the Looking Glass world of unconscious bias, the mere act of questioning its legitimacy is a kind of shop-floor heresy and career suicide. Now, there may be another side to the story. Mr Isherwood has taken his dismissal to an employment tribunal, scheduled to wrap up tomorrow, and his employers aren’t saying anything on the record until the process is completed. But it raises important questions about the nature of the modern workplace. About the willingness of companies – and the HR executives within them – to play a role once reserved for the priesthood. To tell us how we should relate to the world around us; what our original sins look like. These companies have no democratic mandate for the ideologies they foist on employees who feel – rightly – chilled into silence. They have no right to interfere in areas that are a matter for individual conscience. This corporate over-reach has to stop. And the people who should stop it are those we’ve chosen – through elections – to codify our behaviour. It’s time MPs told big businesses they have no right to be our moral guardians.
You can watch the whole of the programme – with TCW‘s Editor Kathy Gyngell as Colin’s ‘press friend’, adding in her two penn’orth through the show – here.