It was good to see Kemi Badenoch namechecking our organisation in the Sunday Times yesterday. The fact that we’ve supported more than 2,000 members who’ve lost their jobs or been disciplined at work for lawful free speech was cited by the Cabinet Minister as proof that a continuing obsession with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies is contributing to a “Kafkaesque madness” in which people’s livelihoods are being threatened for exercising their right to lawful free speech.
As Kemi points out, the root of the problem is the way the Equality Act 2010 has essentially been weaponised, transmogrifying into a sword rather than the shield originally intended by Parliament. Although there are no protected groups in the legislation, only protected characteristics, activist employees are all too often allowed to proceed as if there were, which enables them to pressure companies into implementing affirmative DEI schemes that often fall foul of the law, while at the same time working in cahoots with HR departments to silence any employees who speak up against these deeply divisive policies.
In her article, Kemi limits herself to discussing companies, but upstream of companies are the many regulatory bodies that uphold professional standards in the workplace – and one of the UK’s biggest such organisations is now on the cusp of implementing a revised Code of Practice that will almost certainly end up playing into the hands of activist employees.
Back in April, the FSU responded to the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries’ (IFoA) consultation on amending the Actuaries’ Code (AC) to include DEI requirements. Since then, we’ve been helping many members of the FSU who are also members of the IFoA to submit their own responses.
The AC is the profession’s ethical code of conduct and one of the foundational documents governing the behaviour of members of the IFoA, so any changes will have considerable ramifications – not least because the IFoA has 32,000 members, including 15,000 student members and 46 partner universities.
It’s clearly important for professionals to be held to high standards of behaviour, and as with many other, similar rules, the Code applies to members across a broad range of circumstances – wherever conduct could reasonably be considered to reflect upon the profession. So, for example, social media posts or political activity in members’ personal lives are covered by the Code.
That said, the proposed new guidelines in the IFoA’s consultation show worrying signs of mission creep.
I’m particularly concerned by principle 1.2: “Members should encourage diversity, equity and inclusion.”
What does the IFoA mean by ‘equity’? This isn’t equality of opportunity, but equality of outcome, and can all too easily be understood to require significant adjustments to create a level playing field, discriminating against certain groups of people in favour of another, usually to right some perceived historical wrong. Or, as the critical race theorist Ibram X Kendi explains: “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination.”
It’s in this context that King’s College London’s otherwise baffling recent decision to exclude white people from certain classes, can be seen as an everyday example of equity-in-action.
There is of course the whiff of US-style ‘positive discrimination’ about this understanding of equity – something that, as Kemi points out, is illegal in the UK.
But is this what the IFoA actually means by ‘equity’? Throughout the consultation period, the regulatory body seemed unclear on the substantial difference between equality and equity, providing a definition of ‘equity’ that implies equality of outcome, but then offering up practical examples that seem to be examples of equality of opportunity.
This month, however, the IFoA’s Summary of Consultation Responses relating to the new AC’s proposed DEI requirements was published – and, worryingly, it looks as if the body has now shifted firmly towards a hard-edged, equality of outcome standpoint when it comes to ‘equity’.
Not only does principle 1.2 remain intact – but, in addition, principle 1.1, which, going into the consultation read as follow: “Members must show respect for everyone and treat others fairly,” has now been changed. “[B]ased on feedback”, it becomes: “Members must show respect for everyone.” The phrase “treat others fairly” has gone.
According to the IFoA, the “feedback” it received “commented that the requirement to act ‘fairly’ conflicted with the obligation to encourage equity, because it was their view that equity (i.e., potentially treating others differently to address an underlying inequity) is ‘inherently unfair’”. Ibrahim X Kendi couldn’t have put it better himself.
And what of the proposal for Members to be required to “encourage” equity? What might that look like in practice? On what basis will Members be considered to be doing enough to actively encourage equity? And will this ambiguity create the scope for unjustified allegations of misconduct?
According to the consultation document, the Board will now publish guidance to support Members in understanding how they might personally fulfil this requirement. We await publication of that document with interest.
Guidance or no guidance, the danger is that the revised AC will be weaponised by activist employees, with the ‘equity’ clause used as a way of pointing the finger and hounding out individuals from the IFoA (or putting them through unnecessary and expensive disciplinary processes) for not doing enough to secure equality of outcome between different identity groups.