Photo by Paul Ellis

Stonewall rules in unlikely places

Even people in hard hats must check their thinking now

Artillery Row

Who even knew we had a Coal Authority? It’s one of hundreds of Government Quangos most people have never heard of, mainly now tasked with keeping children from falling down overgrown mine shafts and preserving our “industrial heritage”.

It’s the sort of worthy but dull body that keeps alive the spirit of the 1970s: stolid men with hard hats and clipboards guarding the cadaver of a nationalised industry. But even people in hard hats must check their thinking now — yes, the Coal Authority is a member of the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme.

Thanks to a freedom of information request, we can read the correspondence between the Coal Authority and Stonewall. It sheds light, not just on the extremism of Stonewall, but also on the day-to-day life of the UK’s ever-growing army of “Equality, Diversity and Inclusion” workers.

Where once miners delved and train cars laden with coal rumbled away, workers are now engaged in emotional labour. The dirty work of extracting fossil fuels has given way to the cleaner business of the diversity industry. But look beneath the surface and it turns out that the knowledge economy is also a lightless labyrinth, with no less risk of sudden danger.

You’re like Winston at work at the Ministry of Truth

Remember the old saying about what it’s like to be an airline pilot? 95 per cent boredom followed by 5 per cent terror. That’s my idea of life as an EDI “Stonewall interface”. Read the material from Stonewall below — utterly bonkers, but as an EDI professional you can’t say that out loud. You’re like Winston at work in the Records section of the Ministry of Truth in 1984 — looking over your shoulder to see if anyone has noticed your eyes boggling at what you just read.

Let’s deal with the boredom first. There are pages of correspondence between the Stonewall Programmes Manager (Pronouns: please just use my name) and the Coal Authority EDI Lead (Pronouns: she / her / hers).

Stonewall has noticed that the Coal Authority hasn’t signed up for the “Workplace Support Series Criteria Consultancy Session” — is this an oversight?

There are new “Workplace Equality Index criteria”. The Coal Authority might want to go back around the loop to check it’s still compliant with the Index. But don’t worry: “The Criteria Consultancy is a two‐hour, in‐depth session focusing on up to three index areas of your choice. You will provide details of your progress so far and a member of the Stonewall team will support you to understand how this work can be improved in line with the new criteria.”

You can’t just ping back a quick email to sign up for this two-hour in-depth session; you need to “express an interest”. But that isn’t straight-forward: “If you need any help, please watch this video.” Spend morning trying to sign up.

When your work is this tedious you need to be chased

When your work is this tedious, you need to be chased. From Stonewall: “I checked in with operations team and we never received a request to take part in the WEI CCS.”

The Coal Authority is slow to pay its invoice, and that results in to and fro. “Cost is unchanged, £2500 ex vat for the year.” There are problems with logins. “’Retracted’ has now left the Coal Authority, therefore we require a new main user logon.” A day in the life of EDI.

The boredom of new user logins and missing invoices does not prepare you for the mania and confusion of the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, which hundreds of large corporations and government departments sign up to participate in. There are thirty pages of requirements against which Stonewall will judge your compliance. Here are some examples of what EDI staff across the country are being advised to implement across their workplaces:

The Coal Authority should not use gendered language. “Policies should avoid gendered language and pronouns, for example, by using the term ‘partner’ instead of ‘husband’ or ‘wife’.”

Good-bye to women’s right to single sex spaces. “Guidance must make clear that all trans employees can use the facilities (e.g. toilets, changing rooms) they feel most comfortable using.”

Non-binary identities need recognition and protection. People should be offered the chance to share pronouns at the start of meetings.

The Coal Authority might want to un-sex us all now

The Coal Authority might want to un-sex us all now: “You could consider removing gender markers and titles from your systems altogether.”

Staff should be allowed to carry passes identifying them as different genders on different days: “You should include at least one example specific to gender fluid people, for example the ability to have multiple passcards with different forms of gender expression.”

The Coal Authority should mark specific days in the LGBT+ Calendar: “LGBT History Month, Pride and / or IDAHOBIT (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia)”.

The Coal Authority should have a formal programme to engage all non-LGBT+ employees to become allies. Also a separate bi- allies scheme, requiring “training, programmes and / or resources”. Hang on — “cis” people also need to become “trans allies”, so that’s more “training, programmes and / or resources”.

Spare a thought for the Equalities teams across the country who are living this. I wonder what the Coal Authority employees securing the safety of old mines think — the solidarity of men beneath the ground seems a distant and outdated memory.

The truth is that not a single organisation anywhere, private or public, can possibly go along with it all. Stonewall’s incentives are clear. It pays to dream up ever more ridiculous minutiae for gullible corporations and nervous staff to trip up over. Why stop?

The culprits are the senior management who say nothing

The internal response from the hundreds of corporations and government departments who are Stonewall Diversity Champions must be complex and nerve-wracking. No-one buys into it all. But no-one can say so. Cue the smoke and mirrors: a great deal of caution, people nervously trying to read the room. “Oh, this bit is ridiculous. No, I didn’t mean that!” Free speech, open debate, collegiate and intellectual honesty all pay the price. The terror? Bob in IT has accused Cath of transphobia. She said something in the bi-ally training. Now she’s scared. Her manager has asked her to attend a meeting. EDI will conduct an investigation. She’s gone off sick.

Perhaps Cath should be thought of as the canary in the coal mine, warning of trouble, advising us to turn around. The culprits are the senior management who ignore the warning and say nothing. Who sign off the invoices, but leave their pronouns badge permanently in the drawer and ask their support staff to click through the bi-ally training for them. Who then wonder at the ballooning budget of HR and EDI, remember the good old days of robust debate and collegiality, but let it all carry on. Feel guilty to hear that Cath has gone off sick; annoyed to hear she’s mounting a legal challenge; peeved to have to sign off a budget; terrified to learn that it will get into the press. That will be a call from Head Office…

This is my challenge to senior figures in large corporations: only you can make it stop. Stonewall won’t. Is this really how we want to live? Is this the future we want? Call out this nonsense! Courage calls to courage — workers of the world, unite!

This goes for you, too, Coal Authority. Put on your hard hats, rally to the picket lines, and take a stand like it’s 1984.

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