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Let’s keep identity politics out of our quest for diversity

Diversity is the overarching theme of this year’s IMEX trade show in Frankfurt – with sessions examining cultural differences and their impact on destination management; how to work with clients from different parts of the world; and the challenges facing women in the international meetings industry.

Hard to argue with that.

And yet my soul rebels a little every time I hear that much-abused word ‘diversity’. All too often, it’s a cover for the kind of tedious identity politics – pitting one section of society against another – that has come to dominate so much of our public discourse.

Today a culture of victimhood prevails where all that seems to matter are the feelings of people who claim to have been offended in some way. The alleged victim stands on a pedestal, unimpeachable.

Demands for diversity have fuelled a hierarchy of grievance, where those deemed to have suffered the most win. In this skewed world view, the majority is always tyrannical. The minority always oppressed.

It has led to some very alarming developments, where people are using their identity status – based on their gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or disability for example – to claim a kind of intellectual and moral impunity. Anyone who dares to disagree with them is called a bigot or no-platformed.

It has also seen a culture of trial by media, where those accused of causing offence are not allowed to defend themselves through the normal channels. Because they have been accused of something they must be guilty. We must believe the victim, especially if they claim ‘oppressed’ status.

Of course there are certain cases where evidence of wrong doing is so overwhelming and the chances of prosecution so slim that the media is acting in the public interest to dish the dirt. It is also true that the bar of criminality is often set too high. A sleazebag who bullies women at work might not have broken the law, but if they occupy a prominent space in public life, deserve to be exposed.

The meetings industry is right to push for, and celebrate, diversity. There is a strong moral and business case for organisations to represent all their members and clients at board level, for example. But the industry should push this agenda in a positive way, mindful that everyone is entitled to their opinion, and mindful, too, that those who shout the loudest are not necessarily right. Meetings should be places where people feel comfortable airing views that don’t rigidly conform to bien pensant thinking, where ideas can be aired for the sake of it and challenged without fear of prejudice or recrimination.

Thankfully, Carina Bauer, CEO of the IMEX Group, appears to have struck the right note.

“Organisations which embrace diversity will see positive repercussions throughout their business – from staff motivation and engagement, heightened innovation and a boosted bottom line,” she says. “Diversity means diversity of people, minds, ideas, and approaches and it’s something we value at IMEX and recognise as crucial to the future success of the events industry.”