At a recent event, a fellow guest (a so-called senior figure in our industry, god help us) asked me what I thought about novelist Lionel Shriver and her tirade about Penguin Random House’s pledge to publish books by more diverse authors. Before I was able to respond, he declared that she was completely right and in his humble opinion (yes he did actually utter those words) the problem with the drive for diversity was that “women and other minority groups” would always feel they had been appointed to make up the numbers rather than on merit.
I smiled, pointed out that women make up 51% of the population and told him I disagreed. “But surely you don’t want to be a quota?” he asked, looking puzzled. I was about to explain my position when we were called to take our seats. Deprived of my opportunity to elucidate in person, I decided I would set out my thoughts on quotas and positive discrimination.
I have to admit I have changed my position on this. When I started my career I naively thought that to get on all I had to do was work hard, be excellent, deliver more than what was expected of me and be better than my male colleagues (I said I was naïve, not stupid). I would have been mortified if I thought I had been appointed because of my gender or ethnic background.
But in spite of my hard work, I found that progression wasn’t guaranteed. Male colleagues would get opportunities…