‘Diverse and Worse’ – tough questions at our start-up soap opera
“Now, I’m putting together our new diversity policy, Clara, what do you think?”
Miranda was in a good mood today. She had been to the most spectacular party in Dalston at the weekend and met a rather exciting young man wearing a cavalry jacket, skinny jeans and sporting a beard which would have had him drummed into the Light Brigade to face the Russian guns quicker than you could say “into the mouth of Hell”. They had exchanged cards – his was some kind of new biodegradable plastic, translucent and smelling mysteriously of Bird’s Angel Delight – and although she had not heard from him yet, she was sure she would.
Clara rolled her heavily-mascara’d eyes. She was wearing a surprisingly tasteful Rosetta Stone t-shirt under a beautifully-tailored black jacket Miranda would have cheerfully killed for. “I don’t know why you’re asking me. I come from Guildford, grew up in a six bedroomed house, went to private school and had a pony. Just my luck.”
Miranda considered this. “Could you get Marcus for me?”
“Because he’s black?” said Clara. She imbued the word ‘black’ with so much scorn that Miranda was immediately taken back to the point where she had been ejected from the university Women’s Committee (though they had spelled it ‘Wimmin’) for suggesting a fundraising bake-sale. Never one to miss an opportunity to hammer the stake, Clara followed through. “The only really black thing about Marcus is his real name, which of course he never uses. His parents have more money than God and he went to Westminster Cathedral School. They live on the Bishop’s Avenue, for grief’s sake. Marcus’s idea of diversity is having both Krug and Cristal in the wine-fridge.”
“We’re not doing very well, are we?” said Miranda.
“Do you want my honest?” said Clara.
Miranda nodded. She imagined Martin with the Angel Delight business card saying that through his soup-strainer moustache and realised with a start that Clara was much closer to his age than she was. Martin had ended a lot of sentences with implied nouns too.
“Well,” said Clara. “I’m no employment lawyer, but I’d say that diversity should be about more than just box-ticking; enough women, one black, one Asian, maybe a gay or two. We are a very middle class firm. Upper middle even. You want some real diversity, hire someone from the East End or Estuary. Or even the North. Though not Harrogate, York or Chester. Moss Side, South Shields, Bradford, somewhere like that.”
“You’re right of course.” Miranda felt herself blush hotly. While she had of course written the odd diversity policy and been to a few seminars as a junior, her last few years had been spent drafting compromise agreements for bankers and traders. She felt rusty, slightly ashamed of herself for having drifted away from her contrarian, even rebellious roots.
“Social diversity is a lot more challenging to tackle, of course,” mused Clara. “A lot of the City firms don’t even have a real policy for it.”
“They don’t?” Miranda blushed again. She realised she had not even looked at what the big firms were doing. How could they be a breakaway when they didn’t even know what they were breaking away from? She reflected on something she had said – quite astutely, she had felt at the time, Chardonnay in hand – when they were in the planning stages for SOAP. She had said that while start-ups were very exciting in the planning and in the early stages, when real life started to dawn she was sure it would begin to feel a lot more work-a-day and tough to deal with. She had even mused that many of the start-ups they admired had looked more and more mainstream as they had grown. She had hoped that would not prove prophetic.
“Of course gay is a lot trickier, cos they can hide anywhere,” said Clara, smiling. She rarely smiled, and Miranda found it mildly unsettling. “You could ask Giles.”
“Giles isn’t gay,” said Miranda immediately, then almost as immediately wondered if he was.
“Maybe not, but I’m sure he meets the odd mano-a-mano at his manicurist,” said Clara.
Clara often did this, Miranda reflected, these clever wordplays. She wondered if the girl had ever thought about becoming a lawyer. She was certainly wasted being a receptionist. She probably had a trust fund.
At that point, Giles wandered by the doorless glass wall to her office as if called.
“Ah Giles, just the man I wanted,” said Miranda.
“Not the first time that’s been heard…maybe even at the manicurist,” muttered Clara. Giles looked at her oddly as she disappeared into the corridor like a scarf of oiled smoke.
“What was that about?”
“Do you…know anyone gay?” said Miranda.
“What?” Giles started like a terrified horse. “No, why, where?”
“Here, in the office.”
“Why do you think I would know?”
“Well, you’re a guy, they’re guys…”
“I can assure you,” said Giles, puffing out his chest, “that I am entirely, completely and one hundred per cent heterosexual! And happy to prove it!” He stalked out of the office in a way Miranda might have described as ‘archly’, not, perhaps, entirely the most stereotypically-heterosexual exit of all time.
As she put finger to keyboard to start the firm’s diversity policy, she suddenly stopped. Happy to prove it? Was that some kind of strange come-on?
Giles? Oh no. He wouldn’t get into Shoreditch House in a million years and always finished his sentences.