I’m actually going to do it. I’m going to skip a lecture.
Skipping lectures is not something I do, OK? I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in the cohort who’s attended EVERY SINGLE LECTURE so far, including the optional evening ones. My feeling is that there-might-just-be-something in even the least relevant or worst delivered lecture, and if there is I don’t want to miss it.
Even after a 2.30am night at my desk, I don’t miss lectures.
Even in the POM week with the main project due on Monday for presentation Wednesday, I don’t miss lectures.
Even in a week where the half-day of open time on Wednesdays has been cancelled and I’m even shorter of time than usual, I DON’T SKIP LECTURES.
Got that? The bit about me not being a lecture-skipping person? OK.
After all… if they’ve scheduled a WHOLE DAY OF LECTURES on a single subject… it must be a REALLY REALLY IMPORTANT SUBJECT. It’s on the timetable: ‘Global Leadership in a Modern World’. They haven’t pre-distributed slides either.
I struggle bleary-eyed into WBS. Global Leadership. Sounds great. I look forward to a full day of hearing about world leaders, the interface between government and business, captains of industry and titans of commerce. Who’s the guest speaker? Branson? Steve Jobs?
As I descend the steps of the lecture hall, I see the horrendous PowerPoint slide that says it all. From thence on, I descend the remaining steps in a daze of blood-boiling anguish.
We’ve been conned.
Yes, it’s another bloody diversity session!
I feel the blood drain from my head, and enter my seat starting to shake.
OK, Worth, get a grip. You can do this. It’s only an hour and a half to the coffee break. Calm yourself. Bring your heartbeat back down. Forget that you’re in for yet another session of being told how very, very different everyone is, driving a wedge between cultures so these ‘diversity consultants’ can continue raking in the green.
And what’s worse, the lecturer isn’t a bad person. Sure, she’s got that utterly self-centred sense of her own great importance that all ‘diversity consultants’ have, but that doesn’t prevent her being a nice person; she’s friendly, engaging, and presents well. This makes it harder. At least a bad presenter can be laughed at or sympathised with.
This is the worst imaginable situation. Worse than I’d ever feared. Wasn’t diversity sort of done? I sat through it, I seethed, I zipped my mouth throughout 88,000 PowerPoint slides on all those really important factors that separate us. I did my time. And now – sneaking in through the back entrance – it’s all happening again.
Breathe. I can’t breathe. I’ve got to breathe.
There are a few chances for fun; when she asks where we work, one wag shouts out ‘Halliburton!’ It’s a scene from Kafka. I suck it in.
I’m shivering. Every nerve is alight; I’m wound tighter than a watch spring. My heart’s hammering at 180. My throat’s a dustbowl.
But I don’t skip lectures. This is fundamental, a basic part of my makeup. How can I skip this one?
Shuddering. I can’t stop shuddering. Something primeaval’s happening here.
But I don’t want to bring her party down. This British-born woman of Pakistani extraction (see, she’s got ME doing it already! Categorising people according to what makes them different rather than what draws us together!) is not a bad person. And that gives me a justification.
If it were all about me, I’d stay in the lecture, suffer in silence. But this is now about her. I don’t want to rain on her parade, and if I stay here any longer I’m going to explode. This thing’s out of my hands now. The only option for me is to make like the shepherds**. I now have a reason to leave. But how?
Got to calm myself. Get into the zone. Find my power animal. Find my energy squirrel, or friendly wombat, or supportively non-judgmental duckbilled fucking platypus or whatever.
Need to think. Plan. Execute.
The lights go down for a video. I’m a front-row person, but can I do it? Just escape under cover of darkness? All together now: whistle the theme tune from ‘The Great Escape‘…
Too late. Some fat bloke finishes a song and the lights go up. The slides roll by. In the brief snatches between our presenter expatiating her experiences as an ethnic minority come the questions. In accordance with prophecy, they’re carefully engineered to elicit precisely the response she wants. (I call this the “Have you stopped beating your wife, Mr President?” style of questioning.)
It gets worse: she’s putting words into the audience’s mouths. One guy mentions how the senior people in his company were all of a certain nationality, and she LOVES this. “So if you’re not in the ******* gang, you can’t get to the top”… on a point about whether men need flexible working hours, she’s off again “So, for football you mean..”
OK, far too late it’s time for coffee. She asks another loaded question: 10 or 15 minutes? (The break is normally 30.) Eventually, enough voices are raised in support of half an hour she is forced to concede.
And I’m pretty sure I actually leave scorch marks as I race out.
What is it about this subject? The way it holds organisations in such thrall? More to the point, why do the Diversity Consultants themselves think they’re actually doing any good? Overemphasising all these really quite minor differences between races and cultures can only bring anguish, the same anguish I’m feeling now.
An hour later, and my heart’s still pounding.
**Get the flock out of here.