The conference featured keynote discussions and panel debates on: the role of regulation; sexual orientation; gender; work/life balance; race; religion/faith; disability; and age. In drawing upon the expertise and knowledge of academics, media commentators, policy makers and senior politicians through debate and discussion, the conference provided a forum from which the agenda of diversity in Britain will move forward.
The panel discussion on ‘Diversity and Religion’ included an introduction by Professor Nanji, followed by two presentations addressing questions of security and of education by Rob Beckley, Assistant Chief Constable of the Hertfordshire Constabulary and Norman Richardson, Head of Teaching and Learning in Religious Studies at Stranmillis University College, Belfast.
In his introduction to the panel, Professor Nanji spoke about the importance of acknowledging the diversity existing on the ground in Britain, taking a moment to elaborate on the difference between diversity and pluralism. “Diversity is the acknowledgment and recognition of our differences. Pluralism is the value and the moral compass that allows us to negotiate and manage that diversity. It is as we speak about a garden having many flowers. A garden becomes a garden because it practices diversity by acknowledging the presence of many flowers in it, without necessarily privileging one over the other.”
Professor Nanji commented on the diversity of physical spaces on the landscape in Britain because “they are ways in which new communities not only define their place, but also their sense of ownership of the physical space.” Among the buildings visible, beside some of the established churches of the Christian tradition, are synagogues, mosques and temples that increasingly dot the landscape.
Pointing out one of the buildings he is very familiar with, the Ismaili Centre in London, Professor Nanji shared that he can see how “it has now become part of the repertoire of the tourist circuit where people actually go and visit a building because they recognise it as something that has entered British space, not something that is apart from it. Located next to the Victoria and Albert Museum and The Museum of Natural History, you see it as a contribution to the British architectural heritage, not as something which intrudes into mainstream culture.”
With reference to the objectives of the conference, Professor Nanji concluded by stating that “businesses and industry are part of civil society. Civil society is a construction of many groups, and we should acknowledge and recognize that faith is one such player.”
Keynote speakers of the conference included CBI Director-General Sir Digby Jones, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry - Patricia Hewitt and TUC General Secretary - Brendan Barber.
“Diversity is a real source of British strength,” said Sir Digby Jones. “Led by the CBI, the business community wants to move the debate on. With skills shortages, a strong economy and challenges to be met on social inclusion and business reputation, there’s a compelling business case for diversity. Achieving genuine diversity is a win/win for Britain.”
The conference was organised by Caspian Events and supported by BP, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, The Royal Bank of Scotland, Transport for London and Capital Consulting - and aims to move diversity discussions on from legal/compliance to the success and effectiveness of every UK organisation.