by Giles Fraser
Monday, 27
January 2020
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15:00

Office sports chat doesn’t ‘exclude’ anyone

Anne Francke doesn’t think a bit of friendly chat about the merits or otherwise of VAR (terrible thing, btw) should be banned – just “moderated”, whatever that means. Credit: Getty

The Today programme often wakes me up in a bad mood. But this morning it excelled itself. Ann Francke OBE, the head of the Chartered Management Institute, was on the programme discussing the question of whether sports chat in the office should be discouraged because it excludes people, especially women.

She doesn’t think a bit of friendly chat about the merits or otherwise of VAR (terrible thing, btw) should be banned — just “moderated”, whatever that means. My suspicion is that this is soft power management speak for banned, but it just doesn’t like to admit it.

As I was still recovering from the thought that VAR chat is some workplace micro-aggression, the sports news followed — how we are doing well in the cricket (shh, don’t mention it in the office) — and then an advertisement for a programme this evening about ‘woke capitalism’.

One had to chuckle. “A lot of women, in particular, feel left out,” she explained. “They don’t follow these sports and they don’t like either being forced to talk about them or being excluded.”

But it’s not just a question of simple inclusion, apparently. Something even darker lurks hereabouts. For Ms. Francke also believes sports chat is a kind of gateway drug that leads to even more offensive behaviour. “It is very easy for it to escalate from VAR talk and chat into slapping each other on the back and talking about their conquests at the weekend.”

I began to wonder what sort of vanilla interaction would be allowed in this brave new corporate world of smart suits and dull conversation. After all, it’s hard to think of any subject that at least somebody at the nearby desk is not interested in. Perhaps the only thing one should be allowed to talk about at work is work itself.

And so the walls of acceptable public discourse close in ever further. Just keep your mind focused on the spreadsheets and your nose to the grindstone. It doesn’t surprise me that a brief look through Ms Francke’s Twitter feed reveals a professional interest in productivity.

I look forward to the economist Phillip Coggan’s programme ‘Get woke or go broke?’ on Radio 4 at 20.30 this evening. He asks “whether businesses are serious about getting woke or whether it’s all smoke and mirrors and merely designed to part us with our money?” — or to make us more boringly productive, one might add. Good question.

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