This article comes with a Trigger warning. Readers should have their blood pressure pills and a stiff drink waiting in their ‘safe space’.

As the CEO of a small microbiology business which trades internationally and provides services and products to the biotech industry, under Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), I am used to navigating my way around endless, tedious, often irrelevant, supplier questionnaires, (The worst was 22 pages). Increasingly, especially in institutions and large multinationals opting to outsource, purchasing departments leave both my customers – far away from the action in their laboratories – and my office staff, tearing their hair out in frustration at delays, complexities and the inevitable ‘Computer says noooo’ moments.

Recently a UK university researcher wanted to order our products for an interesting project, we would need to go on the university’s approved supplier list first he said. The email attachment duly arrived, my office manager gave me a knowing look. What would you expect – invoice address? banking details? Routine information?Yes, that was on the first page of a document titled Equality in Higher Education Purchasing Questionnaire”.

P2 began:

In order that we may make an assessment of your current Diversity and Equality status, please provide answers to the following questions. Please ensure that any supporting documentation is clearly marked with the name of the respondent and the number of the question to which the response refers.

  1. Is it your practice NOT to discriminate directly or indirectly on grounds of race, disability, gender and transgender, sexual orientation, age and religion and belief in the provision of goods, facilities or services to the public?
  2. Is it your practice to promote equality in the provision of goods, facilities or services to the public?

I suppose we have some clue, from a customer’s name, or the country they are ordering from, of their gender or ethnicity, but we have absolutely no idea if they are disabled, LBGTQ, old or young. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. Do they want our products or services? Will they pay the bill? If they need an import permit, have they sent us a copy? End of story.

The next two questions asked if we had been found guilty of unlawful discrimination or had a contract terminated for failure to comply with such legislation. That’s a ‘No’ then, on to P.3.

Is your approach to equality and diversity set out in: 

  1. Instructions to those concerned with recruitment, selection, remuneration, training and promotion?
  2. Documents available to employees, recognised trade unions or other representative groups of employees (e.g. induction, training, newsletters, web etc)?
  3. Recruitment advertisements or other literature?
  4. Are your staff with managerial responsibilities required to receive mandatory training on equal opportunities?
  5. Do you observe, as far as is possible, the relevant authorities (such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission or its predecessors) Codes of Practice for Employment, or equivalent code of statutory guidance issued under equivalent legislation in another country, which gives practical guidance to employers and others on elimination of unlawful discrimination and the promotion of equality of opportunity in employment, including monitoring of workforce matters and steps that can be taken to encourage members of all parts of society to apply for jobs or take up training opportunities?

If yes, please supply evidence to support your answer.

  1. Is it your policy as an employer to comply with relevant equality legislation to positively challenge discrimination on grounds of race, disability, gender and transgender, sexual orientation, age, religion and belief and to promote equality in line with either UK legislation or equivalent legislation which applies in the countries in which your company employs staff?

As a small company, what could I put in the boxes for 1-5 but ‘No’? Finally, on Q6, I snapped back:

With respect to 1-5 we are a small company with loyal staff, in part due to my flexible working hours policies and science is international.

Finally, one last irritant:

  1. Do you have a process in place to allow for tailoring your offering of goods and services to meet the needs of different racial/social groups?

No, you stupid person, as stated above, science is international! Call me a coward but I did resist the temptation to pepper the response boxes with examples of my caustic wit. I wanted my customer to get his products, scientific progress is more important than scoring points. We got on the supplier list and my client has received his order, so now I feel free to vent my spleen.

I suppose I should be grateful there wasn’t a box for my ‘preferred pronoun’ but that questionnaire should have come with a trigger warning. I had to retreat to my safe space – my local pub, with a gin and tonic!