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Diversity De-Tox III By: Peter Wood
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, July 10, 2003

Many large publicly-traded American companies joined amicus briefs supporting the University of Michigan’s use of racial preferences in admissions.  Their basic argument was that diversity is good for business and, without elite colleges and universities willing to bend admissions standards to increase the number of minority students they admit, American business, down the road, would be denied the benefits of diversity.

What benefits?  In Diversity De-Tox I, I drew attention to an important recent study by a group of business professors who carried out a detailed five-year study of diversity programs at four major corporations and found that “diversity” in the sense of race-conscious, gender-conscious, identity-group hiring, training, sales, and business practices had high costs but no financial rewards.  The $8 billion diversity industry in the U.S., in light of this study is rarely held up to ordinary standards of business analysis, but according to the only rigorous empirical examination we have so far, “diversity” fails miserably to deliver to the bottom line. 

In Diversity De-Tox II, I answered those who say that the real purpose of “diversity” in the corporate world isn’t to make money but to provide a practical defense against discrimination lawsuits.  But this doesn’t wash.  The statistics from the EEOC and other sources show that as corporate America embraced the “diversity” doctrine, the number of race discrimination lawsuits increased; plaintiffs prevailed more often; and the size of judgments against companies soared. 

“Diversity,” in short, has proven to be a bad investment for American business.  It doesn’t increase revenue and it doesn’t forestall lawsuits.  But many company executives have boxed themselves in by investing heavily in “diversity” hiring and training, and by declaring publicly over and over their commitment to the ideology.  Very few executives, it seems, are willing to let real diversity thrive by hiring people regardless of their race or “identity group” and promoting purely on the basis of proven performance.  Instead of real diversity, they want the paper diversity that comes from classifying their employees by race (and gender, identity group, etc.) and by pursuing documented pro-identity group policies.

Is there a way out?  Is there diversity de-tox for CEOs who have been on a decade-long diversity binge? 

One answer is to take seriously the criticisms of ideologically-forced diversity that are taking shape among African-Americans and members of other minority groups and by occasional renegade white liberals, like my friend Jim Rice.  The gist of the criticisms, which I reviewed in Diversity De-Tox II, is that hyping victimhood is a self-defeating strategy for minority groups.  It locks many people into an ethic of anti-achievement and it breeds resentment all round. 

Jim facetiously suggested that he and I create a consultancy to serve companies that want out of the racial double-standards game.  Well, OK.  Clearly some of these corporate programs should be put on rail cars and sent to Yucca Mountain, Nevada, where we already have a facility for storing dangerous, slow-decaying radioactive waste. 

But the problem is larger than that, since so many organizations have now been programmed on the assumptions that “white males” are inherently racist and oppressive; that “cultural sensibilities” deserve more respect than “performance standards”; that associating oneself with a “victim” category confers privileges even if one has never been personally victimized; and so on.  What do we do with this legacy of misdirection and mischief? 

Some of Jim’s suggestions for de-toxing diversiphile executives:  a Cornel West depressurization chamber, which eases the recovering exec from the bathometric depths of Race Matters to the humane vision of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in one afternoon; a Lani Guinier alien abduction pod, which sends the exec on a virtual reality tour of a planet where everything is allocated by identity group; and a Bowen and Bok desensitization nature trail, meandering endlessly beside colorful beds of flowers planted, in the spirit of diversity, to look exactly alike.  Overwhelmed with monotony, the exec re-discovers his love of glorious, weed-strewn Nature. 

Laughing at the excesses of diversity is actually a good first step, but Jim is a professional behavior specialist and I am an anthropologist, and we do have serious thoughts about this.  Here I’ll speak for myself.  Getting your company out of the glue-trap of ideological “diversity” will take help and it will have real costs.  Those who try to escape may be targeted by diversity enforcers, such as the Reverend Jackson.  Other groups will search for and find disgruntled employees to file lawsuits that will aim specifically a thwarting any steps away from hard-and-fast commitment to diversity.  So the first thing is to plan carefully, long in advance of taking any concrete steps. 

A plan to replace paper diversity with the real thing (e.g. treating individuals as individuals, regardless of their race or identity group) has to be founded on moral clarity.  Seeking to get rid of phony diversity in order to segregate a workforce is not an option.  I very much doubt that there are real segregationists among the ranks of corporate CEOs, but if there are, they will find no help or solace here.  The moral clarity I speak of is the commitment to set out the genuine qualifications for each job and hire people accordingly; to promote people on the basis of performance (and only performance); and to organize sales, marketing, and other units accordingly to business logic and not ideological imposition. 

Easy to do?  Of course not.  Once hiring, promotion, and business function are saturated with diversity-think, it is mighty difficult to think your way back to objective, neutral criteria.  In a typical company, even to mention such criteria in the presence of a human resources executive is to elicit a lecture on how there are no such things as “objective, neutral criteria.”  Diversity, it turns out, has one foot planted in post-modernism.  All criteria are suspect except those that help to build the paper mountain. 

Some jobs, it turns out, have relatively low entrance criteria because they involve simple skills or because the learning will take place on the job.  The Supreme Court rightly decided long ago that companies are not allowed to set up artificial barriers to employment in the form of tests that measure skills that are not relevant to the work at hand.  Let’s let the spirit of that idea live:  no unnecessary tests, no superfluous criteria, and ipso facto, no racial preferences—which are, after all, nothing but unnecessary tests and superfluous criteria.  

Practical planning to junk diversity will have to include an assessment of which professional diversiphiles can play a constructive role and which can’t.  The plan is doomed unless the CEO is ready to make this distinction.  The hard-core ideologues have to be reassigned to positions where they can do no damage or else be let go.  The pragmatic diversiphiles can keep their jobs but will need to be retrained.  The company will have to make these moves promptly when it announces its plan, and it will have to have that new training program ready and waiting. 

And when the time is right, the company should, in fact, announce what it is doing.  To jettison diversity on the sly will not work.  It will only confuse and frustrate people and lead to greater recrimination.  Replacing “diversity” with a fundamental “commitment to fairness” should be presented as a bold step forward, not a retreat.  Most employees will welcome it, because, though they have learned never to say so publicly, they despite the hypocrisy of “diversity.” 

Some employees, however, will feel vulnerable—and rightly so.  A worthy plan to replace diversity will have to include a sizable amount of money set aside for settling with incompetent diversity hires already on the payroll.  The lawyers will need to work out settlement agreements that hold the company faultless in exchange for a payment.  And the company had better be prepared to act generously.  It is no fault of these incompetent employees that they were hired and promoted.  The company did that and it faces a choice of capping the loss now or continuing to pay both salary and the results of incompetence for years to come. 

A company that holds all employees to appropriate standards of competence and achievement will, in time, earn the respect of its employees and its clients, but the transition will be difficult.  Diversity has built up an enormous reservoir of mistrust and cynicism.  Your plan to de-diversify will have to address that attitude.  Persuading your employees that you stand for transparent standards and no favoritism toward members of any group will take a while.  You will need to set up a system to evaluate managers at every level to make sure they are getting the message, and enforcement will have to be strict.  Stop ethnic favoritism in its tracks, whether it is pro-white, pro-black, pro-Hispanic, or pro-any identity group. 

Diversity is, ultimately, a set of beliefs about the way the world should be.  It sounds nice, because its proponents tirelessly associate diversity with tolerance and open-mindedness; and it sounds pragmatic, because its proponents just as tirelessly associate it with the changing demography of the workforce and the need to compete in a global marketplace.  Diversity is said to enhance creativity on the job, build savvier teams of employees, and foster deeper insight into customers.  But each and every one of these associations is either greatly exaggerated or plain false.  Tolerance and open-mindedness are virtues that thrive in a world where individuality is respected, not where people are elevated or consigned to identity groups.  And the changing demography of the workforce calls for fairness, not preferences.  Global competition, creativity, better teamwork, customer insight?  Fairy tales.  That’s what the data shows. 

To escape from a false set of beliefs, you have to have an inkling of the truth.  The captives in Plato’s allegory of the cave of illusions will climb to the sunlight only if they are persuaded it is real.  The way to the sunlight for American business is to realize that diversity chains us in the darkness of inequality, resentment, and self-doubt.  Some people thrive in those conditions, but most don’t, and that is why “diversity” is a bad investment.  Its legacy is demoralized employees and irrational business practices.  Time to move on. 

No job too large or small.  Reasonable rates.  Call us when you’re ready to take that first step.

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