Last week in this space I called attention to an important recent study that offers solid evidence that, contrary to what a lot of big companies say, “diversity” is not a good investment. When companies hire and promote by race, gender, or identity group, when they subject their employees to mandatory “diversity” training, and when they match sales representatives to clients by shared shade of skin, they lose money.
Some people respond to this cynically, saying, “Of course. Diversity is just a cost of doing business in the United States. It’s a way of avoiding lawsuits or limiting the damages when the lawsuits come.” It may well be that some corporate CEOs see diversity as lawsuit insurance but, if so, they are grossly mistaken. In fact, during the period in which American corporations embraced the ideology of “diversity,” the number of discrimination lawsuits soared; the chances of the plaintiffs prevailing more than doubled; and the size of the awards more than doubled.
It would indeed be helpful to be able to break these statistics down to see the correlations between dollars spent promoting diversity and dollars dispensed settling discrimination claims. The research wouldn’t be that difficult: Take a random sample of publicly traded companies, classify them by the amount they spent on “diversity training” from, say 1991-1996, and then match that list against The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts’ complete listing of all employment discrimination lawsuits 1996-2001. Does higher average spending on diversity training mitigate exposure to lawsuits or correlate with lower awards? I would think both stockholders and CEOs would have a strong interest in finding out.
But for the moment we have only the aggregate numbers. In 1992, for example, when “diversity” was in the still in the early stages of its friendly take-over of the business community, the Equal Employment opportunity Commission obtained $118 million in cash benefits to claimants who alleged discrimination of one type or another. In fiscal 2000, with diversity in full flower, EEOC reported snagging $246 million for claimants. (These are payments obtained without litigation.) The EEOC numbers for race discrimination in particular go from $31.9 million in 1992 to $81.1 million in 2002. At face value, that might seem to be evidence of a gigantic increase in the amount of race discrimination perpetrated by American companies. Moreover, complaints of race discrimination filed with the EEOC (as opposed to the courts) remained almost level for those eleven years: 29,548 in 1992 and 29,910 in 2002. About two-thirds of these cases were dismissed because EEOC judges the complainant has “no reasonable cause,” and other cases were simply withdrawn. But the number of cases in which the EEOC did find “reasonable cause” quadrupled: 506 in 1992; 2,044 in 2002.
According to Jury Verdict Research, the principal commercial firm that tracks these things, between 1994 and 1999, the probability of a plaintiff winning an employee discrimination lawsuit shot up from 49% in 1994 to 72% in 1999. Plaintiffs who claimed discrimination on the basis of race, saw their chances of winning go from 43% in 1994 to 62% in 2000. The median compensatory award in jury cases when from $93,000 in 1994 to $218,000 in 2000. More than half of U.S. employers have been sued by employees, and “racial discrimination” is the fourth most likely complaint—after gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and wrongful discharge.
Statistics are hard to make interesting, but I don’t want to be accused of offering empty generalities. The facts are pretty plain: the era of “diversity” in the corporate world is also the Golden Age of discrimination lawsuits. And any number of high-profile companies that have been publicly committed to “diversity” for over a decade have nonetheless been hammered with race discrimination lawsuits. Perhaps the most memorable case is Coca-Cola, which was hit with a $1.5 billion racial-discrimination lawsuit in 2000 and settled for $192 million.
A lot of corporate CEOs must feel trapped. They have committed huge sums to diversity training and they have offered up hostages to the gods, as when Cisco Systems declared in the magazine U.S. Black Engineer and Information Technology that, “Diversity of our work force is a key link to our competitive advantage.” Climbing down from such financial and rhetorical commitments won’t be easy.
But help is on its way. As I said in my last column, a friend of mine has suggested that we go into business as consultants to companies that want to escape the trap of ideological diversity and find their way back to terra firma of genuinely treating people as individuals. Let real diversity thrive by hiring and promoting according to ability, not color, gender, or any other such categorization. Can we do away with racial favortism?
Time to introduce my friend, Jim Rice. Jim is an unabashed liberal who I got to know when he started un-abashing me over the head about something he heard me say on talk radio. But we corresponded and then he read my book on diversity and we discovered that we agree on some important things. Mostly we agree on the importance of real academic standards in schools and genuine fairness in the workplace. When the pursuit of “diversity” takes the form of lowering expectations about performance, Jim’s spine stiffens.
You don’t get far into a conversation with Jim without learning that he is a white guy married to a black woman, Gwen, from Rock Hill, Missouri (that’s “Rock HILL”). And if you get to know Jim a little better you learn that Gwen has succeeded in curing him of some typical liberal illusions about race. He still insists America is basically a racist place, but he unflinchingly admits that the biggest problem facing African-Americans today is the failure of black kids to commit themselves heart and soul to making the most of grade school and high school education.
On this, Jim is among an odd alliance that defies conventional political classifications. Shelby Steele, for example, inveighs against the self-defeating cult of victimology that has engulfed African-Americans and which proceeds in symbiosis with the efforts of white liberals to “prove their innocence” by supporting affirmative action. John McWhorter, a linguist at the University of California Berkeley, argues that African-American culture has taken a disastrous turn toward anti-intellectualism in recent decades and it is this that explains the stunning under-performance of black kids in America’s schools.
McWhorter’s Berkeley colleague, anthropologist John Ogbu, meanwhile has written an immensely important study of why black kids in Shaker Heights, Ohio lag far behind white kids in the same well-funded schools. Ogbu’s Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement offers the testimony of the students themselves explaining their view that working hard at school is “white” behavior. Ogbu’s book is crammed with insights, and his conclusions are not complimentary toward the black community. At one point he writes that, “Black Americans have what may be called ‘a beer mug’ model of school teaching and learning. In this model, students learn and perform well if the teacher pours knowledge well into students.”
In White Plains, New York, Superintendent Ronald Ross (who recently resigned) took a predominantly black school district from a 20 percent passage rate on the state examination for graduating seniors to a 90 percent rate essentially by demanding academic excellence from everyone—principals, teachers, and students. Ross told Jim in an interview, “I’m not one of these politically correct liberals. I hate their bull. Don’t you dare call me a conservative, because I see through their racial politics—I’m just an educator who cares about nothing but these kids.”
Steele, McWhorter, Ogbu and Ross are all African-Americans and obviously disagree with each other about a lot of things. Steele and McWhorter are “conservatives;” Ogbu keeps his distance but sounds liberal; and Ross has attacked Ogbu’s book for the Urban League: “Why ask an anthropologist to explain what is wrong with education? Why not ask an educator? A few extreme black conservatives are given prominence far in excess of their proportionality to the total black community.”
I’ll risk Ross’s wrath by saying that he is indeed a conservative—what might be called a conservative-in-fact if not in self-identification. And he understands perfectly well that good ideas and the people who courageously defy conventional thinking win “prominence far in excess” of their numbers. So, Ronald Ross gets conscripted into this insurgent movement too.
I don’t want to overplay the amount of courage. To say to African-Americans saturated in a rhetoric of victimization that, as African-Americans, ‘we are held back more by our own attitudes than by external obstacles,’ is bold but it is not charge-the-machinegun-nests recklessness. As McWhorter explains in his new book, Authentically Black, “a tacit sense reigns among a great many black Americans that the ‘authentic’ black person stresses personal initiative and strength in private, but dutifully takes on the mantle of victimhood as a public face.”
What distinguishes figures such as Steele, McWhorter, Ogbu, and Ross is that, in various ways, they are making an in-group idea part of our national discussion. And even some white liberals such as Jim Rice resonate to this message. I take this as an excellent leading indicator for the direction of race relations in the United States—for where it leads is to the re-assertion of the idea that we are, black, white, Asian, Samoan-American, Inuit, and Zuni, part of a shared culture that rightly matters more than our parochial differences.
And that leads to Jim’s business proposal. The key to extracting a company from the toils of “diversity” is to tap into this nascent movement for colorblind high standards. But how? That’s the next installment.