Watch any ensemble television show and you will discover that the characters seem to have been chosen for their diversity. It’s almost as though the show has chosen the cast in order to show how well people with a variety of racial or ethnic backgrounds, not to mention sexual proclivities and propensities can work together.
Since a disparate group of individuals can work together as a team in a fictional world, then clearly diversity works. Right?
Of course, if said ensemble does not contain sufficient diversity the long knives will come out, the producers will be excoriated in the media, advertisers will threatened to decamp and the show will be shut down.
Defy the diversity police at your own peril.
It’s not just television dramas. Business schools have produced a mountain of research studies showing that a diverse workplace is a happier, healthier and more efficient workplace.
I will not burden you with these studies. You know that they exist.
Unfortunately, real experience in the corporate world belies the results of the research. The high tech firms in Silicon Valley, all of whom are led by liberal bosses, tend not to be very diverse. They are a bastion of white and Asian male privilege, with a few women thrown in, but often not in the most responsible of managerial positions. As for minorities, they barely register.
Apparently, these firms did not read the studies. Or else, they ignored them. They always express extreme anguish over their inability to find qualified job candidates who fulfill the right diversity criteria... and continue their undiverse ways.
Of course, we all believe in diversity. We have laws and regulations that strictly forbid anyone from discriminating against a new employee on any basis other than qualification.
Moreover, we also have affirmative action. Many colleges and companies have affirmative action policies that give a special advantage to members of certain minority groups.
Whether you like or do not like these policies, they produce candidates who look equally qualified on paper but are anything but. Worse yet, when the candidates are equally qualified, the fact of affirmative action leads prospective employers to downgrade the qualifications of someone who did not but might have profited from affirmative action.
Recently, the Supreme Court decided that Abercrombie and Fitch was wrong to discriminate against a job applicant on the basis of her Muslim headscarf.
No one was very surprised by the verdict. A lot of people were very surprised that the company had not been smart enough to invent a better reason for not hiring the woman in question. It serves them right for not understanding the need to placate the diversity police.
Human psychology being what it is, a business that is oppressed by excessive government regulations will not simply bend over and take it. It will find ways to get around the regulations. If you cannot discriminate against a job candidate for certain reasons, you can always find other reasons to favor the candidates you prefer.
A company that seeks out candidates with degrees in computer engineering will easily screen out a very large number of women and minority candidates, without running the risk of being accused of bigotry.
Lauren Rivera explains in a New York Times article that companies have now started judging job candidates on the basis of how well they "fit" the corporate culture.
She calls this another form of bigotry. One can only wonder how long it will take for zealous legislators and bureaucrats to outlaw “fit.”
Rivera identifies what she sees as a problem:
ACROSS cultures and industries, managers strongly prize “cultural fit” — the idea that the best employees are like-minded. One recent survey found that more than 80 percent of employers worldwide named cultural fit as a top hiring priority.
When done carefully, selecting new workers this way can make organizations more productive and profitable. But cultural fit has morphed into a far more nebulous and potentially dangerous concept. It has shifted from systematic analysis of who will thrive in a given workplace to snap judgments by managers about who they’d rather hang out with. In the process, fit has become a catchall used to justify hiring people who are similar to decision makers and rejecting people who are not….
But in many organizations, fit has gone rogue. I saw this firsthand while researching the hiring practices of the country’s top investment banks, management consultancies and law firms. I interviewed 120 decision makers and spent nine months observing the recruiting practices of one firm in particular. The professionals I spoke with, who were charged with reviewing applications and conducting interviews, consistently underscored the importance of cultural fit in hiring. While résumés (and connections) influenced which applicants made it into the interview room, interviewers’ perceptions of fit strongly shaped who walked out with job offers.
One notes, as an aside, that newspapers like the New York Times have often been called out for their lack of diversity.
One must also mention that companies and universities that do not value cultural fit do value ideological fit. They demand that everyone think the same way and will not hire anyone whose thinking deviates from the ideological norm.
You will notice that definitions of cultural fit are nebulous.
Crucially, though, for these gatekeepers, fit was not about a match with organizational values. It was about personal fit. In these time- and team-intensive jobs, professionals at all levels of seniority reported wanting to hire people with whom they enjoyed hanging out and could foresee developing close relationships with. Fit was different from the ability to get along with clients. Fundamentally, it was about interviewers’ personal enjoyment and fun. Many, like one manager at a consulting firm, believed that “when it’s done right, work is play.”
To judge fit, interviewers commonly relied on chemistry. “The best way I could describe it,” one member of a law firm’s hiring committee told me, “is like if you were on a date. You kind of know when there’s a match.” Many used the “airport test.” As a managing director at an investment bank put it, “Would I want to be stuck in an airport in Minneapolis in a snowstorm with them?”
Discovering shared experiences was one of the most powerful sources of chemistry, but interviewers were primarily interested in new hires whose hobbies, hometowns and biographies matched their own. Bonding over rowing college crew, getting certified in scuba, sipping single-malt Scotches in the Highlands or dining at Michelin-starred restaurants was evidence of fit; sharing a love of teamwork or a passion for pleasing clients was not. Some (former) athletes fit exclusively with other athletes; others fit only with those who played the same sport. At one hiring committee meeting I attended, I watched a partner who was an avid Red Sox fan argue for rejecting a Yankees supporter on the grounds of misfit.
Selecting new employees based on personal similarities is by no means unique to banking, consulting or law; it has become a common feature of American corporate culture. Employers routinely ask job applicants about their hobbies and what they like to do for fun, while a complementary self-help industry informs white-collar job seekers that chemistry, not qualifications, will win them an offer.
Rivera assumes that all candidates are equally qualified. And yet, in a world where affirmative action reigns, how confident can a hiring officer be that candidates with the same qualifications are equally qualified.
Besides, if companies are systematically refusing to hire equally qualified or even better candidates then other companies can outcompete them by hiring said individuals.
Moreover, what if “cultural fit” is really a euphemism for group loyalty and trustworthiness? Does a company really want to hire someone who is more likely to complain about white privilege, sexism or even Asian privilege?
Rivera understands that similar people, people who share basic values of cultures are better at working together. They tend to understand each other’s cues and offer fewer opportunities for misinterpretation. When different people come from different cultures and practice different customs the changes for misunderstanding and even friction multiply.
In a culture where your reputation can be destroyed for telling the wrong joke, it matters that you surround yourself with people who are like-minded and not likely to take offense.
Some may wonder, “Don’t similar people work better together?” Yes and no. For jobs involving complex decisions and creativity, more diverse teams outperform less diverse ones. Too much similarity can lead to teams that are overconfident, ignore vital information and make poor (or even unethical) decisions.
If this is true, the market will eventually punish those firms that lack diversity. Except that those who believe in diversity do not believe in markets. They believe in solutions imposed by government.
The Moonbattery blog (via Maggie’s Farm) quotes a Fox Business investigation into the government’s new use of affirmative action criteria in hiring air traffic controllers.
After the FAA changed its screening process in 2014, thousands of applicants who were already in the pipeline—people who had obtained an FAA-accredited degree, taken the AT-SAT exam and had been designated “well-qualified” to become air-traffic controllers—were told by the government that they would have to start the process again. “But this time, when they applied for a job, their college degrees and previous military experience would mean nothing,” reported Fox Business. “They would now compete with thousands of people the agency calls ‘off the street hires’; anyone who wants to, can walk in off the street without any previous training and apply for an air traffic control job.”
In other words, the current policy is to deliberately favor less-qualified applicants over more qualified applicants in the name of obtaining the “right” racial and gender mix among air-traffic controllers.
As long as it's diverse, performance does not seem to matter.