Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Advocating for Diversity

The opening line of this Wall Street Journal story can be read in two ways:

Dedication to diversity can be a liability in the workplace, according to a new study.

The reporter is going to tell us that when women and minorities appear to be advocating for other women and minorities, they are considered to be less competent.

Yet, the sentence can also be read to say that a company that dedicates itself to diversity might find that diversity undermines its bottom line. It is one thing to hire and promote based on merit, regardless of gender or skin color. Yet, it is quite another thing to promote based on gender or skin color.

The first practice will surely aid a business in its primary goal of making a profit. The second practice will undermine the business by promoting less competent people in order to fill a diversity quota.

The question is: equal opportunity or equal outcomes? Given the way people think today, someone who is dedicated to diversity will more likely seek equal outcomes.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Researchers at the University of Colorado found that women and non-whites executives who push for women and non-whites to be hired and promoted suffer when it comes to their own performance reviews. A woman who shepherds women up the ranks, for example, is perceived as less warm, while a non-white who promotes diversity is perceived as less competent. Both end up being rated less highly by their bosses, according to the paper, which is set to be presented at an Academy of Management conference next month.

One suspects that the term “non-whites” does not refer to Asians, but to African-Americans and Hispanics.

No one believes that Asian managers in Silicon Valley are rated more poorly when they try to mentor other Asian-Americans. The large numbers of Asian-Americans on the staffs of these companies suggests that the problem is limited to women and minorities.

One understands why a woman or a minority group member would want to advance others who look like him or her. It makes good sense for a talented woman to push for other women or for a talented African-American to try to advance the careers of other African-Americans.

Otherwise, these people will see themselves as tokens, hired and promoted in order to make the company look good or to garner business with government agencies that require a certain amount of diversity.

And yet, the rise of equal-outcome affirmative action had created the presumption that women and minorities are less capable than white or Asian males. Thus, any employee who seems to be favoring others for reasons of diversity quotas will be seen as less interested in what is best for the company.

We also recall the phenomenon that exists in professions like veterinary medicine, psychotherapy and, apparently, public relations. After the number of women reaches a tipping point, the profession will become a pink ghetto. Men will avoid it.

Does a variant of the same phenomenon exist in the world of management? If more and more managers are women, does that make it more and more difficult to hire and retain good male managers? And, is that a good or a bad thing?

After all, some of the most successful business in America, the high tech behemoths of Silicon Valley are notably lacking in diversity.


Anonymous said...

"After the number of women reaches a tipping point, the profession will become a pink ghetto. Men will avoid it."

I wonder why that is...

It is remarkable how the same sex/race peddlers say they yearn for a "post-_____" society and yet all they ever want to talk about is immutable characteristics as a condition -- often the central criterion -- of hiring practices to achieve the mystical dream of "diversity."

Diversity can be a huge advantage in a company pursuing an innovation strategy, but the diversity has to be based in experiential background, curiosity and thought. But that requires a long hiring process to achieve the right mix. And it has nothing to do with our contemporary view of what diversity is.

Thought experiment: Let's say your corporate division is charged with making inroads into the market for weaponized unmanned drones -- something your company has never done before. You need government contacts and an angle of advantage, coming from innovation. If you have a white person who grew up in Bryn Mawr, a Hispanic who grew up in Simi Valley, a black from Bethesda, and an Asian from Evanston, what kind of diversity would you have on that team? Yet you would meet the activist criteria for "diversity," wouldn't you? That's why it's a crock.

If we really want justice, we should follow the American value of upward mobility, and follow a university affirmative action policy based on parents' income rather than race, sex, etc. It will be better for the country in the long run if a talented student from the Philadelphia ghetto gets a shot than the son of a Native American doctor and Hispanic lawyer from Palm Beach. I know the income threshold issue is a policy nightmare, but on its face it seems more productive than measuring diversity by immutable characteristics.


Anonymous said...

'Diversity' as is practiced today is about judging people by the color of their skin.

Sam L. said...

The problem with diversity and equal outcomes is that cheating is the only way to get there quickly. And it is outcome that is measured.

Lastango said...

Diversity is a profit center if the firm is primarily crony-capitalist.

Take GM (a.k.a. Government Motors) or GE ("Government Electric"), for example. They might as well move their headquarters to Washington and make it official, just as the big labor unions did long ago.

When they show government they are willing to play the diversity game, they are richly rewarded with the taxpayer's largesse.