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Monday, August 5. 2013
Some time ago, I was working at a job that required 'diversity' in hiring practices. It was about 15 or so years, before this became a standard in most corporate hiring practices. I'm still trying to figure out what it means, particularly because I was always taught to hire the best person for the job. I'm not saying diversity is bad. In fact, I'm all for it. But there is no standard gauge for diversity and as a goal it's a moving target. Would 50% female and 20% black be sufficiently diverse? Do we need to have the same percentages of each group as exist in the US population? Or would some close approximation suffice? At what number of employees does diversity become an imperative? I'm not sure we can realistically set numbers for these kinds of things.
At my company, VP level and above employees actually had bonuses based on 'improving the diversity of their departments.' There was no specific guideline provided, the VPs were left to figure it out for themselves. Many got significantly reduced bonuses, which led to the suspicion that it was a corporate method of reducing payouts. I happen to think that was the case.
But the corporation took this all very seriously and each year we were given a 'diversity update,' during which we were showed charts and graphs of women and minorities as a percentage of the company's staff and the executive suite.
I didn't care much for it. I am not opposed to diversity, but as I said, I always hired the best person for the job. I never think in terms of women, Asian, Black, Indian, etc. Suddenly I was being told what the company required in this regard when I was doing my interviews. I will never forget the laugh of one VP, when I recommended a young man for a position, as he said "Unless he's a black woman, the interview will not be worth his time." Fair enough, but I sent him in for the interview anyway and he was not hired, despite having stellar credentials and strengths in all the key areas the company was seeking to improve.
Eventually, during one of our management meetings, as the company executives were going through their diversity charts and commenting on the annual 'improvement in diversity,' one female VP raised her hand. Her bonuses had been cut the two previous years, and she was sensitive to the topic, despite having one of the most 'diverse' departments in the company.
"At what point are we finished?" She asked.
"I'm sorry, what do you mean?"
She replied, "I'm just wondering when we're done. I mean diversity is the goal, right? (heads nod) So when do we know we're diverse enough? Surely you have metrics to define when we've reached our goal?"
"Well, diversity isn't just about gender or race, it's about diversity of thought, and while gender or race are important parts of that, there's no real way to define this goal, we just have to keep striving to improve."
She nodded and replied, "Of course we're trying to improve. I'm just wondering, since this is a goal, how we're going to know when we're done."
"It's a work in progress."
This conversation actually happened, and I was very pleased it was a woman who asked the question rather than me, because I would have been tossed out on my ear.
We hang far too much value on the term 'diversity', without ever really defining what we are looking for. Most of the time, it's a meaningless word, because it can mean whatever the person using it wants it to.
And what do we get with so much diversity? Discussions about how one group or another is going to save the world if we only give them a chance. What most proponents of diversity are saying is they are hoping a certain group of people will come with a single mindset that is closer to theirs, and change policy in their favor. After all, more women in Congress is a good thing if your goal is more women, but it's not necessarily a good thing because they all agree. Should the current Congress have been made up with 100 Sarah Palins, you have to wonder what the response would be. Would the exhiliration over all the current female members have been spent ripping the 100 Palins to shreds and talking about the danger of a single mindset? This assumes you could actually find 100 women who all think alike, and just like Sarah Palin. Palin may be the kind of diversity proponents of diversity dislike.
I'm all for the best person for the job. I don't care about their gender or race, and I never have. Yet when a company begins telling me my hiring practices need to become diverse, what they are really telling me is they want to have a greater say in who gets a job, rather than hiring the absolute best person.
Diversity isn't, and can't be, a goal. It's a character. Companies can be diverse, but one can't necessarily be more diverse than another. Sure, a company comprised of all-white men versus a multiethnic company with a female CEO may seem less diverse based on gender and race. But what is the background of those men? Are some gay? Are some from overseas? Were some raised by single mothers? How many are Democrats or Republican? Diversity, as my former company's executives pointed out, is also about diversity of thought. Diversity should be encouraged, but not by fiat. If it's not done voluntarily, what have you accomplished, aside from creating some potential animosity?
I have no idea what's going on in any person's mind, but it does help, when I'm hiring, to know that the best person for the job is preferred rather than the person who will make my department achieve an unquantified goal. What we should be seeking isn't diversity, but a free and open discussion about who is capable of doing what, rather than which person can probably do the job but makes the company diverse.
On the other hand, I do recognize the fact that making your company exclusive is not a particularly good idea and could wind up costing you money. If someone wants to hamstring their business in this fashion, shouldn't they be allowed to?
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Thanks for reminding me of the benefits of being 75 years old. I still do a little work and a little teaching so I have some peripheral contact with the diversity industry but not much.
I had a friend years ago that owned a specialized asset management company in the Washington, DC area. He was competing for business with a religious organization. They asked about his minority hiring policies. He said that he did not have such a policy. He just hired the best people he could find and people he could trust. He did not get the business from this group based on his statements. Had they visited his offices they would have thought differently of him as his employees were about 80% African Americans.
I'm curious. If he had hired 100% blacks, would he have been 'diverse'?
My guess is the answer is yes.
Hiring the best people is the best policy, not some artificial rule based on what people look like.
I worked for a major international corporation when, in the 1990's there was a major push on diversity. The Human Resources folks were tasked with puttijng everyone in the company through "diversity training."
At the training session I attended, a great deal of emphasis was placed on the fact that "this is not about gender or minorities." This speech was followed immediately by two videos showing bad examples...one involving a woman who wasn't hired and one about a black man who wasn't hired. When I mentioned the glaring disparity between what had been said and what the videos showed, the presenter hemmed and hawed and my boss, who was sitting beside me, leaned over and told me to "drop it."
To me, diversity always meant different ways of thingking and approaching problem solving. That's the real diversity, regardless of race, gender, or sexual preference. However, that doesn't fill the political correctness quota, so chances of sanity in hiring are still unlikely.
My husband retired a couple of years ago from a large retail company that was over the top regarding "diversity" during the latter part of his career. Not long before his retirement one of his female coworkers commented that she knew what "diversity" meant: "anybody but a white male". Hiring the best people never even entered the process.
When people who have some authority start counting things, it only follows that they will use that authority to adjust the numbers. This is fine when it comes to inanimate stuff, particularly money. However, when dealing with "diversity" is a powerful under mining of the ageless and very successful concept that goes by the name "merit." True business people and capitalists are absolutely blind to that which doesn't matter. They go forward to meet the needs of the market and make a profit. The search for diversity is immoral and evil as it reduces the value of the individual.
Exactly! "Diversity" attempts to shove individuals, who may or may not have the skills needed for the job, into politically correct groups, based on...what? percentage of the population? or their current political status as "victims" of the majority?
I've had to screen applicants for jobs. I get a little worried if the pool of candidates that isn't somewhat diverse. (Although finding female Industrial Engineer applicants is often impossible.)
Once we are past that stage, the best candidate wins.
I agree. But if you're not seeing a broad swath, then perhaps that says more about the 'diversity' of the industry than your desire to be diverse.
Which is a critical point. One of my best interns, ever, was a young Asian fellow. Everybody in the office started calling him 'junior' because he was so good I had him expanding his repertoire beyond normal intern duties. We wound up offering him a 'full-time' internship (he worked while he was in college), then a job which he turned down. I was pleased he turned it down, he's making much more money as a securities analyst for the media industry now.
Not many securities analysts for media have the level, however minimal, of experience he did.
Once he was gone, and I had a position to fill, there weren't many Asians to replace him with. HR considered it a 'diversity problem'. I called it the pool of available personnel. You can't control it all the time, and you shouldn't sacrifice your company's health on its altar.
Other meaningless terms that mean anything and nothing and annoy the heck out of me:
- social justice
I also work in the same corporate culture that stuffs diversity down the throat and there's corporate support for every type of group imaginable from race, gender, region to sexual orientation with the notable exceptions of hetero/married, male in general and white male in particular.
Funny. That last word, anyway. I am writing something about it. I suppose it plays into this concept tangentially.
Good one! It's a fancy sounding term for good old fashioned ENVY.
- global warming...duh how did I leave that one out
That is the single most irritating label of all of them.
How about 'economic justice'?
I'm not sure what 'economic justice' is.
I can't buy a Ferrari, but I'm sure I deserve one. Is there a court of 'economic justice' I can go to in order remedy this?
'Fairness' is another word. I'm sure you'd think it's fair if I manage to get my Ferrari, that you should get one of your own? Isn't it?
That's just not fair! A common refrain among schoolyard children and Progressives. Or do I repeat myself?
Climate change, Phil. Climate change. Write it on the blackboard 10 times. And, beware the wrath of Z.
right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right, right
We have lost business the last 10-15 years because we have not been able to comply with the "diversity" requirements of institutions, such as Bank of America, that must be met when they are hiring lawyers and any other service providers. We're plenty diverse when it comes to women and minorities (a good part of our firm is Asian, for example), but we refused to answer the now-standard question on the number of gays and lesbians we employ. We have taken the position that is a private matter and it is not appropriate for a firm to inquire as to their employees' sexual orientation. That is not the right answer any more if you are trying to get work.