Sunday, November 7, 2021

Diversity Plus

                                                                                          Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

             “Diversity of perspective and thought is essential to understanding
             and interpreting the law.”

                                                            --Law School Admissions Council

“Diversity and inclusion, which are the real grounds for creativity, must remain at the center of what we do.”  

                                                 --Marco Bizzarri – President, Gucci

 The percentage of women in US law schools, starting in 2016, rose to over 50%, and has been increasing since, now around 54%.  Blacks are 43% of the armed forces, but just two hold positions in the 43 top four-star ranks.  Just one percent are heads of Fortune companies.  Women lawyers make up 18% of the top Partner equity class.

The initiative DEI, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, is intended to address the fairness ethic so central to US life, in raising awareness of disproportionate ratios across the board, in companies, associations, schools, and board membership.  DEI goes beyond the diversity trainings, micro-aggression and inherent bias now active in HR departments.  One reason is the Harvard 2019 study concluding that these initiatives have been unproductive to counter-productive (Chang, Milkman, Gromet, et al.).  DEI is a wider mandate—not a formal program but a general theme—to extend beyond the training platform as a universal design principle.  This is a business function, operating alongside recruitment and retention, member / worker satisfaction, and policies and procedures.  It is long-term, comprehensive, and company-wide, and driven by a wider mandate to acquire Cultural Competence. 

Diversity as a social fairness principle began with the integration of the army by President Truman in 1948, then continued with the Civil Rights Act in 64, gay marriage in all 50 states (unimaginable before) was decided by the Supreme Court in 2015.  Gender identity has taken center stage in the 21st century, as well as mental health states, neurodiversity (autism and ADHD), and coming up, long-term Covid health conditions.  Although gender and racial discrimination were the initial concerns, these have exploded in a broad variety of other issues such as age discrimination.  California, as the leading diversity center of attention, is part of the 22% rate of marriages between ethnic groups in the Western US. 

This raises other fairness issues – Alan Bakke v. University of California (1978), which disallowed racial quotas in college admissions.  In our culture’s orientation to fairness, the playing field tilted back away in a reverse from elitism, to the extent that it is now a disadvantage to be a white male, as you will hear often in work circles.  This makes for a difficult situation for employers. The Art Institute of Chicago just fired its entire White, mostly female, 100 docents because they violated the diversity mandate just by being People Without Color.  Clearly this is a fairness issue. 

The concept of “Intersectionality,” however, offers the opportunity to search out and find other diversity categories, such as age and disability, or mental health states, that would work as diversity qualifiers.  When any individual can have multiple qualifiers, the number of possible identities works out in the tens of thousands.  Women of color who are lesbians and lower-class; white males who are disabled or veterans and Jewish; the list builds so that point systems for weighting one applicant against another must at some point need to become the standard for making decisions in hiring and promotion, or membership candidacy.  How else to decide between the Black male and the White female applicant for a senior position?

Why has diversity been so long in taking hold?  Tribalism, which has ruled human groups of hundreds of thousands of years, is our natural social preference for dealing with people we are related to, either closely or loosely. If others look, speak, and act like us, it fits our affinity for being able to read face and voice, the start of ability to predict what people are thinking and what they will do in any situation.  Dealing with other ethnicities and cultures makes this more difficult.  Added to the difference is a leading one: gender, as the only biological difference between people. 

Language different from your own is a major non-starter for communication.  Within your own language, however, language styling and accent are leading class markers, even above ethnic difference.  Hierarchy is a natural outcome of status distinctions like wealth, education, opportunity, competence, and social acumen.  Voice and literacy are markers for all the status signals we look for in deciding someone’s class. 

At the opposite end of the “familiarity scale” from tribalism is cosmopolitanism – the assumption of being comfortable and culturally consonant with a range of otherness – ethnic, class, education, positional on the hierarchy.  It is a sophistication always present in any culture as it reaches out to the world and welcomes what is different, including imported people and ideas.  In evolutionary terms, we were hunter-gatherers for most of human history, while only recently agriculturalists and town-dwellers.  Now over half the world live in cities, and this share is predicted to be far higher into this century.  Ancient Rome hit one million in 133 BCE; London was the first modern city to reach that number not until 1810, New York in 1975.  Technology and communications have made possible megacities of over 10 million, of which China has the most.  

Diversity is the future with the expansion of global industries, migration, communication, and identity.  The first companies to become diverse in their makeup were the multinationals like IBM, the subject of a famous study of power distance by Geert Hofstede (1980).  Gradually but with increasing speed, companies at all levels are picking up the slack in who they hire, nurture, and promote into leadership as a growth strategy.