PJ Media

The Downside of Celebrating Diversity

By Roger Clegg

There is nothing wrong with diversity, and it is perfectly fine for companies to be vigilant and aggressive in ensuring that their workplaces seek and welcome the best people available. But, by precisely the same token, there is everything wrong with using racial, ethnic, and sex discrimination to achieve a politically correct mix of employees.

And, let’s face it, when you hear that a company “celebrates diversity,” you can be pretty sure that quotas and preferences — a.k.a. goals and timetables — are the life of the party.

A recent column in the Wall Street Journal — of all places — asserts that “diversity is good for the bottom line because it enables [business chiefs] to recruit the best talent, enlist broad thinking and reach diverse customers world-wide.” Okay, that’s a good summary of the case that is made for diversity. (The column then concludes that this “requires CEOs to link their managers’ compensation to achieving more diversity.” Quotas, q.e.d.) But if you think about it, none of the reasons given justifies race- or gender-conscious hiring.

If you want to “recruit the best talent,” then hiring with an eye toward getting your numbers right is precisely what you should not do. Likewise, there is no reason to use skin color, for instance, as a proxy for how someone thinks; you can have a multicolored workplace where everyone has similar backgrounds and perspectives, and a monochromatic one with great intellectual diversity. And it is ludicrous to suppose that the best way to sell more widgets to Frenchmen is by hiring more African-Americans, just as it is ludicrous to suppose that an African-American who majored in French studies is less qualified to help your marketing in Paris than a Nebraskan with a French surname. Look at individuals, not melanin.

Celebrating preferences, then, makes no sense on logical, empirical, legal, or moral grounds.

Regarding logic, let’s be charitable and take the most plausible scenario: Suppose that a company wants to improve sales to Mexican-Americans, and that therefore it is going to use preferences to increase the number of Latinos in its marketing department. I stress that marketing presents the most — indeed, the only — plausible scenario for diversity-based hiring.

But wait, not all Latinos are Mexican-Americans. A Cuban-American or Puerto Rican might have no particular knowledge of how to market to Mexican-Americans or any particular knowledge of Mexican-American culture. He might speak Spanish, but he might not; and the Mexican-American customer might or might not speak Spanish. If speaking Spanish is important, that can be hired for directly, and there would be no reason not to consider an Anglo or Asian or African-American who spoke Spanish.

Even among Mexican-Americans, the prospective employee might or might not know something about Mexican-American culture. There are plenty of Mexican-Americans whose parents, and they, are fully assimilated. And what is it about Mexican-American culture that is so mysterious that it cannot be fathomed by someone who happens not to have a Spanish surname? Traders have been trading with people different from themselves for thousands of years.

Diversity bureaucrats (public and private) frequently assert that the workforce should reflect the customer base. But why? Did the Phoenicians worry about this? If your customer base is mostly white, should you avoid hiring minorities?

So logic is lacking, as is empirical data. Most on point is a 2003 study, “The Effects of Diversity on Business Performance: Report of the Diversity Research Network,” that found there is no correlation between diversity and improved company performance. Professor Thomas A. Kochan of MIT’s Sloan School of Management published the analysis in the Human Resource Management Journal.

The study was also discussed in the business journal Workforce, where Kochan observed there that “there is virtually no evidence to support the simple assertion that diversity is inevitably good or bad for business.” He concluded, “The diversity industry is built on sand. The business case rhetoric for diversity is simply naïve and overdone. There are no strong positive or negative effects of gender or racial diversity on business performance.”

As for the law, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating in job hiring and promotion on the basis of race, ethnicity, or sex. To be sure, the Supreme Court has recognized a narrow exception for giving limited weight to such factors when “remedying” or “redressing” discrimination in “traditionally segregated job categories.” But how plausible is it for a company to rely on this exception in 2008 — 44 years after the federal government banned the company from such discrimination?

Most fundamentally, a company should not tell its shareholders that the reason it is using preferences based on race, ethnicity, or sex is because there are morally compelling reasons for doing so, because the opposite is true: It is wrong to hire, promote, and fire on the basis of employees’ skin color, what countries their ancestors came from, or what kind of physical plumbing they have.

Preference programs frequently end up discriminating not only against white males, but also against some minorities and women in favor of other minorities and women. Fighting the discrimination that has diminished dramatically but still exists against minorities and women does not require that there be instead preferences in their favor. Just hire the best.

Roger Clegg is president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity.