The Diversity Diversion

Most of us can understand why a big company might need a CEO, CFO, CIO, and COO. But a top-level diversity boss? What’s that about?

Today there are CDOs in the executive suites of most U.S. corporations, including AT&T, Dell, Bank of America, Johnson & Johnson, and Procter & Gamble, as well as at the helm of such leading universities as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. Each of these is a member of some minority -- African American, Hispanic, Asian, and/or female. There are no Anglo-American CDOs, even though in states like California Anglos are already a de facto minority.

Curious about this new leadership anomaly, I decided to Google it. The first source address that popped up was an article in Scientific American titled “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter” by Katherine W. Phillips. Ms. Phillips is a “professor of leadership and ethics” at Columbia Business School, which, one might suppose, makes her something of an expert. Given the title of her article, Professor Phillips certainly begins it with a peculiar question: “What good comes from diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation?” 

The professor then answers her own question with these grim observations: “Research has shown that social diversity in a group can cause discomfort, rougher interactions, a lack of trust, greater perceived interpersonal conflict, lower communication, less cohesion, more concern about disrespect, and other problems.”

So how does that make us smarter? The professor doesn’t say. All she does is change the subject by asking a cliché question: “So what’s the upside?” Her answer, of course, is another sweeping cliché: “Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving.” Such as, perhaps, teaching sixth graders the population control advantages of cannibalism in aboriginal cultures?

This cliché is followed by yet another: “Diversity can improve the bottom line of companies and lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations.” So it was diversity that enabled Steve Jobs to invent the iPhone?

“Even simply being exposed to diversity,” the professor asserts, “can change the way you think.” As, for example, in the case of a young woman growing up in a lesbian household becoming convinced she’s really a man?

“This is not just wishful thinking,” Professor Phillips assures us, “it is the conclusion I draw from decades of research from organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers.” So we’re supposed to believe this simply because it’s the professor’s conclusion? Such an argument certainly sounds American, but it’s hardly scientific.

Convinced that some smart spokeswoman somewhere must have a more specific and coherent explanation, I selected an online USA Today article titled “Google’s diversity chief started her crusade young.” Surely a practicing CDO at Google would know something about diversity.

Written by USA Today profiler Marco della Cava, this article quotes extensively from his source, Nancy Lee, Google's 44-year-old Chinese-American “director of diversity and inclusion.” Self-described as crusader for social justice, Ms. Lee pulls no punches. She obviously shared some pretty serious problems she has with her employer’s current bad stats: “Some 83% of Google tech workers are male. The workforce is 61% white, 30% Asian, 3% Hispanic and 2% African-American.”

Since she first took her CDO job at Google in 2006, Ms. Lee has initiated such ‘transformative’ programs as an employee diversity training program that includes “a 90-minute lecture designed to sensitize people to their own hidden biases” and what Ms. Lee calls a “Googler In Residence program” that assigns Google employees to historically black colleges “to help guide the schools' computer science programs.” One can’t help wondering how many Caucasian geek minds and hearts have been changed by Ms. Lee’s 90-minute sensitivity training lectures.

More to the point, why hasn’t Ms. Lee pushed Google management to create some paid internship programs for students from those historically black colleges? She claims that “students at community and state colleges with Google-grade computer programs are now in the company's sights.” Only “in the company’s sights?” After nine years on the job, Ms. Lee ought to have gotten way beyond just lining up sights. But maybe having a CDO at Google is just politically correct window dressing.

Or maybe this whole diversity shtick is just a diversion -- at best, another clumsy attempt to make a politically correct silk purse out of a blatantly discriminatory sow’s ear. According to Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, the ugly truth is: “…the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings.” 

Putnam’s observations here are consistent with what Professor Phillips has said about the “discomfort” that results from “social diversity in a group.” But, for some, this might seem to suggest that problems associated with diversity in a social group are something new in America.

As the well-known author and scholar Charles Murray has explained: “America was founded on British political and legal traditions that remain the bedrock of the American system to this day. But even at the time of the Founding, Americans were as culturally diverse as they are today…. the differences separating Yankees, Quakers, Cavaliers, and Scots-Irish at the Founding were at least as many and as divisive as those that separate different ethnic groups in America today.”

“Today’s America,” Murray explains, “is once again a patchwork of cultures that are different from one another and often in tension. What they share in common with the cultures of pre–World War I America is that they require freedom. In one way or another, the members of most of the new subcultures want to be left alone in ways that the laws of the nation, strictly observed, will no longer let them.”

What Murray is alluding to here is the intrusive role of what he calls ‘the regulatory state.’  Whether it is the IRS, SEC, EPA, FDA, FAA, FCC, DOE, DOJ, HHS, HUD or any of the many other alphabet soup agencies, we private citizens are under continuous surveillance and interference from unelected, indolent, incompetent and often corrupt Beltway bureaucrats.

It is not racial hatred or the lack of sufficient diversity in our workplaces, schools and universities that is causing so much divisiveness in our nation. It is our failure to understand what Murray calls “the quotidian culture” of our own communities.

Murray explains it this way: “The primary source of quotidian cultural diversity throughout American history and continuing today, independently of one’s ethnicity, religion, wealth, politics, or sexual orientation, is the size of the place where people live.” Thus, if you live in a big city like New York or Los Angeles and you have a problem with your water bill, “you must to deal with an anonymous bureaucracy.”

If you live in a small town or city of 25,000 or less, Murray observes, your daily life is much different. “For one thing, people of different ethnicities and socioeconomic classes are thrown together a lot more…. Hardly anyone in a town or small city is anonymous…. Repeated encounters tend to generate personal sympathies, understandings, and affiliations.”

The good news in all of this is that, as of the 2010 Census, there are just as many small communities (25,000 or less) in America as there are big cities like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Murray’s conclusion is that “people in places other than the megalopolises need a lot less oversight from higher levels of government than they’re getting.”

In other words: “That government is best which governs least.” This is one cliché the Founders would certainly have agreed with.

If you experience technical problems, please write to