American Businesses can be Woke, or they can be the Best, but they can’t be Both

“DE&I” (shorthand for “diversity, equity, and inclusion,”) is a handy acronym that has become commonplace in corporate America.  As recently as last May some of the hucksters peddling it were lamenting that the COVID-19 pandemic had “stalled” corporate DE&I initiatives; their fortunes reversed when the death of George Floyd and the ensuing riots drove DE&I to the top of American corporations’ list of priorities. 

DE&I initiatives are being pitched as “the efforts an institution takes to create a more welcoming environment for people of less privileged identities.”  But everyone knows what it really means: the company will be hiring fewer white men, more women and minorities.

There are several problems with this corporate trend, not least of which is the explicit text of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which suggests that such a predication for hiring employees is discriminatory and entirely illegal.  There is also the nonsensical assertion that white men must somehow enjoy an unquestionably privileged position in this society that systemically discriminates against them on their path to, say, a college education, while giving preferential treatment to those among these “less privileged identities.”  Most recently, companies everywhere are openly suggesting via DE&I policy that they’re explicitly looking to preferentially hire minorities and women over white men, so the argument that minorities and women are oppressed by white men in America has never had scanter evidence to support it than right now.

Still, arguments to bolster the notion that women and minorities are suffering under societal oppression at the hands of white men generally refer to what little evidence remains to be spun toward that assertion, usually offered without any context or countervailing opinions.  For example, these arguments often rely on broad demographic observations, such as the fact that white men tend to earn more income than women or certain other minority groups, like Blacks or Hispanics.  This disparity is blamed on societal discrimination by white men as its cause, but when it is observed that Asian men earn more than white men and women, the conclusion drawn isn’t that Asians are societally “privileged” and thus broadly oppressing white men.  Curious, that.

Of course, there are plenty of well-researched, nuanced, and convincing explanations for these disparities that don’t rely on systemic white, patriarchal oppression as the obvious culprit, though these explanations manage to elude those who are creating and consuming the mainstream myths influencing American culture and corporations today. The fallacious ideas driving the corporate push for diversity, equity, and inclusion are not even the most problematic thing about it. 

The push for DE&I is a cancer that results in organizational atrophy for corporate America, not strength or progress.

Consider what it would do to the NBA as a simple example.  Black men account for more than 80-percent of the league’s talent. That’s problematic, of course, because only 27-percent of the NBA’s fans share those players’ skin color.  Shouldn’t the product on the court look more like the fans buying the tickets and watching at home, as many corporations now insist should be their basis for hiring talent?

To ostensibly make the product better for fans, imagine that the league decided that only 50-percent of the players entering the league over the coming decade would be Black men.  The other 50-percent would, in an effort to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion, be comprised of other identities that are underrepresented in the NBA, such as whites, Hispanics, and women, the latter of whom currently represent a shocking zero percent among the NBA’s players.

If that might concern you, as an NBA fan, about the league’s future product, don’t worry.  The players that the league selects over the next ten years would most certainly be highly qualified, they would assure you, and will have met or exceeded the standards set by the NBA that allow for the demographic makeup that they aim to recruit. 

Only a fool could imagine that such an initiative would make the NBA’s product better for consumers.  And the reason for that is simple.  As an organization, you can select your talent from among the best there is, or you can select your talent from the best available to you after having critically limited the field of applicants for arbitrary reasons.  You can’t do both. 

We all know instinctively that this approach is ridiculous in the world of bouncing balls and putting them into baskets.  So, how is it that United Airlines expected accolades for applying this same logic in its business?  How is it that finding the best of the best without prioritizing race or sex is a good idea in sports, but it suddenly becomes a bad idea that is in need of swift correction when it comes to selecting the person who will fly me and my family around on a million-pound metal tube at 500-plus miles per hour and at 33,000 feet in the air?

United wants you to know that it will be working quickly to correct the troubling issue of its diversity-deficient cockpits, rest assured.  “Our flight deck should reflect the diverse group of people on board our planes every day,” says United.  “That’s why we plan for 50% of the 5,000 pilots we train in the next decade to be women or people of color.”

Ultimately, United had to do a bit of damage control for this, because it’s all so obviously insane.  The company responded by saying that, “[a]ll the highly qualified candidates we accept into the Academy, regardless of race or sex, will have met or exceeded the standards we set for admittance.”

The thing about “standards,” though, is that they can easily change.  So that proclamation is about as reassuring as knowing that the 130-pound woman who may need to drag a fellow 200-pound soldier out of harm’s way in the battlefield can’t do a pull-up, but she’s on the frontlines of a combat situation, anyway, because the military adjusted its standards in the name of “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”   

In the early days of what we now know as the American Century, in which American entrepreneurialism, ingenuity, and work ethic created the most prosperous nation that the world has ever known, President Calvin Coolidge famously said that “the business of America is business.”  Today, countless businesses in America are prioritizing meaningless DE&I goals over what should be the fundamental and practical priorities of their businesses.  Committing to DE&I goals certainly makes a business woke.  But businesses that prioritize wokeness over being the very best will only become weaker, and less competitive in the global marketplace.

Photo credit: Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

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