Diversity, A Noble Experiment That Fell Short
Sometime during the sixties and seventies the idea of diversity began to take hold. The conventional wisdom was that our companies and institutions would be far more efficient and effective if they included people from a wide variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds and everyone maintained their ethnic purity.
It only made sense that planning, organizing, goal setting and execution would be enhanced by the variety and richness of diverse thoughts, opinions, beliefs and experiences that would be provided by various races and ethnic backgrounds. To that end “Diversity” was adopted as a mantra in college admissions, employment, political elections, board appoints, etc.
The ideas of assimilation and the great melting pot gave way to maintaining ethnic and racial identity in a cultural mosaic. Similarity and homogeneity were looked on as limiting creativity and innovation. Diversity was viewed as bringing a variety of beliefs, values and mores together producing dynamic synergism and enhanced decision making.
How has it worked out so far? The United States Congress was historically made up almost exclusively of white male Protestants until the 1970’s. Then diversity gradually took hold and grew to it’s present makeup of the House of Representatives that includes 103 females, 45 African Americans, 32 Hispanics, 11 Asian Americans, 28 Jews, 2 Muslims, 7 LGBT, 2 Buddists and an Athiest.
It’s hard to find evidence that this now diverse body has enhanced abilities of planning, organizing goal setting and execution. In fact, gridlock is more the norm. Conflict has reached unprecedented levels and ideas are killed because of their source and not their value.
Employers have been plagued by lawsuits and the threat of lawsuits for a broad assortment of discrimination claims both real and imaginary. Special training programs are necessary to assure that employees know how to talk to each other in a legally safe way.
Instead of coming together and sharing their unique gifts and perspectives to solving common problems and creating new opportunities, each diverse group tends to form their own caucuses, coalitions, clubs, associations, etc. to pursue their own interests and stand their ground against all others.
Colleges and Universities have had similar experiences. Rather than diverse individuals coming together and adding to the richness of the education experience for all, self segregated groups formed for the purpose of presenting a united front against all who are not like them.
While student and faculty populations became more diverse as to race, ethnicity, religion and gender, diversity of ideas has suffered. Rather than providing a forum for the free exchange of ideas, which is the justiciation for faculty tenure, strict limits on correct speech are imposed on many campuses to prevent one group from offending another.
There is no doubt that the diversity movement is an effective means of combating miniority discrimination, but it fails to live up to the romantic notion that group dynamics are improved when people of dissimilar beliefs, values, morals and goals coexist with all their differences in tact.
Jonathan Haidt, Social Psychologist on the faculty of the University of Virginia, in his recent book, “The Righteous Mind” said that in order to increase the effectiveness of any organization it is necessary to “Increase similarity not diversity. To make a human hive you want to make everyone feel like a family. So don’t call attention to racial and ethnic differences; make them less relevant by ramping up similarity and celebrating the group’s shared values and common identity. A great deal of research in social psychology shows that people are warmer and more trusting toward people who look like them, dress like them, talk like them, or even share their first name or birthday. There is nothing special about race. You can make people care less about race by drowning race in a sea of similarities, shared goals and mutual interdependencies.”
Now, more than ever, we need to pull together. Our unassimilated diversity has created a nation of multiple feuding factions. We are separated by things we don’t even know how to define. We seem to care more about demeaning people who are not like us than we care about solving problems and making progress. We delight in finding ways to blame bad things on people on the other team and hold ourselves above it all.
We will all benefit by recognizing that we have more similarities than we do differences, that we want pretty much the same things out of life, that we have the capacity to achieve good things together because our important beliefs, values and morals are shared among us. We can and must dispatch diversity, as we know it, to the museum of unsuccessful social fads and begin recognizing our similarities and build the life we all want.