Is Diversity Really Necessary In The Workplace?

Diversity in the workplace
I knew I'd never be an editor at HuffPo as a man, so I decided to be the Editor in Chief of FS!

Look around you. Chances are HIGH all your bosses look the same, talk the same, and act the same. If you so happen not to look like your boss, then you might be limited in your upward mobility. We all know people tend to favor those who are more similar to themselves.

My dentist is a Black woman. I've been going to her for over 10 years now because she's amazing. She bought out my old dentist's practice (a White man), and I just stuck with her. She also has one of the most decorated resumes I've ever seen, having graduated from Stanford (undergrad), UCSF (dental school), and Harvard (MPH). I feel my gums and teeth are in good hands.

One day, she decided to put up a picture wall to celebrate her six employees. All of them were women and only one was White. Coincidence? Obviously not. She feels more comfortable working with women and people of color. It's her practice. She can hire whomever she wishes!

So long as I get the best dental care possible, that's all that matters. But if I have a bad experience, I rationally might start seeking alternatives. From the diversity and size of her clientele, I don't think they care about the homogeneity of her staff either. My dentist is doing extremely well. 

Diversity Is Necessary To Give Other People A Chance

Unfortunately, meritocracy can only take you so far if the boss is good buddies with your colleague who grew up in the same town. Diversity is necessary to give other people a chance to shine. But why is that?

It's because diversity lets more people hire, promote, and pay more people who are just like them! We must diversify our biases! 

What perplexes me is the pressure for companies to publish their employee makeup, even private companies. It's almost as if diversity is more important than meritocracy. Only the best people should get the job, and to make it not the case is disrespecting those folks who did get their jobs because of merit.

Paul Ryan Internship Selfie
Paul Ryan internship selfie –
an overrepresentation of people who look like him

Let's take two companies competing in the same business looking to hire 100 people.

Company #1 is based on 100% meritocracy. They only hire the best people for the job, regardless of background or race. They also base promotions on performance not politics.

Company #2 is based on 100% diversity. They have a goal to hire four racial groups in 25% even splits. In addition, they must hire an equal amount of people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s as well. Finally, the gender split must be 50/50 male/female.

Obviously this in an extreme example of two companies at opposite ends of the spectrum. But you've got to ask yourself two questions: 1) Which company would you want to invest in? and 2) Which company would you want to work for?

I would personally invest and work for company #1, even if 95% of the people didn't look like me. The reason? I don't care about what people look like. I just want to work with the best people possible. Business is war. Business is not a sociology experiment. If you don't get the best people in the right seats, there might not be a business for very long. When a company is winning, everybody is winning. People are nicer and much more collaborative when things are going well. A business's main goal is to grow and be profitable.

Company #2 will have a more difficult time surviving in a hyper-competitive world if they emphasize diversity over hiring the best people for the job. Yes, it would be wonderful if more companies have a diverse pool of employees who also happen to be the most qualified candidates. But diversity is hard to manufacture. Most businesses fail within five years anyway, even after hiring who they think are the best people for the job. A company might receive good publicity for being very diverse, but in the end, dysfunction will result if merit is undervalued, and people will quit or lose their jobs.


As a minority, I understand what it's like to be picked on, put down, and discredited. It's why so many minority groups tend to stick together. “Work twice as hard to get half as much,” is a good mantra for everybody to adopt, not just minorities. Things have definitely improved since the mid-90s when I first experienced racial conflict working at McDonald's. But there's still room for improvement.

U.S. Rep E.B. Johnson selfie
Rep E.B. Johnson internship selfie
– an overrepresentation of people who look like her

If you are intrepid enough to start a company, have no shame trying to hire the best people you are most comfortable working with. If they happen to all look and talk like you, then so be it. It's your own private business, literally. It's so brutally difficult to create a sustainable business out of nothing that capitalism alone will force you to make the right moves.

If you're looking to join a company, look to join a firm that hires the best people first, but is also sensitive to the importance of diversity to address a diverse customer base. If you feel uncomfortable with a company's employee demographic or homogenous management team, move on.

If we must focus on diversity, then let's focus on diversifying through people of different economic backgrounds instead. Let's give the poor a greater chance to succeed. It's been my consistent experience the people from the most humble backgrounds have the largest internal fire, not the college graduate who rolls into work in a $60,000 SUV his parents bought him.

It's Hard To Be Completely Objective

Interns with Congresswoman Grace Meng
Congresswoman Grace Meng with
potential interns who are all Asian

No matter how hard we try, we will never treat everyone the same. Even parents have favorite children; what makes you think bosses don't have favorite employees?

Study the four pictures in this post. They clearly demonstrate a bias towards hiring people who are more like the boss. Nobody should be surprised The Huffington Post's editorial staff is 100% female since the editor in chief is female. Nobody should be surprised Paul Ryan's interns are majority White. Nobody should be surprised E.B. Johnson's interns have a large representation of Black women and minorities. And nobody should be surprised when the Asian Pacific American Institute of Congressional Studies folks went to visit Congresswoman Grace Meng. Having an interest in people like you is just a natural thing. Nobody is to blame.

Trump Team All Look The Same Too

Only the naive believe there will ever be complete equality. True meritocracies do not exist, even though we'd like to think they do. Instead, be so good people can't ignore you. And if you still can't gain the respect you deserve, find a firm that will. If no firm will, then screw them all and be your own boss! Nobody is stopping you from getting what you want.

Recommendation For Leaving A Job

If you want to leave a job you no longer enjoy, I recommend negotiating a severance instead of quitting. If you negotiate a severance like I did back in 2012, you not only get a severance check, but potentially subsidized healthcare, deferred compensation, and worker training.

When you get laid off, you're also eligible for up to roughly 27 weeks of unemployment benefits. Having a financial runway is huge during your transition period.

Conversely, if you quit your job you get nothing. Check out How To Engineer Your Layoff: Make A Small Fortune By Saying Goodbye.

It's the only book that teaches you how to negotiate a severance. In addition, it was recently updated and expanded thanks to tremendous reader feedback and successful case studies.

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60 thoughts on “Is Diversity Really Necessary In The Workplace?”

  1. Gabriel Brock

    Recruiting leaders know that if their companies aren’t sourcing and hiring for the diversity they are missing valuable talent and experience. This is one of the reasons diversity has been a focus area for improvement in recent years.

  2. Ronald Dodson

    Diversity doesn’t start and stop with your hiring practices. Inclusivity needs to underscore every interaction you have with your workforce.

  3. Thank you for this post, Sam. I’m definitely a weirdo. I don’t give a rat’s butt about diversity. I care a lot more about freedom, though. If I had a choice between being free in a very homogeneous country or being a serf in a very diverse country, I’d choose freedom in a heartbeat.

  4. While business may get a pass on whom they hire, because they can always justify it as “They are just better than anyone else we could hire”, politicians do not!
    Politicians should represent their entire electorate. They should embrace diversity and conflicting oppinions if they want to accurately understand the problems of the people they are called to represent and serve. Diversity is actually crucial for a politician’s staff. Otherwise, they will of course, legislate for people like them.

  5. I think that if we hire the best people for the job, as you suggested, Sam, then diversity will naturally follow. No race, gender, religion, sexual preference, or any group is better at anything than any other. Maybe not in a six person office, but on a larger scale.

    Diversity for diversity’s sake is not something to celebrate, but a TRUE meritocracy does not routinely create editorial staffs made up only of women, medical offices made up only of blacks, and political offices made up only of whites. On a national scale–not in a single small office but on a larger scale–true meritocracy will naturally result in true diversity (rather than diversity created by quotas). A company that has a homogenous makeup is likely NOT hiring people based on merit, but on the same type of thinking that creates a “diversity for diversity’s sake” team.

    Great article, Sam. I don’t know why the idea of simply hiring the best people for the job is considered anathema and even racist in our society.

    ARB–Angry Retail Banker

  6. Another interesting post. I am very much against forced diversity in the workplace and agree that it should be meritocracy that rules (however unrealistic that may be). I also (must be an Asian thing) place a lot emphasis on educational background since I am an attorney. Two candidates of the same race who interview equally well but one graduated from a no-name law school (i.e. outside top 50) and another graduated from a well known law school (assuming grades were equal), I would probably take the one who graduated from the well known law school. I think where unconscious bias comes in or hiring people like you comes in, is the following hypothetical: candidate 1 is African-American man with a Harvard law degree; candidate 2 is an Asian-American woman with a Stanford law degree. Assuming both have the proper experience and interview well, who are you going to hire? In this forced diversity world, I think candidate 1 would get the job 100% of the time. But in the meritocracy world, who knows? An Asian-American hiring manager probably would hire the Asian-American candidate. Of course, in the real world, it’s never this cut and dried. One candidate usually stands out as a better fit with the team in some fashion. But I would venture to say, in today’s corporate world, even if candidate 2 was a better fit, candidate 1 might get the nod.

  7. Interesting points. This is definitely a complex issues. Just wanted to comment about the pics of the congressman/woman and their interns. I think there’s a bit of a difference between Ryan’s having all white interns versus E.B. Johnson and Grace Meng having interns that reflect their racial makeup. Minorities are already underrepresented in Congress so I think the minority Congresswoman probably feel an obligation to hire minorities who are qualified and give them an opportunity to hopefully one day change the underrepresentation. Whereas with Ryan, I think it would be easier for him to just pick the best candidates regardless of race. I’m not sure if he did or not, maybe minorities didn’t apply for that position…you can’t judge based on a picture without other information. The choice is not diversity or merit. Often times people choose who to hire based on nepotism/connections, etc…and in those cases, diversity is rare. I like the thought about diversifying through economic backgrounds

  8. Can’t agree more!
    In Italy (yeah, not the best country for meritocracy) we have something similar in the realm of politics: something like “50% must be women”, else there will be only men in politics.

    Now – disclaimer: I may be going to say something very unpopular here – I think this is BS. If there are 100 jobs and 500 male applicant and 51 females, I’d statistically expect a 90/10 split. If you force a 50/50 you get the second worst in a population of 51 while sending home someone in the 10th percentile in their population.

    Unless there are natural barrier to a certain population to access a certain position, but that still isn’t enough of a reason.

  9. I think people of all races get annoyed when they see any other race favoring their own. But it happens all the time in most industries. In the NFL they implement a rule that requires teams to interview a minority for a vacant head coach position. Even if the owner already has their guy in mind and has no intention of hiring the minority candidate, they still have to go through the exercise.

    There is blatant favoritism going on in all fields, but trying to legislate it out usually doesn’t work very well.

  10. I just assumed that everyone knew that diversity wins. There are numerous studies that support that qualified diverse teams outperform qualified non-diverse teams. Non-diverse teams are likely to fall into ‘group think’ and struggle to understand perspectives outside of their own which could be important in business. For example, Chevy had a vehicle called the Nova….no va…equates to “does not go” in Spanish. Why would you name your car “does not go?” What about Pepsi’s ad campaign in China that translates ‘”to raise your ancestors from the dead?” Look at Enron. Not diverse and wildly unsuccessful. If it were my business, I would look for quality employees, committed to the vision of my company and then diversity. We all have biases and assumptions that help us filter data, but do not always lead to the best choices. I recommend quality diversity if you want to have a well rounded teams that will not suffer from group think. Second, what do we mean by diversity? In one of the post, someone shared the ethnic percentages in the population as a guideline. Percentages are helpful but I think it will depend on the type of company. If I have a construction company, putting up residential homes, getting to 50% female is going to be a challenge. However, I would be open to hiring a women that knows her stuff in this field. Diversity goal achieved. I would be open to hiring all the qualified, capable women I could find versus hiring all the qualified male candidates so that I could have a diverse team. Why? Because diverse teams perform better. My point is that we have used diversity in the article but not clearly defined it.

    Great posts and a lot of good comments.

    1. Man, what a great point on group think and No Va! Who was the dumbo who created that name? :)

      I wish the SAT exam was created by an Asian guy who grew up in Zambia, Malaysia, Taiwan, and The Philippines. I would have scored so much better on Carl Brigham’s test!

      Thanks for sharing. Vamos!

  11. No, it isn’t.

    “Diversity” just means fewer Whites (especially White males).

    It is a discriminatory against White people for simply being White.

    If Whites want to associate with Whites, they should have that choice.

    La Raza, Black Caucus, Asian American groups, Jewish groups all can all advocate for their ethnic groups interests. Only Whites are denied this.

    1. I’ve got to disagree with both Newport Ned AND Marco here. Diversity is a strength, but diversity at the behest of a quota is not. The best candidates for the job should be chosen; if that happens, diversity should naturally follow. At least on a larger scale.

      ARB–Angry Retail Banker

      1. Funny.

        Compare the Ancient Greek army. A small, tightly knit group with the same ethnic background, same gods, same customs and habits.

        Now take the huge multi-racial, multi-ethnic Persian empire. Vastly different backgrounds, religions, customs, etc.

        The Persian Empire was smashed by the Greeks.

        Diversity (Division) is not a strength. Unity is strength.

        Diversity just means fewer White people.

  12. Unmentioned regarding the Congress photos, is that the interns serving the office are from the District. The racial demographics for Congress members Meng, Johnson and Ryan, all favor the respective Asian, African-American, and White makeup.

    One point, the countries with the highest educational performance (top 15 countries), today in 2016, are monocultural. Diversity isn’t really a thing, and isn’t seen as something that would add value.

  13. There’s a lot of research that teams with diversity of experience (whether through gender, race, or class) come up with better solutions. Especially if there is not just a token Other. When people push back against one another’s ideas, more assumptions come forward and can then be navigated through to a better product. The office is slightly less of a “family” but creates better widgets.

  14. I believe in diversity though not as defined above. I think narrowing diversity down to just skin colour is very short sighted and not true diversity. As an Indian who looks East Indian in a predominantly West/South Indian diaspora, I don’t take comfort in having Indian co-workers. What comforts me is sharing a workspace with people with similar life experiences, similar goals, a positive outlook and a strong work ethic.

    But I know that it’s important to have people who can voice a different opinion/perspective around. This variety keeps group mentality at bay. Though having people very different to me can certainly be trying at times (think aircon and hygiene), I appreciate and rely on their quality of work which contributes to our overall success.

    As for meritocracy, some people look positively gold on paper but in reality are very poor workers. Bookworming can get you in but if you can’t practically apply it, then what’s the point?

    In my opinion, businesses should employ competent (not just on paper) and varied people (from all ethnicities, walks of life and ages) who share a strong work ethic as the common denominator. However, you then need strong leadership to wrangle everyone together.

    True diversity produces fresh ideas/perspectives, provides checks and balances, and prevents group mentality (Enron?)/blinkered decision making, all of which ultimately determine a business fate.

  15. I’ve noticed working at start-ups that they ONLY hire the best of the breed. The employees that will make the business succeed and the ones that will get them to the next round of funding and complete the projects. I also noticed that HR departments radically change the hiring work process. I know one of HR job is to limit the company’s liability when they are hiring and I assume one of prevention mechanisms is to put some type of diversity in the workplace in case of a lawsuit. Any comments on that?

  16. I don’t get how Johnson’s interns are overrepresented one way or the other. Half of them at least aren’t black, and also lots of men.

    1. Non-Hispanic whites make up 63 percent of the U.S.; Hispanics, 17 percent; blacks, 12.3 percent; Asians, 5 percent; and multiracial Americans, 2.4 percent.

      There are a lot more than 12.3% black people in EB Johnson’s picture. Therefore, there is an over representation of black people in her internship pool. And that’s OK because that is her choice.

  17. The Alchemist

    THANK YOU, Sam! This is something that really needs to be said— rationally and objectively, not emotionally. Artificial “diversity” is a self-serving concept. I feel strongly that equal opportunity is the name of the game— NOT equal outcome. Diversity is awesome if it means that all types of humans have an equal shot at any given opportunity. But you cannot just shove a square peg into a round hole for the sake of “appearances”. In the end, work must get done, a company must be profitable. The best man (or woman) for the job should get it. As you point out, it’s ridiculous to attempt to engineer diversity simply for the sake of diversity.

    Quite frankly, all the lip service that Silicon Valley is currently paying to the insatiable Diversity Gods makes me thoroughly nauseous. Everyone should have to EARN whatever they get. Simply fulfilling some artificial “quota” is effectively discriminatory.

  18. No. Diversity is not necessary, but it can be beneficial and shouldn’t be prevented though. If a company is not actively causing a lack of diversity and monitoring their processes to filter out potential discrimination, then they are doing enough. Every time I hear a discussion on diversity, I always see demographics, but I don’t ever see any statistics on who is applying to these jobs nor statistics that seem to support that those applying are being rejected at a high rate among minorities. So, I don’t see a reason to be alarmed.

    In the US, the burden of proof falls on the accused, so if you’re going to say there needs to be diversity, build a case to show that it is indeed being caused by some systemic process by providing data to support the claim that is BEYOND demographics. Demographics tell us what something looks like, but it doesn’t really tell us why something looks the way it does. That’s the missing link.

  19. Let’s talk about CEO’s and owners of companies. People tend to associate with people they like. And people like others who are like themselves, since the natural state is to work with others who will help support your interests. These factors include: race, religion, hobbies, sports teams, political affiliations, debate interests and types of thinking and working style.

    It’s no secret that one of the tactics of a successful salesperson is to mirror another person, not obviously but genuinely. So it’s possible to connect with these people while still being racially and religiously diverse. A good leader is at least aware of this cognitive bias and a great leader actively works to manage this and other inherent biases. We often need to bring others into the team to supplement where we are weak functionally, technically and behaviorally.

    However there should be enough of a common core to have others follow the company direction properly. Too much diversity and humoring all opinions leads to chaos. If you don’t believe me go visit India and see for yourself firsthand.

    You are right that it is key to learn to cultivate respect for people different from us. Everyone has something to offer and it takes talent to bring that out.


  20. Jack Catchem

    Hi Sam,

    In my old job at a Big City police department race politics were so important that I accepted I was not competing for advancement against all the other cops. I was truly competing against those of the same gender & race. I’m not making an argument against right or wrong, that is simply the reality of BCPD politics.

    Now in a smaller city with a true merit focus we still have a diverse workplace. My fellow cops are extremely competent and it’s been easy to see the people getting promoted deserve it because they are good. Many of my bosses don’t look like me, but I have yet to have a negative experience because they are all talented.

    I won’t begin to pretend the “protoge” effect does not and will not occur, but I am comforted when talent is king and diversity is a factor.

    That being said, especially when hiring, diversity is a talent in the law enforcement world. I crafted a blog post of 5 strategies to get hired as a cop. Here are 2 of the best strategies: 1) be a woman & 2) fluently speak a language other than English. It’s not tongue in cheek. The law enforcement “industry” needs these abilities and if either apply to you you already have an “in” and have the chance of departments competing for you instead of competing with other recruits.

    1. Your 2 of the best strategies to be hired as a cop are discriminatory and racist. Being a police officer is a public job and not a private company. What if I proudly wrote the 2 best strategies to be hired to be a cop are;

      1)Be a man and 2)be a native speaker of English.

      I write this as a white person who was blatantly discriminated against when not hired as a police officer because I was a white male that could not speak fluent Spanish. I almost passed the oral exam for Spanish speaking but not quite. Wouldn’t you know a Hispanic man who was hired instead of me was later convicted of a serious crime? Fact.

      There are articles and associations everywhere that proudly claim “Women Chapter xxx”, Hispanic Chapter xxx”, “Young Black xxx”, “Congressional Black Caucus” etc. If there were any organization that proudly stated “White men xxx” it would be routinely ridiculed.

      It’s time to face the truth that white men are the minority in America and enough with diversity and affirmative action. Over 65% of the U.S. population is non white men.

      I watched college football today and the vast majority of players were black. Why isn’t there a cry for diversity in college football or the NBA?

      1. Jack Catchem

        Sorry, Mike, I cannot agree with you. There is a HUGE call for women in policing (it’s still a majority male world and most departments consist of more than 80% men). Being that half the population served is female it makes sense departments need more women to serve the public. Being a woman is a special talent that many of us do not have!

        Secondly, there is nothing racist about the ability to fluently speak another language placing you ahead of the average recruit. Armenians are typically classified as “white” yet fluent Armenian speakers were fastracked at Big City. Again, policing is a public service and what better way to provide that service than by being able to speak the same language? It’s not race, it’s skill.

        You can write that being a man and an English speaker is a good strategy, but it only puts you on par with the rest of the crowd.

  21. Sam,

    Great discussion on diversity. Personally, I really don’t care too much about diversity despite being a minority. As many have discussed, it should ideally be about what you bring to the table other than skin color.

    As a funny story, I think I’m only one of two or three Asians our firm has hired over its 9 year history. I didn’t think about it at the time, but they stressed meritocracy when I first interviewed a few years ago. And that has been true to a certain extent.

    Despite not being white, I think the owners at the firm had somewhat of a bias towards me because (although I didn’t know it going in) we all grew up around the same metro area, went to the same college, and had many of the same professors.

    “What perplexes me is the pressure for companies to publish their employee makeup, even private companies. It’s almost as if diversity is more important than meritocracy.”

    I definitely get the sense this is more prevalent in Europe. Whenever I crack an annual report for a European company, they have charts and tables going for pages about diversity between race, gender, age, and a lot of other areas.

    As a shareholder/investor, I really don’t care about the diversity of the employee base, management team, or board of directors. They could be all old white guys or a mix of everything. All that matters to me is shareholder return.

  22. Sam, I think you’ve been away from corporate America too long already. I find it surprising why you are perplexed by companies releasing their employee demographic makeup. As someone who worked in corporate America and wrote a book called engineering your own layoff, I’d figure you’re fully aware of the lengths companies will go to in order to portray a certain public image in caring about important societal issues for PR purposes.

    I know it sounds cynical, but I work in one, so I’m fully aware that corporations are always about the bottom line. In reality, it’s mostly just like paying severance to employees or settling a corporate lawsuit. It’s better for their bottom line not to deal with any potential discrimination lawsuits and potential decline in revenue due to negative publicity, so they’re trying to demonstrate that they have active programs to encourage diversity.

    1. Josh, I think you are right. As an solopreneur now, I no longer have to deal with office politics. I’ve got nobody to suck up to. I either produce or get nothing. My perception on career and employment has completely changed as a result.

      The thing is, Google and Facebook and Apple have released their diversity reports to basically NO IMPROVEMENT for the past 5+ years. Hence, if you are an underpresented demographic, are you going to sit around until they improve? Sure, if you work with good people and don’t mind the lack of diversity. But if you do mind, then leave. Find your people or create your own.

      It IS good companies are making an effort to try and attract more diverse candidates. It’s good business practice due to a diverse customer base. It’s just hard to FORCE diversity if there simply aren’t enough XYZ folks interested in doing ABC.

      Related: How To Improve Your Brand

  23. If it wasn’t for the changes wrought at the end of the 1950’s and the great movement for social change, all those photos would look like Paul Ryan’s photo.

  24. One thing I liked about my last employer was the ratio of men to women – it was pretty close to 50/50 and that wasn’t due to meeting any kind of quota, it was because of how the candidate pool was and hiring based on merit. It also was decently diverse in terms of race.

    At my prior jobs the ratio was more like 75 percent male to 25 percent female and that felt largely political and influence by an old boys club culture. There wasn’t a huge racial mix either; it was mostly white.

    I do think company culture and politics does play into what an employee pool winds up looking like and also if the managers hiring are largely biased.

    It would be interesting if companies hired “blindly” in a way – like on the Voice. Let’s say you could see resumes without the names listed (in case the names had cultural/racial clues) to find out who looks qualified on paper but when the candidate are brought in, you speak to them behind a curtain or something. Not being able to read body language would be a loss for the hiring manager, but it would certainly be interesting to see how that would change company’s diversity mixes.

  25. People will always find reasons to complain. I do agree as a general rule companies should strive to make their work forces more diverse and provide opportunities for underrepresented people, but don’t believe it’s as important issue as the media makes it out to be. As with any behavior there are exceptions, but mostly it seems certain groups of people just naturally seem to gravitate towards certain professions for some reasons. Most engineers are predominately male & white, most people in fashion industry are female or gay men, police/firefighter/construction tends to attract mostly male, grade school teachers are mostly female, etc. The media makes much greater issue of diversity in tech because certain visible people have made incredible loads of money in a very short timeframe over the last few decades, so naturally this attracts attention. The media conveniently seems to ignore disproportionate overrepresentation of Asians(mostly younger foreign H1Bs) because it doesn’t fit their narrative for high tech. I’ll guarantee that other engineering professions such as people working in the areas of telecommunications, aeronautical, civil, utility, water treatment, etc are largely male and white(maybe Asians, but not H1Bs), but no one makes a big deal out of those industries since very few people have made immense wealth from those companies. Private companies are releasing their workforce info because of political pressure. For most of them, it’s like paying a parking ticket rather than trying to fight it in court. It’s not worth the hassle of bad press.

    My personal view is that diversity is good only up to a certain point with respect to race. Too much diversity always seems to lead to group conflicts everywhere, including in US. Racial riots between blacks and Asians in early 90s in Los Angeles, racial tension in black/latino schools or black/white schools. Even cities as liberal as SF, LA, or NYC are always segregated by race if someone actually looks at the demographic makeup of the neighborhoods in that city.

  26. Matt @ Distilled Dollar

    Since companies operate in the market, and since the market is a meritocracy, then I believe things end up sorting themselves out based on meritocracy. I also believe there are plenty of structural problems in our society today that often leave doors closed for people who are highly capable.

    This article reminded me of Warren Buffett’s interview with Ben Graham. Warren wanted to work for the legendary investor (Warren was still just a kid in his 20s at the time), but Ben told him his office exclusively hired Jewish immigrants. Giving a slot to Warren would mean another Jewish kid unemployed, as Ben put it. Buffett described that conversation as a piece of real politik.

    As time went on, Ben relented and Warren took his only job in New York until Ben closed up shop. Real interesting how even Warren Buffett was held back from a job due to this issue.

  27. Apathy Ends

    I agree that merit should be the number 1 factor for both hiring and promotion. The problem is merit can be perceived differently by the boss and employees alike. Employees think higher of themselves than their peers and the boss has favorites, just the way it is.

    A few years ago I would guess our org of 700 was 95% white – honestly I think it had to do with the colleges we recruited out of. Private schools in MN aren’t know for being diverse.

    There has been a dramatic shift in our diversity over the last year – mostly on the tech floor. We have hired some great engineers, and some that only lasted a month. I don’t know if it’s a push from the management team or if we are going after people with more experience and that employee pool is more diverse.

  28. Romeo Jeremiah


    I’m sure you absolutely do wish things can be a simple as you posit.

    1) “Hiring people who look like you” gives too much power to the employer and dismisses the assumption that maybe its the prospective employee who wan’t to work where their boss actually looks like them. Sociology of a hire is difficult to pinpoint.

    2) The “best” is relative. A resume (education) doesn’t prove work ethic. Oftentimes you don’t know what you hire until it’s too late.

    3) If we are talking kids directly out of college, ironically, even you have your own biases. Let’s take your example of your Dentist. It seems that you would paint her as “better” (or best) than a candidate who went to a lower tier college. Is this true? Because again, great college doesn’t equate to great education, and a great education doesn’t point to a great work ethic. I believe you have an article on your site that talks about this conundrum (private vs. public college).

    4) At the end of the day, if given the choice, I say that the best solution for a private company is to hire the best fit person, socially, for their environment. Even this is difficult to gauge though. But think about it, if you started a “blogging” firm, you’d likely want people who enjoyed traveling, didn’t mind writing for 10 hours per day, enjoyed tennis, and who wouldn’t be afraid to discuss openly in the work space their opinions regarding race and politics. Black, White, or Asian, you probably wouldn’t care which school they attended. Unfortunately, you can’t get this from a resume.

    1. You make a good point about my dentist’s resume. I didn’t know about her resume until about 4 years after she decided to remodel her entire office. I just assumed all dentists are qualified and licensed (everybody check their health care providers!). During remodeling was when she not only put up the employee picture wall but also her three plaques from Stanford, UCSF, and Harvard. She had recently gotten a M.P.H from Harvard, so I commended her on her achievement given it’s right there when patients sign in.

      But now that I think about it, I have to show my bias and admit I’d rather have a dentist who went to the best schools if I’m paying the same price, all else being equal. As a personal finance junkie, it feels like I’m “getting a deal!” But if she happen to go to the college of William and Mary and UC Berkeley, I probably would think she would be even greater dentist because I’m biased for people who attend these top two public schools!

      I just looked up her full bio. Wow. She is a ROCK STAR! Check this passage out:

      “A life-long resident of San Francisco, Dr. Sam’s dentist commitment to marginalized communities is well documented through collaborative efforts that have involved both access planning and care delivery on the state and local levels. She has worked on behalf of the growing homeless veteran population in the Bay Area, and has taken steps to address seat belt use disparity in minority communities. As a dental health advocate, she strives to redirect resources toward underserved populations throughout the San Francisco-Bay Area in her role as chair of Community Outreach.

      Her long-term goal is to work in concert with members of local government, foundations, private agencies, and schools to bolster the “pipeline” of underrepresented students interested in becoming dentists and ultimately addressing the unmet needs of urban and growing rural populations within California.”

      This is awesome. I’m going to commend her for her work next week! Before this, all I saw was a smart person who gave good advice and did good work. I saw her as an excellent dentist. I’m proud of her for doing more with her own free time.

      1. Romeo Jeremiah

        Absolutely. She sounds amazing and I’m sure she is.

        But in an interview process, and in a perfect world, knowing this information and assuming she would want a job, the HR panel should try to determine if this person would be more committed to the firm than her outside pursuits. After all, that is what’s best for business, all else being equal.

        I’m sure there is more about her. This is not a judgement of her, but in that example, out of all of that, nothing points to her skills and how she’s a great “technician”. It only points to her pursuits and political ambitions outside of work.

        You still don’t know if this person is the best fit for an organization unless you’re looking for a dentistry ambassador. Clearly, your dentist is in her self-actualization phase of life. She’s probably now more passionate about being an advocate for the industry than a practitioner within the industry.

        Of course I’m simplifying things but “best fit” for a business is a multifaceted decision that’s difficult to pin point.

        But back to your point, diversity is necessary for some of the same reasons why affirmation action is necessary. And from a business strategic standpoint, if you hire “the best fit” who just happens to be Asian, but he or she feels uneasy at work because there are no other Asians, and therefore no other social connections within, it may be beneficial for the firm to hire a few other Asians, assuming this makes him or her feel “more connected”. Else, “the best fit” may quickly transfer himself and his talent to another firm.

        1. My question to the Asian person in your example applying to the firm is: why apply to the firm if you feel uneasy with the lack of Asian people? Nobody is forcing the person to apply. There are so many other firms to work for where people join due to the people first and employer second.

          If you decide to join for the employer first and the people second, knowing that the people werent your cup of tea, and then you can go back and complain about the people making you feel uncomfortable, that’s just off. But if you join an employer with your eyes wide open and go through bad experiences, then there is more justification to complain or do something about the situation. Conflicts arise all the time in the workplace.

          If I am going to join Facebook, where I know that it is predominantly White males, i’m not going to then report them for being undiverse. I’ll try to embrace all that is good about Facebook and find commonalities among my colleagues in different ways e.g Sports, travel, writing, poker, tennis, etc. if I feel I need to just hang out with Asian people, then I’ll go for an Asian people to hang out with because the firm is large enough you have all sorts of people working there.

          My main point of this post is to to get people to strengthen their belief in themselves. There seems to be too much manufacturing of what is fair going on. There will never be total fairness, only good intent. Therefore, I hope people be so good at what they do that all the politics does not matter.

          1. Romeo Jeremiah

            Sam, sometimes you don’t know how uneasy an environment can be until you get into it. Eventually, you learn to get over it…hopefully. That’s all I’ll say about that.


            I hope you agree that college, for the most part, is a “paper drill.” You learn on the job, not while in college.

            …with my conclusion being, the firm can’t always simply hire the best based on skill alone. Sometimes…no…oftentimes…politics and sociology matters even more than a heavy skill set. As long as a potential employee has the basics (or a bit more) and is teachable, the firm can survive as long as it has a great training program and welcoming and productive environment for that employee.

            Thanks for the open dialogue, my friend.

      2. My .02$ :

        As a dental student, I can CONFIRM that generally speaking, those attending Ivy league dental schools are generally worse clinical dentists when it comes to quality of actual dental work for x number of years when they graduate.


        Ivy league dental schools’ main focus is academics and research. They don’t get as much clinical training as other dental schools. So yes, your dentist makes a great academic dentist and I’m sure her quality of work is great too, but going to a dentist based on their school is not a smart move :p. Now, I said x number of years because after a certain number of years on the market, all dentists will get to a point where their work is clinically acceptable. So, not to worry! Just wanted to provide a little in on this :)

        TLDR; a dentist must be judged by his clinical work, not his academics

        1. Funny perspective! I might say the same thing if I didn’t go to an Ivy league dental school. So here are some counterpoints!

          1) She went to Stanford for undergrad, UCSF for Dental School, and Harvard for her MPH
          2) She was a practicing dentist for at least four years before she bought the practice I was already attending
          3) I didn’t know she went to all these fancy schools until after she remodel her office and put up all the plaques

          What do you say to that?! :)

          Ah, to be a student again. Stay in school! The world is cruel and unfair. It’s hard to know what you don’t know. Are you ready to fight and battle? If not, stay in school.


          1. 1) I am not butt hurt at all if that’s what you were thinking! I’m actually Canadian and I study in Canada… Ivy league isn’t something that matters up here ;)

            2) I have many friends who have gone to Ivy league schools, either for undergrad or dental school. Believe it or not, they all agree to what I said.

            3) Now, before I continue speaking about your dentist, UCSF is not considered an Ivy league dental school. So, she probably did receive a great clinical education! She did it the right way; she went to undergrad and did her masters in places where academics matter, and she did dental school in a place where clinical matters. Good for her! I just want to make it clear to you that I really wasn’t ripping on her in any way, as by now in her career, her dental school training most likely doesn’t matter and I know that.

            PS: I was referring more to Columbia/Harvard, who are really known for their subpar clinical training of their dental students. But,… IT’S HARVARD DAMN IT! ;)

  29. PatientWealthBuilder

    It’s all about inclusion. I know of a company that takes a very good approach. They are requiring that when groups of people are selected to be interviewed that there always be representation from diverse candidates. In other words, don’t have 3 white males interview for the job. You should be looking to give non-white males the opportunities to explain their talents and abilities.

    But at the end of the day this company understands the pressures of the competitive business environment and hires the most qualified and best candidate. This doesn’t always result in a white male being hired and sometimes it does. But it ultimately results in a meritocracy that is disciplined in being inclusive of others in a measurable way.

    Interesting post. Again :)

    1. PatientWealthBuilder

      clarification: when I said “non-white males” I didn’t mean just males who are not white – I meant everyone who is not a white male: females, males, older, younger, all races etc. Thx

  30. Sam, this is so refreshing to hear. It seems like all I hear lately is how badly my company and other’s in my profession (engineering) need to diversify. And we’ve had a couple of instances recently where they hired based on diversity and the employee was extremely lacking in ability… At the end of the day they were let go, which wasn’t a good experience for either party.

    Hiring based on meritocracy is the only way businesses will stay alive and I’m so glad to read this from you. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks for your voice, this made my morning.

    1. And this comment represents the problem with your article based on a misplaced premise. It encourages people to think of diversity as a forced/bad word, undermining meritocracy, rather than addressing their true biases.

      Ask any kick ass engineer woman how she feels in her work place.

  31. Slightly different topic but when people talk about minorities in certain industries they aren’t talking about asians. In tech for example asians dominate that industry, specifically Indians. It initially started with the push for cheap labor. Women and other minorities are totally under represented. It’s totally messed up.

  32. I think your premise here is off. The true goal of diversity is to maximize meritocracy not minimize or ignore it. The fact that people hire people like themselves due to unconscious bias or comfort means you are guaranteed not to get the best available people. It’s one thing to say building a good diverse workforce is hard, but feels dangerous to imply that a homogeneous workforce is better. I’ll take Company 2 with the best 20, 30, 40, and 50 year olds vs a bunch of young guys or a bunch of old guys.

    1. This is the best post in the thread. The premise of the article is off. Biases, often subconscious, stand in the way of true meritocracy, which businesses should strive for, benefiting their own profit maximization. But unfortunately businesses are run by people limited by cognitive biases.

      There is nothing one can do about concious biases, but there is now some research being presented in big companies to address subconscious biases.

  33. The myth of a meritocracy is a powerful one. A nirvana where everyone is paid what they deserve and promoted on demonstrated potential. Unfortunately, there are very few jobs where your performance can be so accurately and consistently measured. In many companies, 50% of the people are very good.

    What separates them from each other? Intangibles. People skills. Style. Leadership. Many of these are difficult to measure objectively.

    It’s worth holding up the meritocracy as a theoretical ideal and striving for it, but we’ll never get there.

  34. I’m all for hiring the best people. I think businesses owe that to themselves, society and their shareholders to maximize the potential of the services they provide.

    With that said having diversity roots out some group think. Having people that offer different life experiences from various social and economic backgrounds offers perspective that others may never consider.

    Here’s an example.

    I hope nobody in the Denver Nuggets marketing team intentionally tried to be racist but they were selling “White Pride Hats” and “White Pride Jerseys.”

    I don’t know the make up of the Denver Nuggets marketing team but I’d imagine if there was more diversity that it would have gotten nixed before all the negative PR.

    1. Would it have gotten nixed if they sold “Black Pride Hats” and “Black Pride Jerseys” ? Would it not be the other side of the same coin?

  35. Graham @ Reverse The Crush

    Great read Sam,

    If I’m being honest, diversity is a subject I try to stay clear on speaking about. I just don’t feel well versed on it and I’m afraid of offending people.

    However, I strongly agree with this…

    “What perplexes me is the pressure for companies to publish their employee makeup, even private companies. It’s almost as if diversity is more important than meritocracy. Only the best people should get the job, and to make it not the case is disrespecting those minorities who did get their jobs out of merit.”

    I think the fact that companies have to point out their employee makeup is the part that makes it the issue! In my opinion, if true equality existed, these issues don’t even need to be spoken of. Speaking of them is what separates. I guess I’m naive.

    Another line I strongly agree with is “I don’t care about what people look like. I just want to work with the best people possible.” This is how every company should operate.

    When I was working in finance, for RBC Royal Bank and RBC Direct Investing, I received comments from friends with different backgrounds than me after getting promotions. When I moved up to a new role I heard things like “it’s because your white”. I found that to be extremely unfair because I don’t think the way I look had anything to do with it. I did my job well, was a silent leader, and always had a great attitude.

    That said, it is obvious we tend to favour people with similar backgrounds. However, the older I get the more it seems like less of my friends look like me. Great post!

  36. I tend to agree that diversity for diversity’s sake is not a laudable goal. Sure, there may be some social justice reasons to allow Blacks an easier path to homeownership – namely to correct for decades of the real estate industry’s redlining which prevented R.E. wealth accumulation in the Black community. But we’d be silly to expect private business to solve social problems. That’s not their primary mission, even if some businesses do take that into account.

    However, one of the most salient things I remember from my Economics courses is that discrimination is economically inefficient. When I hire someone just because they look like me over someone who looks different but is possibly a better candidate, I am making a decision that hurts me.

    In the past, I had two potential hires who were exactly the same on paper, save for their external characteristics. Same education and roughly the same experience. I hired the one who didn’t fit the societally expected mold and who was least like me. I was not being a social justice warrior. I was trying to make a rational decision – hire the best person.

    It turned out better than I expected. The one who “didn’t look the part” ended up working twice as hard and was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I was able to compare as I had to use the other person due to a conflict of interest on a particular issue and the one who “looked the part” ended up being lazy, I surmise due to feelings of entitlement or not having to work as hard throughout their career because they looked the part.

    You should decide based on merit, but keep in mind your internal biases, which may be doing you more harm than good.

  37. It is widely agreed upon by psychologists that we tend to congregate towards those like ourselves. It goes a bit deeper then Race as shared experiences also come into play. On the one hand, diversity for diversity sake is not good. It fosters resentment and perpetuates racial animosity. On the other the tendency to hire like people is the argument why it’s important to push. If the vast majority of those in charge is one race, and people naturally hire people of like racial and backgroung per your own theory, then in order to ensure people of all races have equal opportunity one must have some mechanism to get the initial push to in charge for under represented groups. Once that happens though the logical conclusion should be that the diversity requirements are removed in favor of economic ones. The rest of this conversation is a bit to political for me, so I’ll leave it at that.

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