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.
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.
DON’T BE DIVERSE FOR DIVERSITY’S SAKE
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.
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
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.
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
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Gabriel Brock says
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.
Ronald Dodson says
Diversity doesn’t start and stop with your hiring practices. Inclusivity needs to underscore every interaction you have with your workforce.
Mr. Groovy says
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Mr. RIP says
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.
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.
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.
Financial Samurai says
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!