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Dec. 5, 2020

Diversity and Inclusion: Why? (EP.285)

Diversity and Inclusion: Why? (EP.285)


Where does the practice of diversity and inclusion add to the desired results in any endeavor e.g., business, sports, education, etc.? In choosing the players for your favorite NFL team? What about in choosing the doctor for your grandmother who just tested positive for COVID? Should you include residents from the very different neighborhood three city blocks away from you in your block party?

That is the subject of today’s 10-minute episode. 


There is a lot of talk these days about diversity and inclusion. And it is not just politicians and activists who are trying to make points with their audience. I was looking at an advertising video for a popular, somewhat high-end restaurant chain with a location here in Colorado Springs. It pointed out that they offered an “inclusive experience.” Other than meaningless virtue signalling, what could that possibly mean? That they have beers from third world countries? Or that they have finally come around to serving blacks and other minorities? Or is it simply empty pandering to a clich-loving crowd?

Let’s look at a diversity example from sports. In the NFL players are selected purely on the basis of who can do the most to help the team earn wins, at a price the team can fit under its salary cap. There is an obvious and compelling tradeoff between performance and cost, value and price. Neither diversity nor inclusion are any part of these decisions. At the same time, there is a growing push to have more black coaches. The demand is that the coaching staff more closely reflect the racial makeup of the players. Why? When looking at athletes, the goal is to get the best player, not simply a qualified one, in each position, regardless of race. Why would the standard for coach and staff selection be any less demanding? Do those pushing for diversity here believe that having the best coaches and staff is less important than having the best players? Or is it because the activists are more than willing for teams to have suboptimal coaching and administrations, with likely reduced results on the field, in order for them to satisfy their diversity demands?

Politicians and activists are fond of observing that certain groups do or do not, “Look like America.” If I am doing market research prior to introducing a product that I want to sell to all Americans, I would want to have my group of test subjects look like America. In any other group, I want the best, not simply people who meet minimum qualifications. When I am looking for a doctor, plumber, or a handyman, my personal preference is to get the best I can get for my money. I might occasionally violate that preference, that principle. For example, if a friend’s child was trying to get a start in the plumbing business, and all I had was a clogged drain, I might take a chance on an unproven service provider. That would be my choice. If I had been elected to make decisions for others, as politicians and governments do, I would not have that option. People who spend taxpayer money are obligated to get the best people and the best results possible.

There are times when simply having qualified, “good enough” candidates for a job is what is called for, so let’s look at a couple examples:

  • Mass hiring of firefighters in a crisis. Yup, get as many qualified bodies as you can, as fast as you can. Even then, we will want to take the best of the lot and put them directly on the fireline and in supervisory positions.
  • Warehouse workers during peak periods, e.g., COVID-related increases in online purchases, or both brick and mortar and online stores during the holidays. And again, we will want to take the best and put them in the more important positions. 

And there will be exceptions where putting minorities in positions of authority, for example on corporate boards, could improve results. It is possible that board members in those groups might have insights into parts of the employee population and the customer base that other board members do not have. There are other example exceptions, but like the firefighters and warehouse workers, these are exceptions, not reasons to use diversity as an excuse to get around the obligation to hire the best.

We can look at this another way; where are the positions that you would be comfortable being served by those who were merely qualified, as opposed to the best available:

  • Heart surgeon, with you on the table?
  • Airline pilot, with your family on the plane in a storm?
  • Teacher, with your son or daughter on the pass/no pass bubble, or needing special help to qualify for the college or vocational school of their choice?
  • Water damage workers in your home, where you need to stop the incoming water, and dry and replace floor coverings, baseboards, walls, etc.
  • Your dentist, when your kid’s mouth hurts.

This list can go on, but you get the point: when it is close to home, it is a whole different question than when considering diversity as an abstract issue.

In the recent past, diversity, also known as affirmative action, has often been handled shamefully. Businesses and government organizations would hire blacks and put them in highly visible positions, ideally where not being the best available could do no or little harm. Public relations was frequently the spot; they put blacks in front of the cameras in a cynical move to look good. That gave rise to the correctly derisive term, “Front office negro.” And who was damaged by these moves? Mostly it was the person in the job specifically, and blacks in general. Without the stigma of diversity or affirmative action hirings, no one would ever look at a minority or female employee and wonder whether or not they were less qualified than others.

Inclusivity is a different issue than diversity. People can be included in a process, without being in charge of the process. Police overview commissions are an example. A representative sampling of the area’s citizenry might be very helpful in assisting the police and other authorities understand how they are being viewed, and what might be done to build mutual trust and better communications. But that is where it should stop. The diversity that determined who should be included in the advisory commission must not be seen as license to allow that commission to in any way set law enforcement policy.

Tell me what you believe. I and many others want to know. 

As always, whatever you do, do it in love. Without love, anything we do is empty.


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Will Luden, coming to you from 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.