The paradox of diversity

Let us focus for the moment on efforts to promote more women to executive positions. The promoters of such initiatives often claim that increased executive diversity will actually help companies become more productive. For that to be true, there must be significant differences between men in general and women in general, so that companies today are missing "the woman's perspective."

The paradox arises because the existence of the very thing necessary for diversity to be important, significant differences between men and women, is often vigorously denied by diversity advocates themselves. Thus, someone who claims something like "women are just better at being nurses" will be decried as irredeemably sexist. But if men and women are just interchangeable parts (except for genitalia) then diversity will be of no significance whatsoever for the performance of our companies or our political system.

12 comments:

  1. No. For that to be true it is only that men and women are equally capable in distribution so limiting your selection to half makes it less likely to choose the best person for the job. Granted the choice between best woman and next best man would be small, the addition of best women up and down the chain help overall and the most significant difference would be motivational from knowing they have an equal chance to succeed.

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    1. No. No one has been "limiting their selection to half": there are female executives. Companies have presumably been trying to maximize their profits. Why have they mistakenly not been promoting enough females in their efforts to do so? A common argument is that they do not recognize the importance of female traits like cooperation, empathy, and so on. But that implies men and women are different.

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  2. I think if you asked diversity advocates, they would say that part of the perspective that female executives bring to the table is experience of discrimination and oppression, so they might be more sensitive to things like pay inequities between men and women as well as phenomena like "mansplaining". I doubt that many diversity advocates would say that a woman's persective is important because of something inherent in woman. Rather they would say that any difference are due to society's poor treatment of women.

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    1. Sorry, fail: I never wrote "inherent": I wrote "significant." And what you've done to "refute" me is to just posit that that there ARE "significant" differences between men and women!

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    2. And you comment is factually wrong: many diversity advocates DO posit greater empathy, cooperativeness, etc. on the part of women.

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    3. No diversity advocate would deny the kinds of (non-essential) differences that Keshav describes.

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  3. The idea behind increased executive diversity's improvement of function as it relates to gender has to do with tapping the potential of the entire population, not just half.

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    1. If that is the idea, it is very dumb: in competitive capitalist markets, why have all of these companies been reluctant to "tap the potential" of the entire population?! If all of this untapped potential is lying around, capitalists will "tap" it! (By the way, davidly, that is rather sexist terminology you have chosen!)

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    2. Your suggestion that capitalists will tap untapped potential is a free marketeer's question begging exercise. "Companies" are "reluctant" for any number of reasons.

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    3. I have tended to favour this market explanation until very recently when I came across this mystery:http://www.unz.com/akarlin/femsplaining/

      Basically it points out that in Eastern Europe females are more highly represented in CEO positions and that this was due to communism but that the effect stayed efter communism at which point we would expect the market to clean up this supposed "gender distortion" caused by the state but it hasn't happened. Could there simply be (relative) blind sports in the markets? As the author of the post points out it is hard to figure out a cultural pattern that can make sense of all these Eastern European countries continuing in the same manner.

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    4. "Your suggestion that capitalists will tap untapped potential is a free marketeer's question begging exercise."

      Nope. I am not a free marketer, and the tendency of markets to find un-exploited profit opportunities and exploit them was recognized even by Marx and Engels.

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    5. Well, now that you've chosen that verb, I agree. Of course 'exploit' also has divergent connotations, in this case when comparing resources of the material vs human variety. Capitalists are certainly exploiting women, just less so in the board room, and for less money. White male capitalists are humans, after all, following human impulses and prejudices, not market laws of nature that would be by default gender inclusive.

      Which takes us back to why I countered the idea put forth in the OP: Diversity is about inclusion and equal opportunity, not accessing unique qualities. Now, the extent to which someone is in fact making that argument certainly makes room for your paradox, I just don't think it is the primary argument. Your statement "For that to be true, there must be significant differences between men in general and women in general..." likewise begs the question because diversity would help companies by giving them a larger pool from which to pick, not because of general differences.

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