Diversity: "We Solved It"

I watched the Emmy Awards the other night. The intro featured several comedians mocking Hollywood's progress on the issue of diversity.

"We solved it", sang the ensemble, pointing to Sandra Oh - one of relatively few Asian actors - as "proof". For those who don't get satire, the ensemble eventually was corrected and it was made clear that diversity is still an issue in Hollywood.

For all the attention the topic of diversity gets - both in Hollywood and the corporate world - you'd think the problem would indeed be solved by now. 

But are people really trying to solve the problem? After all, for may corporations the diversity cause is frequently more of a show than a charitable pursuit. I posit that most diversity efforts are simply feel-good PR ploys to boost the public image of a company and its executives, for the purpose of ultimately creating shareholder value.

I'm not saying diversity isn't a cause worth championing. Quite the opposite! I think the world desperately needs to bring people together so we can bridge our differences and generate a wider range of ideas. 

Diversity helps build trust and empathy across different groups. Diversity also adds fresh solutions to otherwise intractable problems. To achieve this, organizations need people with different backgrounds, experiences and thought processes. I'm talking blacks, Asians, introverts, lesbians, thinkers, talkers, people who grew up poor, baby boomers, people from other industries, and so on. Diversity means so much more than simply ensuring 30% of your board is comprised of females.

Yet, gender diversity is what gets attention right now, by way of support groups, corporate sponsorship, career development programs and quotas. Now, I believe all people should be treated fairly and equally. I know many women have suffered just because they were women. But I also think many of the difficult problems women faced in the past no longer remain. Women made a lot of progress throughout the 20th century. For the most part women in North America are free to achieve anything they want. Any remaining gender equality gaps, biases and exploitation are quickly disappearing.

Simply, it is now socially unacceptable to discriminate against women. In fact, the support for gender diversity has become so entrenched that fewer people bat an eye when men are now flatly discriminated against. 

There are so many programs and events that men cannot join...simply because they are men. 

For example, a recent invitation for a special event at my work was only sent to women in the company. Men didn't even have the option to express their interest because they didn't even know the event was happening! Now, imagine the same tactic being used to exclusively invite white employees to an event. It doesn't sit well, does it? Yet male exclusion is now accepted behaviour - the tides of gender oppression have turned. 

Some argue this is OK because women have to make up for lost time and are at a disadvantage. However, I truly believe that it is the height of hypocrisy to exclude in the name of diversity. The progress of one group should not come at the expense of another.

The fight for gender equality was arguably shaped by the suffragettes and later the women's lib movement. Groups like these helped change the game at a constitutional level. Women started entering the workforce en masse in the 1980s and began emerging as leaders in the years beyond. While there is still room for improvement the most challenging tasks are behind us. 

So why do corporations put so much energy into "solving" a problem that, for the most part, already solved? 

Corporations are leeching off the popularity of the movement and appropriating the success of the women's liberation pathfinders that came before them, back when the topic was uncomfortable to discuss in polite company. The difficult social work was finished long ago, and now corporations can follow the path laid before them by the women who broke the mold throughout the 20th century. Companies do this to appear socially progressive without actually putting in m7ch effort or taking much risk. Corporations only jump on a cause when it is a proven winner. All of which makes great PR and is good for shareholder value.

Many will think I'm being unfairly cynical. I'm not. If corporations were truly benevolent they'd pay more attention to the myriad of social issues that they directly or indirectly cause. 

Where are the corporate programs supporting people of color; where are the programs supporting introverts in a world built for extroverts; why don't businesses encourage the hiring of people over age 50? What are corporations doing to prevent slavery (as of 2016, there are still 40+ million slaves worldwide) and worker exploitation, environmental destruction and resource depletion? Few companies will go near these topics, instead opting to support the more palatable causes.

Corporations stay away from many of these other causes because it would affect profitability. For example, many chocolate companies keep costs low by using a web of subcontractors that ultimately use slave labor or indentured labor. Executives look the other way because adressing the issue would significantly add to the cost of production, eroding profitability. In contrast, supporting smart women within a company comes with no downside. It's easy for shareholders to support. Moreover, because the most difficult and radical progress has already been made corporations can claim to be on the winning side even though they joined the team in the bottom of the 9th inning. 

We haven't solved it, and I don't think companies should stop what they've already started. I do, however, think companies should step up and support some of the other major inequalities in the world before implying moral superiority. Shit, how about we just get the issue of diversity right and get some brothers and sisters into the C-suite.

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