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Looking For a Few "Diverse People" (9/26/2010) - Permanent Fixes Skip to content
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Looking For a Few “Diverse People” (9/26/2010)

Posted in Culture and Diversity

I’m so far out of touch that I didn’t even realize sociologists had abandoned the idea of The United States as a “melting pot,” most disregarding it “as an outdated and diffuse term” according to that new authoritative source, Wikipedia. The preferred terms for the past few decades have been “multiculturalism,” “cultural pluralism,” and “mosaic,” all of which suggest quite a different picture than does “melting pot.” I still like the idea of a melting pot which implies that we all give up something and become something a bit different when we arrive here to stay, legally or illegally. Put simply, we learn the language, join the workforce, paid or unpaid, and commit to the Constitution and the system of government and laws in place. The racial breakdown maps published today in Mail Online seem to me to suggest “mosaic” in the case of New York and “melting pot” in the cases of Houston and San Antonio

I guess the abandonment of “melting pot” is related to the emphasis of the last few decades on celebration of diversity and is probably at least partly a result of our collective guilt over slavery and subsequent suppression of African Americans and our history of unfair treatment of women and Native Americans and other minorities including some immigrant groups. Efforts to correct such historical errors have been good for employment and GDP because they have spawned an entire industry of Diversity Training and Equal Employment Opportunity consultants, not to mention the EEOC itself with its thousands of employees, all charged with helping us formulate and achieve diversity goals. Still, Time Magazine recently reported on a study that suggested that the specific impact of diversity training on the increased hiring and promotion of women and minorities that has occurred over the past few decades was nil.

Some of the most awkward, meaningless, and confusing sentences that have ever been written may be the ones that have been published on corporate websites describing, in a PC manner, how diversity is valued by companies. Even today, my own former employer declares on its website that, “…diversity is about more than just our differences. It’s the mix of differences and similarities in the workplace.” What does that mean? Lots of jargon has developed, some of it linguistically questionable. The phrase, “diverse people,” which has become fairly common as in, “We are a group of diverse people,” really irritates me. For example, The Office of the Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin is seeking “a culture of excellence through diverse people, ideas and perspectives.”  The idea of a “diverse person” makes me think of the disorganized cowboy who got on his horse and rode off in all directions.

One of my less happy memories of working in a large company is those annual practice sessions for possible EEOC compliance reviews during which we had tables of total numbers of employees by category and the percent in each category that were minorities or female along with a target number for each of those percentages. The targets were related to the percentages in the pool of candidates from which hires could come. For hourly employees in the plant, the pool was the local community. For professionals such as engineers and chemists, the pool was the United States. But it wasn’t easy to get any of the few minority chemical engineering graduates, for example, to move to a small town in East Tennessee that had almost no professional minorities in residence. Anyway, we tried, and we had some successes and were happy when we were able to do so. I sensed more frustration with the difficulties, two or three decades ago, in finding, attracting, hiring, and promoting minorities and women than resistance to doing so.

Diversity,” depending on one’s definition of it can be truly advantageous, facilitating efficient and effective accomplishment of important tasks. For example, if one is to build a house, considerable diversity of skills will be required. There will have to be masons, framers, roofers, electricians, plumbers, drywall installers, finish carpenters, painters, and a good organizer/leader. The same is true for football teams. A good team needs runners, tacklers, passers, kickers, receivers, blockers, and at least one good coach.

However, the assembly of a group of people with varied cultural, ethnic, and experiential backgrounds, varied family and economic circumstances, and varied personal philosophies chosen without attention to job skill or education criteria and interpersonal skills may result in a good party, or a brawl, and some new friendships, or enemies, and a long list of concerns but presents a challenge to be overcome rather than an advantage to be exploited if any concrete goals are to be accomplished. Of course such assemblies, at least for brainstorming, are important to make sure the viewpoints of all involved and affected are considered, but the key is for such groups to reach conclusions and set goals for something far better than a little bit of what everybody wants and not much of what anybody wants. That is tough when each is looking out for his or her own interests rather than contributing expertise or knowledge and working toward some common goal.

Perhaps, now that minorities and women have made huge strides and are occupying important leadership positions throughout business, government, entertainment, and education, we can narrow our focus to skills and education and character without worrying so much about race and gender and focus on what is good for The United States rather than on what is good for individual constituencies. Otherwise “E Pluribus Unum,” the motto on our seal and money, may turn out to be a better descriptor of the return on our taxpayer dollars and investments in American business than of our national unity.

And, if a person wants to get a job in home construction in today’s economy, he or she had better learn to be a skilled and productive mason, framer, roofer, electrician, plumber, drywall installer, finish carpenter, painter, or organizer. Hopefully, that will carry a lot more weight than race or culture or ethnic background.

Maybe somebody who can do all those things could be described as a “diverse” person, but it’s not the adjective I would choose.