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May 13, 2008

the payoff of "diversity"

I'm at a retreat center in the rural Midwest, with representatives of about 40 other organizations. As part of the retreat, we heard from an excellent provider of diversity training. He noted that most such trainings are actually counterproductive. They just make people feel defensive and uncomfortable. The session today emphasized the positive effects of having a more racially and ethnically diverse workforce--as a path to better products, lower turnover, and more satisfied clients.

I agree that there's much to be gained by demonstrating the economic advantages of diversity to businesses (and the educational advantages of diversity to universities). At the very least, it reduces their sense that diversity would hurt their bottom line. But we do need to keep our eyes on the issue of "distributional justice." We must ask who gets valuable opportunities and--specifically--whether African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are getting fair shares. It's an empirical question whether we can achieve distributional justice by emphasizing the benefits of racial and ethnic diversity to organizations. That strategy has the great advantage of being persuasive and appealing to powerful institutions. But it's possible for firms and universities to buy "diverse" workforces without doing anything to address the disadvantages of being born in lower-income minority communities in the US. So I support arguing that diversity helps the bottom line, but only if that's fully true and it advances our fundamental moral objective, which is equality of opportunity.

May 13, 2008 5:42 PM | category: none


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