Weekly Standard Updates State of Corporate ‘Diversity’ Obsession

Business diversityIt is hardly front-page news that for the last couple decades America’s corporations have promoted racial, ethnic and sexual proportional representation, now rechristened “diversity,” with brisk efficiency. From orientation training onward, an individual employee in many companies can expect to be barraged with the message: Diversity must be lived. A lengthy feature story in the May 25 Weekly Standard, “Where Everybody Is Disadvantaged,” reveals, often to comic effect, how oppressively ingrained this mindset has become. Intrepid reporter Matt Labash provides a first-hand account of this corporate mischief, effectively amplifying observations contained in a 2007 NLPC Special Report prepared by the author of this blog. 

Whether out of principle or out of fear of boycotts, lawsuits and other unwanted publicity, corporate officials these days are pulling out the stops to Celebrate Diversity. Labash, a guest at the Ninth Annual National Multicultural Business Conference at the Disney Contemporary Resort in Orlando, Florida, recognizes this all too well. Conference organizers no doubt regret the decision to allow him in.

The author takes note of the prevailing atmosphere:

(T)here is a throwback sort of peppiness as I hit the conference registration desk of Diversity/Business.com, the sponsor of the event. They seem to hark back to more carefree times – let’s call them ‘the Nineties’ – when we were fatter and richer and could afford the luxury of worrying about whether the guys in accounting were at least 0.8 percent Indigenous People of the Americas, reflecting the population of the United States.

At check-in, we’re given name tags, expensive-looking leather legal-pad carriers, and an official program, the cover of which is festooned with smiley children in rainbow-colored T-shirts, gleefully holding their hands up as if they are passengers on a thrill ride. They are so wholesome looking, that if they were cookies, they’d be oatmeal with no trans fats.

This is great modern libertarian satire in the mode of P.J. O’Rourke and Dave Barry. And like those authors, Labash understands how underneath the happy-clappy multicultural soft sell lie raw aggression and a desire for the big bucks, plus the looming fear of a “disparate-impact” lawsuit.

Diversity training is the most evident manifestation of this new regime. It functions as corporate America’s equivalent of moral and legal inoculation. Through various exercises, far more malevolent in motive than appearances would suggest, employees – especially white male heterosexual ones – learn that teamwork requires shedding their alleged social privileges and insensitivity toward others. Labash notes American business now spends some $200 million to $300 million annually on diversity training lectures, materials and exercises. Fully 90 percent or more of Fortune 500 companies have instituted diversity training in some form, despite a lack of evidence of tangible gains in productivity, morale or even realization of intended aims. Many firms hire full-time diversity officers. DiversityBusiness.com reaches 300,000 readers with its magazine, and millions more with its newsletter and website. Unfortunately, a diversity of opinion isn’t part of the new way of doing things. Those who don’t get with the program aren’t likely to have much of a future.

Living diversity, 24/7, applies to all aspects of corporate operations. Recruitment, retention, promotion and even choice of suppliers all now are based on preferences for “people of color,” women and other persons deemed disadvantaged. And in this, the Age of Obama, the playing field is likely to get even more tilted. That’s because the new administration’s policies are geared toward promoting affirmative action, in particular the Small Business Administration’s Section 8(a) Business Development program. Section 8(a) explicitly equates a person’s minority-group status with being “disadvantaged.” It helps if the owner is a member of a minority group. A certified 8(a) firm is “owned and operated by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals and eligible to receive federal contracts.” Labash reports that the registration desks and vending tables were “thick with minority-owned business advertising flyers, as well as those from places like the Department of Labor.” He quotes a DOL representative barking out at passersby: “We’ve got stimulus money to spend. We’re giving out contracts!”

It was clear the 8(a) hustle was the underlying purpose of the conference. Appearances by such luminaries as 2004 Miss America Ericka Dunlap, former supermodel Kathy Ireland and black TV Judge Glenda Hatchett were mere bait. The conference was the ideal opportunity to get the word out to minority suppliers that this is where the money is. Major firms, such as Xerox and Dell Computer, eager for contracts and flattery (this year there were no fewer than 2,700 awards given out for promoting diversity), were all too eager to oblige them. As Labash explains:

It’s [8(a)] not just the province of blacks, whom the program, born in the 1960s, was originally intended to help, nor just that of Hispanic or Native Americans. The roll call of SBA-designated sufferers has become rather long and grows ever longer, lately including persons with origins from Samoa, Brunei, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Macao, Tonga, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Bhutan, and the Maldives. “In the absence of evidence to the contrary,” says the SBA, “individuals who are members” of these “designated groups are presumed to be socially disadvantaged.”

Actually, there are some good reasons not to consider such nationalities “disadvantaged,” but that is a story for another time.

The growth in profile of the National Multicultural Business Conference underscores the dangers of intertwining the affairs of government and business. The obsessive desire on the part of corporations to institute affirmative action, oblivious to its economic and social consequences, is troubling enough. It becomes especially dangerous when these firms tie their fate to an expansion of government. National Legal and Policy Center long has held that an enlarged government sector invites corruption and inefficiency. This is true both for government agencies and outside companies with whom they do business. By transforming the U.S. economy into a government-driven Big Rock Candy Mountain, the Obama administration, unwittingly or not, is laying the groundwork for favoritism, more than talent, innovation or perseverance, defining how corporations do business. Conferences that advise participants on how to get their piece of the diversity rock are an inevitable offshoot of this mentality. (The Weekly Standard, 5/25/09).