“We need more diversity”
“The parliament should be representative of the diversity of the nation”
“A company’s board should reflect the diversity of the population”
Unfortunately, you have probably heard variations of these claims before. The new word of choice, along with its foolish brother, ‘equality’, is ‘diversity’. Achieving diversity in our workplace is now held as a natural virtue, something public and private companies are being encouraged, and in many ways compelled, to strive toward.
We have the Diversity Council Australia, Diversity Australia and a range of other bodies that specialise in supporting workplaces to achieve greater diversity. We have legislation that requires companies with more than 100 employees to submit a report on workplace gender equality. Indeed, diversity and equality are upheld as the great virtues of our time.
Here’s the problem though: what do you mean by diversity? Often, it’s synonymous with race, gender or sexuality. Three dimensions upon which people vary among many. The right question to ask when someone wants to promote a diversity agenda is where do they want the diversity to end?
There’s an infinite number of ways that people vary that extend beyond our narrow obsession with race, gender and sexuality. Often, these dimensions of variance are more influential on an individual’s mindset and capacity than the assumption that they are defined by their race, gender or sexuality.
Age: it’s advantageous to be young. Older people have more experience. So, how much age variance should be strived for? A fun question to ask for the ‘it should reflect the population’ argument is how many different ages do you want to achieve?
Weight: People vary strongly when it comes to body shape and size. If you want to achieve diversity, how many athletic people should be on the books as opposed to overweight people?
Attractiveness: this one is significant. Whether right or wrong, it is significantly advantageous to be physically attractive, whether you are male or female.
Location: obviously the area one grows up in has a significant influence on how they see the world. Therefore, if diversity is to be achieved, from how many varied locations, be they states, countries or suburbs, should people hail from that would be considered sufficient?
Height: how many tall people as opposed to short people should be on the payroll?
Intelligence: individuals vary considerably not only in their level of intelligence but in the way they learn. There’s kinesthetic people, audio-visual people, linguistic people.
Parental status: whether or not someone has a child bears an influence on how they see the world and operate within it.
Disability and health: this is a huge one. There’s myriad of ways people vary in regard to health, physical and mental capacity.
Temperament: Extraverted? Introverted? Emotional? Logical? Calm? Rational? Excitable? Eccentric? Optimistic? Pessimistic? Impulsive? Reflective?
Wealth: one’s income status and their access to money or lack thereof while growing up will have a strong influence over their experiences.
Interests: impossible to quantify, suffice to say that a person’s passions within and beyond the workplace make up a large sum of who they are.
These are just 11 variations of ‘diversity’ that are seldom discussed, and even within these variations there’s an infinite number of dimensions to them.
So, if a organisation you work for sets forth on the noble pursuit of diversity, it’s best to ask what they mean by diversity, because if it is merely a synonym for arbitrarily defining people by their race, gender or sexuality, it is inherently problematic. But that is precisely what is happening. One only needs to look to Fortune’s ‘100 Best Workplaces for Diversity’ report for 2017 to see where the markers are. The criteria is as follows: Minorities, Minority Executives, Minority Front Level Managers, Minority Mid-Level Managers, Women, Women Executives, Women Front-Line Managers, Women Mid-Level Managers, Boomers or Older. Race, race, race, gender, gender, gender. That’s the only focus.
Sadly, it is contagious. For example, a common argument is that the Australian Parliament should reflect the diversity of the population. This might sound like a reasonable proposition, but what is meant by that, exactly? And are members supposed to be upheld as representatives of an entire race of people?
We currently have Ken Wyatt and Linda Burney as members of the House of Representatives. Both of these individuals have indigenous heritage. Is it therefore assumed that they represent all indigenous Australians? The truth is that within cultures and any other dimension there’s more variance within groups than between them.
Is it expected that an Islamic member of parliament is representative of all of Islam? There’s unquantifiable differences between Islamic people that could not be carried by one individual. And to assume that one individual is defined by, and defines a race, is the precise meaning of racism.
The justification for a diversity agenda is usually that a field is dominated by ‘old white men’. This is a racist and sexist assumption since it blatantly and unapologetically defines this group as culturally homogenous. The irony is that in that group of ‘old white men’ there would be infinite diversity that extends beyond the narrow dimensions of race and gender. Private educated, public educated, athletic, large family, small family, conservative, liberal, empathetic, blunt, aggressive, patriotic, wealthy, tall, short, overweight, tradesman, lawyer, teacher, social worker…the list could go on and on. Strangely, this already present diversity is overlooked.
You cannot assume that someone is representative of, and defined by, their race, gender or sexuality. We already made that mistake across history. It is merely racism and sexism appropriated to serve an ideological cause. The fact is that five separate companies could hire 5 managers of Chinese heritage and none of them are even remotely similar in terms of temperament, personality or productivity, yet when the diversity advisors come knocking, these companies will be able to say that they have made strides in regard to racial diversity.
So where does this leave us? Well, if you accept the notion that there’s an infinite number of ways that people vary and these extend beyond race, gender and sexuality, the only logical conclusion to draw is that each individual is different. They are not flag bearers for any particular group or community, they are merely them, made up by the diverse, multilayered variances that define every human being.
The great achievement of western civilization was that we recognised this and upheld the sovereignty of the individual as sacrosanct. Regrettably, we are regressing and turning our backs to this truth, surrendering to the prejudiced idea that what defines someone is their race, their gender, their sexuality. History has taught us harsh lessons, and tragically, we seem intent on repeating the same mistakes.
Diversity, in and of itself, is of course a good thing, because any workplace is of course going to benefit from varied viewpoints and perspectives. The problem lies in the assumption of what diversity entails. It is not and must not be synonymous with race, gender and sexuality. The fact is that a board room meeting of ‘old white men’ is already diverse, just in a different way to what is often assumed. The same principle goes for a board room of young women. If you cannot recognise this notion, then you are too preoccupied by race and gender and not individuality.
Further to that, the solution is worse than the ‘problem’. Often, increasing ‘diversity’ results in quotas or affirmative action. Yet since the dimensions upon which people vary are endless, what’s the appropriate outcome until an organisation can aptly say that they’ve achieved ‘diversity’? Are they supposed to have an even percentage of white males, females, Indians, Chinese, indigenous, homosexuals, bisexuals, young people, older people, Islamic people, Buddhists, Christians, disabled….you get the idea. You can keep playing the game endlessly, and the end point you arrive at is either the realisation that any diversity agenda is ultimately arbitrary where powerful people will decide which dimensions are important, or you can forget the agenda altogether and recognise the truth that all people are individuals and that the individual is the ultimate minority.
We must, as a society, be weary of any diversity agenda and ask hard questions about what it ultimately means. We must guard against collectivist, group identity thinking that reduces individuals to shallow standard bearers of an arbitrary sub-section of the community. We are, above all else, individuals, and nothing else should matter.