• Diversity

Real Diversity is Invisible

by Noel Bagwell
for ExecutiveLP™

March 4, 2016

A couple days ago, Melena Ryzik wrote a piece in the Movies section of the The New York Times website, called J.J. Abrams Takes Steps to Lift Diversity in Filmmaking. The article highlights commercially successful film director J.J. Abrams’s opinions about diversity and his efforts to increase ethnic diversity at his production company, Bad Robot. The article’s first ten words include the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, about which Mr. Abrams had this to say:

“The Oscar issue was symptomatic of a problem; it wasn’t the problem … The Oscars is the last stop on the train. The first stop is what gets made.”

His solution? “’What we realized was, it has to be a systematic approach,’ of asking for diverse crews and artists, he said in an interview with Charles Duhigg, a reporter for The New York Times.” This amounts to an Affirmative Action hiring policy at Bad Robot, “requiring that any lists of writers, directors, actors and others to be considered for a project should ‘be at the very least representative of the country we live in. Which roughly breaks down to: 50 percent women, 12 percent black, 18 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian.’”

For anyone in business, this should be appalling, because it is a diversity sideshow, a distraction, nothing but smoke and mirrors. Ethnic diversity, quite frankly, should not matter, because we should be striving to live in a nation, as Martin Luther King put it, where people are not judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Whether you are black, white, asian, Hispanic, a woman, a man, etc., etc. simply does not matter to anyone other than you. Certainly, it should not be a qualification for a job!

There is a great video clip from a 60 Minutes interview with Morgan Freeman, in which Morgan Freeman and Mike Wallace are discussing race issues. Freeman says, “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.” Mike Wallace, obviously surprised and bewildered, starts to ask Freeman, “How are we going to get rid of racism, until…,” and Freeman just interjects his brilliant, concise answer: “Stop talking about it!” Freeman’s solution to race is to stop obsessing over it, and to start seeing each other simply as people, without ethnic labels. He is absolutely right.

Justice Clarence Thomas, who I once had the pleasure of meeting, in his concurring opinion to Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, wrote:

The Fourteenth Amendment provides that no State shall “deny to any person … the equal protection of the laws.” The Equal Protection Clause guarantees every person the right to be treated equally by the State, without regard to race. “At the heart of this

[guarantee] lies the principle that the government must treat citizens as individuals, and not as members of racial, ethnic, or religious groups.” Missouri v. Jenkins, 515 U.S. 70, 120-121, 115 S.Ct. 2038, 132 L.Ed.2d 63 (1995) (THOMAS, J., concurring). “It is for this reason that we must subject all racial classifications to the strictest of scrutiny.” Id., at 121, 115 S.Ct. 2038.

Under strict scrutiny, all racial classifications are categorically prohibited unless they are “necessary to further a compelling governmental interest'” and “narrowly tailored to that end.” Johnson v. California, 543 U.S. 499, 514, 125 S.Ct. 1141, 160 L.Ed.2d 949 (2005) (quoting Grutter, supra, at 327, 123 S.Ct. 2325). This most exacting standard “has proven automatically fatal” in almost every case. Jenkins, supra, at 121, 115 S.Ct. 2038 (THOMAS, J., concurring). And rightly so. “Purchased at the price of immeasurable human suffering, the equal protection principle reflects our Nation’s understanding that [racial] classifications ultimately have a destructive impact on the individual and our society.” Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peña, 515 U.S. 200, 240, 115 S.Ct. 2097, 132 L.Ed.2d 158 (1995) (THOMAS, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). “The Constitution abhors classifications based on race” because “every time the government places citizens on racial registers and makes race relevant to the provision of burdens or benefits, it demeans us all.” Grutter, supra, at 353, 123 S.Ct. 2325 (THOMAS, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

What is true for the government is similarly true for the private sector. Not hiring a person because they are not a minority is just as discriminatory as not hiring someone because they are a minority, because, in both cases, race is a qualification or disqualification for employment.

What has race to do with a person’s qualifications to do a job, with their character, with their capability? Absolutely nothing.

Noel and Devon Bagwell with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at the Federalist Society Student Symposium. 2011-02-26.

Noel and Devon Bagwell with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at the Federalist Society Student Symposium. 2011-02-26.

Real diversity is more than skin deep. Real diversity requires us to get past the groupthink about so-called “diversity,” which only focuses on superficial factors, like gender, skin color, and sexual orientation. Real diversity requires disagreement. Real diversity is diversity of thought.

Alison Griswold, writing for Business Insider back in 2013 in a piece called, Why ‘Thought Diversity’ Is The Future Of The Workplace, cited a then-recent study by consulting and professional services company Deloitte, which concluded “cultivating ‘diversity of thought’ in a business can boost innovation and creative problem-solving.” Griswold further opined, “Varying the types of thinkers in a company also helps guard against ‘groupthink,’ a dangerous tendency in groups to focus first and foremost on group conformity, often at the expense of making good decisions.”

If J.J. Abrams had a real commitment to diversity that would go beyond pandering to ethnic minorities or assuaging his unwarranted white guilt, he would highlight the importance of real diversity–diversity of thought. He’d be more like Joel Coen. Robby Soave, on the Hit & Run Blog at Reason.com, presents the Coen brothers’ “shockingly honest” and “incredibly refreshing” approach to liberals’ caterwauling about lack of diversity in one of their recent movies:

When The Daily Beast asked why there weren’t more minorities in Hail, Caesar!’s cast, Coen fired back with, “Why would there be?”

“I don’t understand the question. No—I understand that you’re asking the question, I don’t understand where the question comes from.

“Not why people want more diversity—why they would single out a particular movie and say, ‘Why aren’t there black or Chinese or Martians in this movie? What’s going on?’ That’s the question I don’t understand. The person who asks that question has to come in the room and explain it to me.”

As filmmakers, is it important or not important to consciously factor in concerns like diversity, I asked.

Not in the least!” Ethan [Coen] answered. “It’s important to tell the story you’re telling in the right way, which might involve black people or people of whatever heritage or ethnicity—or it might not.

Their statements are almost shockingly honest, given that they seem likely to provoke the wrath of the social media left. The Washington Free Beacon’s Sonny Bunch comments, “That’s an incredibly blunt—and, frankly, incredibly refreshing—answer….Anyway, I’m curious to see how these comments are received.”

I encourage you, when you are considering diversity policy in your company, to go beyond the groupthink about diversity. Stop focusing on the visible, the superficial, which will inevitably lead you to make some kind of discriminatory decision. Instead, focus on real diversity, diversity of thought, which is invisible but far more important.

If the culture of your business is one that encourages openness to new ideas, starting at the top of your organization, the atmosphere of inclusion and respect will demonstrate how much you appreciate everyone’s point of view, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Isn’t that supposed to be the goal of all efforts to promote workplace diversity?

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