Diversity on the Rocks

Is it still okay to make Jewish mother jokes? If not, Woody Allen is in deep trouble, and most of his old films will need to be banned.

There are two answers to this question. The diversity mongers of the identity politics left will say that it is permissible to make jokes about people who enjoy positions of power (white males, and of course Jews, because of all the old stereotypes), but all humor about ethnic and racial stereotypes of minority groups is a priori suspect and should be treated as impermissible because it is oppressive.

There is a more common sense rationale for what we call political correctness, and it is that it represents a semi-codification of what we once regarded as decent manners that are no longer well taught, along with a recognition of legitimate grievances of minority groups who are insulted by stereotypes—even if the stereotypes are positive. Of course it is rude to say to an Asian, “Oh, you must be good at math,” just as only a perfect ass would say to a Jew, “So I imagine you’re a banker?” On the other hand, many gays and lesbians I know love jokes about gay and lesbian stereotypes. This is a minefield that will always resist codification. Yet that is what we’re trying to do, both on college campuses and in the business world.

The impulse to codify proscriptions against rudeness or racial and ethnic insults into “hate speech” and “microaggressions” is one reason why more and more comics now refuse to perform on college campuses. The second problem with “diversity” or “sensitivity training” is that it is probably backfiring. That’s the conclusion of a recent article in the Harvard Business Review (helpfully flagged this morning in the “Notable and Quotable” section of the Wall Street Journal.)

Why Diversity Programs Fail” observes:

It shouldn’t be surprising that most diversity programs aren’t increasing diversity. Despite a few new bells and whistles, courtesy of big data, companies are basically doubling down on the same approaches they’ve used since the 1960s—which often make things worse, not better. Firms have long relied on diversity training to reduce bias on the job, hiring tests and performance ratings to limit it in recruitment and promotions, and grievance systems to give employees a way to challenge managers. Those tools are designed to preempt lawsuits by policing managers’ thoughts and actions. Yet laboratory studies show that this kind of force-feeding can activate bias rather than stamp it out. As social scientists have found, people often rebel against rules to assert their autonomy. Try to coerce me to do X, Y, or Z, and I’ll do the opposite just to prove that I’m my own person.

In analyzing three decades’ worth of data from more than 800 U.S. firms and interviewing hundreds of line managers and executives at length, we’ve seen that companies get better results when they ease up on the control tactics. It’s more effective to engage managers in solving the problem, increase their on-the-job contact with female and minority workers, and promote social accountability—the desire to look fair-minded. That’s why interventions such as targeted college recruitment, mentoring programs, self-managed teams, and task forces have boosted diversity in businesses. Some of the most effective solutions aren’t even designed with diversity in mind.

But “easing up on the control tactics” is exactly the opposite of what the identity politics groups, and the vast horde of consultants that now make sensitivity training a lucrative cottage industry, want to see happen. Or, on college campuses, the faculty for that matter. Much easier to ship off complaints to an office of discrimination and harassment and get back to your research and classes than roll up your sleeves and deal with a problem directly.