The Diversity Paradox

I thought this was an interesting observation by University of New Mexico evolutionary psychology professor Geoffrey Miller, as quoted by Mark Perry:

Here, I just want to take a step back from the [Google] memo controversy, to highlight a paradox at the heart of the ‘equality and diversity’ dogma that dominates American corporate life. The memo didn’t address this paradox directly, but I think it’s implicit in the author’s critique of Google’s diversity programs. This dogma relies on two core assumptions:

  • The human sexes and races have exactly the same minds, with precisely identical distributions of traits, aptitudes, interests, and motivations; therefore, any inequalities of outcome in hiring and promotion must be due to systemic sexism and racism;
  • The human sexes and races have such radically different minds, backgrounds, perspectives, and insights, that companies must increase their demographic diversity in order to be competitive; any lack of demographic diversity must be due to short-sighted management that favors groupthink.

The obvious problem is that these two core assumptions are diametrically opposed. Let me explain. If different groups have minds that are precisely equivalent in every respect, then those minds are functionally interchangeable, and diversity would be irrelevant to corporate competitiveness. On the other hand, if demographic diversity gives a company any competitive advantages, it must be because there are important sex differences and race differences in how human minds work and interact.

Bottom Line: So, psychological interchangeability makes diversity meaningless. But psychological differences make equal outcomes impossible. Equality or diversity. You can’t have both. Weirdly, the same people who advocate for equality of outcome in every aspect of corporate life, also tend to advocate for diversity in every aspect of corporate life. They don’t even see the fundamentally irreconcilable assumptions behind this ‘equality and diversity’ dogma. American businesses also have to face the fact that the demographic differences that make diversity useful will not lead to equality of outcome in every hire or promotion. Equality or diversity: choose one.

Perry illustrates this with one of his ubiquitous Venn diagrams, which I am always happy to see because it just increases my royalties.

  • kidmugsy

    The question isn't diversity/equality. The question is 'who whom?'.

  • Dan Wendlick

    To me it seems a matter of good enough vs. genius. In most fields of endeavor, the number of people who are "good enough" to be practitioners is far greater than the number of true geniuses who make leaps that dramatically move the field forward.

    If the population of genius is truly small, then it is perilous to throw out half your population before you even test to see if they possess that genius quality. On the other hand, once you locate this small population of geniuses, you should not restrict membership based on demographics, not should you water down the population with people who do not possess that spark to fulfil a demographic quota.

    Look at the example of basketball. There are millions of people in the world who are at some level capable of playing the game. It is pretty obvious that the best women are better than the average male player across all levels (a randomly chosen man out of all males of all ages and skill levels, from the guys who play pick-up at the Y to the top NBA players) is not going to be good enough to make the roster of the U Conn women's basketball team. However, of the 500 or so players in the NBA, in which there is a huge competitive advantage to selecting the highest performing players only, there is a definite bias toward a particular demographic.

    On the other hand, if you are trying to put together an advertising campaign that convinces a high number of people across a wide spectrum of demographics to purchase your widgets, then selecting a team of 10 African-American men between 21 and 35, with one Croatian and one farm kid from Indiana thrown in is probably not going to be your best bet.

    So if you are in a situation where the advantage is that a team be able to do a great number of things adequately, then there is an argument that diversity may be a benefit. If on the other hand you want a focused team that can do only one thing, but do it better than any other team selected for that same purpose, then the emphasis should be on selecting the best performers and accepting whatever demographics you get.

  • BobLouGlob

    What was lost in the hubbub about the Google memo, was that the guy who wrote it was advocating for diversity, but in a less emotional way than many companies try to build a diverse workforce. Most companies decide they need more diversity, then go out and try to hire as many diverse candidates as possible, without thinking about how diversity affects the company. What the memo was arguing for was helping diverse candidates in Google by changing the way diverse candidates are employed. For instance, he argued that perhaps placing women in more collaborative positions may help them succeed better than leaving them to work alone. I thought this was pretty insightful and was an oft ignored issue of hiring diverse candidates. Unfortunately, virtue signaling and one-upmanship took over and the insight was lost in the noise. What a shame as I believe diversity in a company such as Google is a necessity for it to continue to succeed.

  • What I find funny is that Google Ad Words will help you identify and market to different groups of people.

  • GoneWithTheWind

    The mistake is in thinking/believing that this is about equity or diversity. It is not. It is about creating a protected class with all the perks and privileges that brings. And more to milk/bleed the system for everything they can get. There is no end to what they want and not the least of it is all your (as in anyone not in their privileged class) wealth. They are the KKK of diversity and they mean to lynch you if you do not succumb to their greater power.

  • randian

    "It is pretty obvious that the best women are better than the average male player"

    That's hardly pretty obvious, considering (for example) that the US National Women's Soccer Team regularly gets trounced by high school boy's teams. I don't believe they've ever won such contest. I would argue that the athletic performance gap is so large you could give male pick-up players the same training the best women get and while they'll never be pro material they'd hand the women their heads an embarrassing (for the women) percentage of the time.

    "However, of the 500 or so players in the NBA, in which there is a huge competitive advantage to selecting the highest performing players only, there is a definite bias toward a particular demographic"

    Indeed. The same in the NFL too. I've read anonymous interviews of white players who claimed many coaches were specifically looking for black players because they assumed (so to speak) that "white men can't jump". Not a problem if you're already a superstar, but it's a big problem if you're trying to break in.

  • StillAnOptimist

    It is and will always be (with these social justice warrior types) about equality of outcomes - and when what they do fails, they double down and do it again or do something else claiming it will work this time - Their support for communism, socialism is a perfect example of how they talk about "achieving the highest human ideal" (and crap like that). Sad that google and companies like that persist in such irrationality and refuse to accept dissent/contrary views.

  • StillAnOptimist

    We need to complain about that - Call google racist, homophobic, Islamophobic (etc) - rile up social justice warriors - and see what may happen (but then Google will throw money at them and they will slink away)

  • Vince Pavlish

    I'm not sold on this argument at all, first of all diversity has other benefits beside the point of view thing. If I wanted to apply to a company and the CEO was an Irish guy who loved punk rock, and every single upper management position was held by Irish guys who liked punk rock, I would really wonder about the company's "non-discrimination" policy and maybe not even bother applying. And the point of view argument works based on different life experiences, which can occur due to different treatment or discrimination, even if there are no biological differences. Obviously different perspectives don't have to be based on biological differences, I think one twin sociology major raised in England would have a very different perspective from a twin who was an economics major raised in Mexico.

    What am I missing? Of all the arguments on either side this one seems very weak.

  • cc

    Clearly they don't believe that diversity really increases corporate competitiveness or they would have tried harder to recruit. They are just bowing to pressure groups.

  • cc

    Coding is skill in which the best people are 10x or 100x better than average. An average programmer can in fact make things worse, screw up the code so bad it never works again. I was in a class on structured programming in Fortran (yeah, a long time ago) with a bunch of technical non or semi programmers. We got a lecture and then an exercise to program an algorithm to navigate a maze. I finished in 4 minutes and went out for a break. 40 minutes later when time was called, only half the people were done and most of them were wrong. It is not a skill where just occupying a desk makes you proficient.

  • fotini901

    Except that no one advocating diversity is claiming psychological interchangeability. Equal opportunity doesn't mean pretending everyone is the same.

  • Dan Wendlick

    And thus my Packers get Jordy Nelson in the second round. Every team in the league had at least one chance at someone who became one of the elite receivers in the league and passed.

    Let me restate my point. Pull any five guys off the street in the US and put them against the U Conn Women's team, Huskies win. Select five good-but-not great male players at the high school or JuCo level and train them together for a few weeks, it's a game. But yes, I don't think the U Conn women could make it through a play-in game at the Men's tournament level.