The diversity industry is worth billions. But what do we have to show for it?
A new book out today, ‘Diversity, Inc.,’ looks beyond the corporate hype to reveal if there’s been any actual progress toward equality.
Diversity has become not only a buzzword, but an industry unto itself. Against a backdrop of social upheaval as evidenced by Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, #OscarsSoWhite, and the like, issues of diversity and its implications have touched virtually every sector.
In the corporate world, we’ve seen public pronouncements made by CEOs about their commitment to diversity, frequently on the heels of a specious racial incident within their company, followed by the high-publicity hiring of a diversity officer or consultant. Yet these efforts have rarely yielded meaningful progress in advancing diversity. In fact, they have sometimes backfired, as in the case of Denise Young Smith, Apple’s first vice president of inclusion and diversity.
During a panel on diversity in 2017, Young Smith, who is black, was asked whether she would focus her efforts on underrepresented minorities, including black women, and she responded, “I focus on everyone. Diversity is the human experience. I get a little frustrated when diversity is tagged to people of color, or the women, or the LGBT.” Young Smith went on to note “there can be 12 white, blue-eyed, blonde men in a room and they’re going to be diverse too.” After her words were roundly criticized, she emailed an apology to her colleagues, but just months later she was no longer holding the position. This episode epitomizes how diversity is both hypervisible yet elusive.
A new book out today, by journalist and New York University professor of journalism Pamela Newkirk, Diversity, Inc.: The Failed Promise of a Billion-Dollar Industry, explores the sociocultural context that gave rise to diversity initiatives across the academic, entertainment, and corporate sectors and examines why despite spending billions of dollars on highly publicized diversity initiatives, so many of them ultimately fail.
Newkirk charts how diversity initiatives grew out of laws that sought to address the economic inequities created by historical oppression and discrimination, such as the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but notes that despite becoming a buzzword, there is no agreement on what diversity encompasses. “Diversity has become a catchall term that encompasses everything from race, gender, sexual orientation, and body size, to mental and physical capacity and eye color, and there’s little agreement on the definition or institutional goals across and/or even within sectors. . . . Race is often eclipsed by these other categories even as racial discrimination is doubly and triply compounded by [them].” (read more)