In a recent article, the New Yorker defined 2017 as a year of “diversity fatigue.” Writer Hua Hsu notes how it’s becoming “increasingly mainstream” to question the legitimacy of the term “diversity.”
In an effort to showcase their “wokeness,” companies have bought into the “brochures and optics” version of diversity, but often give intellectual diversity the cold shoulder. In practice, diversity has become more of a burdensome “check-the-box” than a company value to most businesses.
Nevertheless, the concept continues to resonate with millennials.
The racial diversity of this generation plays a key role in this trend. Millennials comprise 27 percent of the total minority population and 43 percent of primary working age minorities. Moreover, around 30 percent of millennials are Hispanic, Asian, or multiracial.
Colleges and universities have likewise exalted the more “visible” forms of diversity — race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation — influencing their alumni to do the same in the real world. The “Inclusive Excellence” movement encouraged these schools to diversify their student body and faculty. At many universities, new administrators were hired to focus entirely on diversity and inclusion in order to advance their efforts and incorporate diversity programs into nearly every department. Some even require students to take diversity courses as part of their curriculum.
Generally, diversity can be beneficial if its purpose is to spur fresh ideas and different perspectives, but universities rarely include intellectual diversity in their narrow-minded definition. The rare appearance of conservative commencement speakers and the targeting of conservative student groups by administration officials demonstrates academia’s glaring disregard for the diversity of thought. Universities go out of their way to shun conservative ideas as they proudly boast of their diversity credentials.
Now that millennials practically dominate the workforce, we are seeing the impact of this superficial and flawed diversity education.
While today’s companies haven’t been as focused on statistics and quotas as in times past, many have hired chief diversity officers tasked with building a diverse workplace culture. These CDOs typically focus their talking points on the “safer,” more mainstream types of diversity and stick to this narrative if they know what’s good for them.
Apple’s former vice president of diversity and inclusion, Denise Young Smith, learned this lesson the hard way. Smith received major backlash after suggesting that diversity is “the human experience.”
“I get a little bit frustrated when diversity or the term diversity is tagged to the people of color, or the women, or the LGBT,” she told attendees during the One Young World Summit.
She announced her resignation a few weeks later.
Ariel Lopez, founder of 20/20 Shift, an organization tasked with making tech industry more inclusive and diverse, believes companies pay lip service to diversity but miss the mark on inclusion.
"Diversity means something different to everyone," she said. "From my conversations, many people think it means bringing more women into the space, or bringing more black people into the space, or bringing LGBT people into the space, but no one really thinks of it as a holistic solution."
“Inclusion” is all about making those with opposing ideas feel welcome to share their opinions without getting blackballed or attacked. If companies aren’t inclusive of those with different views, disgruntled employees will eventually find a more bearable work environment, and more and more companies will become ideological echo chambers.
Brendan Pringle (@BrendanPringle) is a freelance journalist in California. He is a National Journalism Center graduate and formerly served as a development officer for Young America's Foundation at the Reagan Ranch.