Today’s NY Times has an article on research that strongly supports the benefits of diversity to organizations. At the same time, Gloria Steinem has an op-ed piece on a strong force against diversity. After giving some snippets from these two articles, we’ll look at a question about philosophy as an academic field.
The forces against diversity? Racism and sexism are two strong ones. Steinem’s piece today argues that the commentators’ reactions to the current US campaigns for the Democratic nomination show that sexism is the stronger. A black man may win, but women are never frontrunners:
So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one? The reasons are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects “only” the female half of the human race; because children are still raised mostly by women (to put it mildly) so men especially tend to feel they are regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful woman; because racism stereotyped black men as more “masculine” for so long that some white men find their presence to be masculinity-affirming (as long as there aren’t too many of them); and because there is still no “right” way to be a woman in public power without being considered a you-know-what.
UPDATE: See Jender’s more recent post on the blatant racism in US politics. After thinking about the Steinem remarks, it now seems to me that the enterprise of comparing quantities of evil, particularly when one is the not the target of one of them, may make it much harder to discern the evil. Whether or not that’s true, it seems right to be concerned that Steinem’s piece in fact could facilitate the competition among the oppressed that she wants to say would be wrong and destructive.
Why is diversity good? Scot E. Page has developed mathematical models of its effects, showing the benefits. His doing so may help people grasp his claims, but to readers of this blog it should seem just common sense:
Because diverse groups of people bring to organizations more and different ways of seeing a problem and, thus, faster/better ways of solving it.
People from different backgrounds have varying ways of looking at problems, what I call “tools.” The sum of these tools is far more powerful in organizations with diversity than in ones where everyone has gone to the same schools, been trained in the same mold and thinks in almost identical ways.
The problems we face in the world are very complicated. Any one of us can get stuck. If we’re in an organization where everyone thinks in the same way, everyone will get stuck in the same place.
But if we have people with diverse tools, they’ll get stuck in different places. One person can do their best, and then someone else can come in and improve on it. There’s a lot of empirical data to show that diverse cities are more productive, diverse boards of directors make better decisions, the most innovative companies are diverse.
Breakthroughs in science increasingly come from teams of bright, diverse people. That’s why interdisciplinary work is the biggest trend in scientific research.
It’s important to realize that Page does not necessarily mean racial and gender diversity; he’s looking at different ways of thinking and approaching problems that cut across all sorts of categories. Still, in practice a lot of the diversity will be racial and gender diversity.
So we can all read Page’s book, present the arguments to our departments, and they’ll all start to look at ways to become more diverse. Right?
I’m sceptical, but it is less clear to me why one should be so. After all, there have been significant changes in the ways philosophy is done. So the discipline is not totally inflexible. Nonetheless, I suspect that in ours and a number of other academic fields, faculty will say that they are simply not interested in any of changes diversity could bring. They know in advance that the changes won’t be worth it. And just how do they know that?
When I held a Significant Faculty Leadership Position, I used to hear the arguments a lot. And my conclusion was that fundamentally “they,” the guys in charge, do not think we can do it as well as they do.
Other responses are very welcome!!