Is Diversity, Inclusivity and Equity an All-Out War on the Concept of Excellence?
In a recent Tweet, Dr Jordan Peterson stated that “the real purpose of Diversity, Inclusivity and Equity is an all-out war on even the concept of excellence” with a link to an opinion article by Bret Stephens where he comments, “It’s a revolt of the mediocre many against the excellent few. And it is being undertaken for the sake of a radical egalitarianism in which all are included, all are equal, all are special.”
Whilst, the article is in reference to schooling and higher education in the United States, the same sentiment can be applied to the workplace around the world. However, is it true? Is diversity opposed to excellence? Is it simply the mediocre versus the excellent? I would argue that this is an unfortunate misunderstanding of diversity, inclusivity and equity — one that I think needs to be rectified by looking at each one individually.
Firstly, diversity is about who the people are on your team and where do they come from. Depending on your area, diversity can mean different things. For some companies, diversity is about reflecting the customer in the workforce. How can you build products or services, if you don’t understand your customer properly? Diversity in this regard is a step towards excellence. Diversity can also be about diversity of thought. If everyone in a company thinks the same, then your products and services may be limited by a narrow imagination. If there is a freedom and diversity of thought, then new possibilities and options can be recognised. Without diversity of thought, you are liable for disruption — certainly not achieving excellence.
One easy way to achieve this is to ensure that a workforce has people from diverse backgrounds. This includes but is not limited to age, race, gender, belief, sexuality, disability, or class. Diversity can include varied prior roles, industries, or sectors, as well as education, cultures lived in, hobbies etc. When people’s backgrounds are varied, you are more likely to have a variety of thought and this can lead to better innovation — something essential in the tech sphere in the drive to excellence.
Some might argue that it is unfair to pick someone from one background over another because of diversity. I would like to suggest a comparable example to show how this is the reality of business. Say you had two candidates Person A and Person B. Person A has the right skills and experience, but also has come from the insurance sector. Person B has the right skills and even better experiences, but has come from the accounting world of which the hiring team already have two members with that background. It would be completely acceptable for the team’s manager to make the call and hire Person A because of their background which is more useful to the team than Person B’s experience. The fact is, the team is more important than the individual. If someone can bring an extra dimension to the team, making it more rounded and competitive, that could be more beneficial than an otherwise good (or maybe even better) individual.
With inclusivity, it is all about the tactics that can be employed to achieve the diversity just discussed. In the National Football League in America, they implemented the Rooney Rule that requires the teams in the league to include people from ethnic-minority backgrounds in the interviews for head coaching and football operation jobs. This rule isn’t saying that the teams must hire a certain quota of ethnic-minority people, but it’s saying that they must be considered in the hiring process. There have been studies on its efficacy, with mixed results, but the point is that before this rule, black head coaches on average had a higher percentage of wins yet were less likely to be picked for the role and were more likely to be fired from the role. Afterwards, the percentage of black coaches increased by 267%. If the status quo is that ethnic-minority coaches performed better and were in lower demand, then that is a failure to achieve excellence — inclusivity can help us lead to excellence.
Lastly, I’d like to mention equity briefly. This line from the Wikipedia page on Equity in Education describes it as “recogniz[ing] that some are at a larger disadvantage than others and aims at compensating for these peoples misfortunes and disabilities to ensure that everyone can attain the same type of healthy lifestyle”. For this, speaking personally, the extra help that I got in primary and secondary school with issues around my dyslexia helped me gain strategies to balance it out. Whilst I will probably never be the best at literacy, these extra help sessions with other children in a similar boat meant that we could reach the basic level required. Is this the mediocracy? Yes. But being mediocre in literacy, allows me to be excellent in the areas that require literacy. It is a pre-requisite to excellence, and educational equity helped me get there.
I hope I have shown that diversity, inclusivity and equity are valuable and have their place at work. As decision makers in companies we should take an active role in ensuring that the workplace reflects our client base and encourages the notion of diversity of thought. Inclusivity should be employed to ensure that diversity is achieved, and equity utilised so that everyone can attain the minimum needed so as not to be hindered. This is not an argument from a moral perspective, this is only from a practical one — one that will help us in the pursuit of excellence. I’m sorry Dr Peterson, but I disagree.