Corporations, despite being modeled on the thinking of a psychopath, often pretend to care about social issues. Few social issues have gotten more corporate PR and marketing attention than increasing workplace diversity. Companies regularly advertise themselves as being committed to diversity workforce and have programs to increase the inclusion of women and minorities in their workforce.
But a recent study published in the American Sociological Review shows that diversity programs have failed to help women and minorities in the work place. The study was performed jointly with professors from the University of California, Berkeley, Harvard University, and the University of Minnesota and included data from over 700 US companies.
Rather than providing for greater opportunities and fairer treatment, diversity policies lead to people more easily dismissing claims of discrimination as well as causing a backlash from white males who respond to such policies with a sense of victimization. Ironically, the unintended losers of the introduction of such policies tends to be, according to the study, black women.
While the backlash by the dominant incumbent group (white men) is a predictable response to diversity policies, the more insidious dynamic of people taking discrimination claims less seriously because a company has preexisting diversity policies is leading to some serious reversals for discrimination laws in the courts.
As noted by The Harvard Business Review, Walmart prevailed before the Supreme Court in a 2011 case [PDF] concerning gender discrimination simply by highlighting the company’s “mere presence of [an] anti-discrimination policy.”
It follows that if diversity and anti-discrimination policies are ineffective at creating better conditions for women and minorities in the workplace while also providing a shield from legal action for discrimination, then it makes sense to replace those policies with something more prudent and ameliorative.
The current system allows corporations to have their cake and eat it too; to be applauded for symbolic gestures that have no substantive impact on diversity in the work place, while using said gestures to insulate themselves from legal accountability for discriminatory practices.