View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

In a series planned for this week's release of the University of Michigan cases, the Denver Post has been exploring "diversity," and various institutional responses to the idea. Today's article, about business and diversity, misses on just about every point. It confuses hiring and marketing practices, and utterly fails to make the case for "diversity" hiring programs. A friend of mine at shul on Shabbat had said that he had spoken to the Rocky's business reporters that week, and that the difference was palpable. Now, at least, I'm willing to believe half of the inequality.

The report is barely coherent. It starts out quoting a psychiatrist on the virtues of not being a bigot: "'It's stupid to exclude minorities,' he said. 'It would be like living in the Dark Ages to not be inclusive.'" Well, duh. Nobody's argiung that you should pretend that 30% of the population doesn't exist. But it's typical of the moral muddiness that pervades this issue. If you don't specifically seek out and hire minorities, that doesn't mean you won't take qualified applicants when they do show up. It's impossible that the reporters didn't know this when they wrote it.

The Supreme Court ruling has no legal ramifications for businesses.

But it was critical support for businesses attempting to adapt to the changing population, said Susanne Eagan, who handles affirmative action programs for the Denver-based Mountain States Employers Council.

"If universities don't have minorities and females in their classes, then I as an employer can't draw on a pool of qualified minorities and females. If I can't get them trained, I can't hire them."

Right. Just as the Arab countries will forever be a "small, silly people" if they keep locking their women up to be burned in dormatories, we can't excel if we don't make the best use of all our people. I agree. Especially when we're going to be outnumbered for the first time by an aspiring power - China - which can just throw manpower at a problem. But you do that by either expanding the training programs and colleges, or by admitting the best candidates. If the best candidate is white, and I, in the name of "diversity." admit a black because I want a diverse workforce, I've hurt productivity. What I haven't done is make the best use of the talent pool. (The reverse is true, too, of course, but there are laws against that, now, aren't there?) And 55% of incoming undergrads are now women, on the way to 60%. I don't think not having women in the classroom is a problem anymore, but apparently Mrs. Eagen's numbers are as outdated as her thinking.

For some reason, the article veers into a discussion of overseas tech hiring and Kodak's Chinese investments. Companies hired Indian programmers literally by the planeload - the 83L here in Denver looks like a bus through New Delhi during rush hour. Nothing wrong with that, but they did it because they couldn't find qualified people here, not because they wanted to reach the Hindi-speaking market. China likes joint ventures, since they sunset them and keep the technical and business know-how they've skimmed off the American partner. If Kodak is really letting it Chinese employees come here to understand how the company works, it may be the most suicidal diversity program ever adopted.

Finally, at the bottom of the page, is are a bunch of pie-charts showing the racial breakdown of the Colorado workforce and how they're employed. The pie charts are fine, but the commentary is downright insulting:

Workforce:...The Colorado Department of Labot offers free access to census figures that can help businesses set benchmarks for race and gender is various job categories.

Read not "benchmarks"; read rather, "quotas."

Outreach:Corporate recruiting is a lot like marketing your business - a customer can't purchase your goods or services if they don't know how to find you. Likewise, if you're not getting enough qualified minority candidates applying for jobs, you may be looking in the wrong places. Most entry-level jobs can probably be filled locally, but it may take a national search to fill a skilled position, especially if you're looking for a female machinist or a Spanish-speaking CEO.

What's wrong with this picture? Please don't limit yourself to one answer. Why can't I hire someone local, just because they're the wrong sex or cook with paprika rather than jalapenos? Won't my hiring away the one Spanish-speaking MBA in Calaveras County make it harder for companies there to meet their quotas, er, benchmarks? If speaking Spanish is going to become a qualification, surely it's one that whites, blacks, and Indians can meet just as easily.

Sprinkled throughout are paragraphs dealing with the buying power of minorities. Again - no kidding. But what on earth does this have to do with hiring them? This isn't bias, but it certainly isn't good storytelling.

God, I'm tired of this issue. I'm tired of fighting this fight. I'm tired of hearing about how everything is about race. It's not. Sometimes, it's just about whether or not you know the difference between lightning and lightning bug.

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