Bloomberg Opinion: Move Beyond the Business Case for Diversity
Originally found on Bloomberg Opinion by Laura Morgan Roberts
I have been studying race in the workplace for 25 years, closely examining the experiences of Black workers. I recently published Race, Work and Leadership, an edited volume authored by over 50 leading thinkers. Every step of the way, I’ve been asked to make the business case for diversity — to justify why it is important to increase racial diversity, equity and inclusion by advancing Black leaders at work. Tell me, what do Black leaders bring to organizations?
It’s time to stop framing equity around a business case. While the data clearly shows that diverse organizations have an advantage, we need to be more honest with ourselves about the limitations of this argument. First, the logic around the business case for diversity is inherently instrumental. “What’s in it for me?” is the underlying question. Prove to me that you are human and deserve to be treated as such. Give me a reason to concede power to you if you gain more leadership responsibilities, influence and control over resources. How will the firm make more money if we agree to treat you like a human? As a consequence, many individuals who are subject to this framework advance by reinforcing a psychology of exceptionalism — proving why they (compared to the looming stereotypes) are worth hiring, retaining, engaging and advancing.
Then there’s the unavoidable reality that the biased status quo is also profitable. Long-time brands have propagated racial stereotypes but continued generating sales and claiming market share, like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s. Exclusive clubs and resorts prohibited Black members for decades, yet remained intact. Manufacturing facilities that pay low wages and offer poor working conditions reduce the production costs for popular clothing and electronic parts. The business case for diversity understates this business case for bias: a profit motive which appeals to discriminatory consumers and inequitable labor practices....
In the Academy of Management Review, my coauthors and I reviewed the 50-year history of diversity, equity and inclusion theory and practice, tracing how race and other forms of systemic discrimination and privilege have faded into the background in favor of conversations about authenticity, implicit bias, “diversity of thought,” and belonging. While this shift has made the business case for diversity more prominent and palatable, it has sidelined the moral imperative to build institutional systems and cultures that truly value Black lives.
People who are now protesting may be concerned with economic inequality, but they are sacrificing their comfort, job security and perhaps even their health out of a sense of moral outrage. The only palatable and ethical response is a moral one.
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Read the original research in Academy of Management Review
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