Corporate Diversity Policies | The Illusion of Inclusion
Updated: Feb 8, 2022
Demographics | Minorities Defined
For the purpose of this article on workforce diversity perspectives, the word “minority” will be used to describe any worker who is a non-Caucasian and/or female of any racial/ethnic background, non-heterosexual and handicapped.
Workforce Diversity | Failure to Launch
Despite the ground-breaking 1960s legislation that legally provided greater opportunities for minorities to obtain higher education and consideration for employment in private industry, the comparative present-day, 21st century figures are abysmal by any measure. If the government provided an equally favorable financial or tax-based legislation for any other reason and a private entity was unable to markedly increase profits and market share, the CEO and upper-management would have been fired.
The Curse of Educational Finance
When one barrier is lowered, such as formerly discriminatory admissions practices in higher education, another is erected such rising college tuition that is unaffordable to most minorities except with hard-to-secure generous scholarships or fellowships.
The following chart entitled Average Total Debt of Graduates Who Took Out Loans provided by US News, provides the disturbing increase in tuition costs over a 10-year period from 2009-2019.
Supporting the challenges of paying for a US university education the following chart entitled The US Has The Highest Tuition Fees provided by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and provided by Statista, an online statistical firm:
Furthermore there has been an emergence of a different type of student loan financing entitled “income-share agreement”. As articulated in The New York Times article dated 25 March 2021 entitled A Novel Way to Finance School May Penalize Students from HBCUs, Study Finds, the loan is paid through the deduction of a pre-established percentage of a student’s income after graduation for a fixed period of time. In this unregulated field the interest rates are not determined by the individual student’s ability to pay rather based on the collective of students in their community which means an African-American student might pay more interest than his Caucasian counterpart even if they have the same paying job.
For this reason many minorities have no choice but to pursue an undergraduate degree from less known and less prestigious universities with considerably lower tuition rather than apply to an expensive top-tier university. The post-graduation reality is that top companies strongly prefer graduates from top-tier universities which eliminates a large pool of intellectually qualified minorities.
Tuition costs represent almost insurmountable financial peaks. If one managed to climb Mount McKinley for an undergraduate degree, K2 is the graduate program. The number of scholarships and fellowships are so few as to be meaningless to make a difference. Let’s not forget the scandal in which wealthy Caucasian parents, many of them celebrities, paid far more to a “coach” to get their children into elite universities than the tuition itself. The practice is probably more widespread than reported.
For this reason, the pipeline of qualified minority candidates for upper management positions are dramatically dropping to a trickle because a graduate degree is a perquisite for the next level. It’s not that there’s a lack of minority candidates with experience and brains, rather the pipeline has already been deliberately sabotaged at the source.
As Dr. WPS Sidhu, Clinical Associate Professor at NYU School of Professional Studies for Global Affairs, and panelist stated in the 7 February 2021 in the “Confronting Race & Colonialism in World Affairs” webinar, “Inclusive in what? Classrooms are a place of privilege.”
The Corporate Serpent’s Silver Tongue | “Divide & Conquer”
It’s an open secret from the street to the penthouse that there are highly educated and experienced minority employees whose progress up the corporate ladder and careers have plateaued disproportionately to their Caucasian counterparts because private industry has deemed it so.
Even the definition of “minority” has widened the field to include the physically handicapped (of all races) and women. Insidiously this has increased the pool of Caucasian candidates under this revised definition and effectively “crowded out” and considerably reduced the odds for African-American and Hispanics because of the limited available upper-level positions. For this reason a Caucasian female and Caucasian handicapped or Caucasian transgender person “qualifies” under this definition leaving African-American and Hispanics on the outside looking in through an agonizingly transparent bulletproof glass ceiling.
The pool of non-Caucasian talent was never lacking rather the composition. For several decades the influx of thousands of Chinese students – over 200,000 in the US – has been a lucrative cash cow for higher education institutions who pay the full tuition price. As a double bonus these higher education institutions can statistically claim that they are achieving their objectives of minority enrollment. Meanwhile American-born students, specifically African-American, Native American and Hispanics without such sovereign state financial support are still in the back of the bus.
The failure of diversity programs has statistical support through a study by The Financial Times in their 1 April 2021 article entitled Share of Black Employees In Senior Us Finance Roles Falls Despite Diversity Push, as presented by the media platform Remarkboard. [The above link also includes a podcast of the article]. In brief “African-Americans account for 13% of all finance staff and the sector’s biggest ethnic minority.” However in senior jobs their share fell from 2.9% to 2.6% from 2007 to 2018. Meanwhile there are more executives of Asian descent in senior manager positions even though there are 50% more African-Americans workers in this sector.
The definition of “minority” is more inclusive which has increased the pie, but there are thinner slices for certain minorities specifically for African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans because corporations are favoring certain minorities over others.
Like the Covid-19 virus variants, higher education and private industry have their legal variants – a rebranding - to maintain the status quo and blatantly use “diversity theater”, the tactic of recruiting, hiring and promoting “the best & brightest” amongst minority candidates. These farcical beau geste public relations campaigns have historically been reactive and legally defensive, never proactive and socially progressive after protests on discriminatory practices began literally knocking on their doors - and sometimes smashing their windows. Symbolically the exterior windows of their venues are often broken and replaced but the interior bulletproof glass ceiling never cracks.
This is why corporate have disingenuously supported Black Lives Matter (BLM) shamelessly after-the-fact by tasking their behavioral specialists in public relations to construct a customized social umbrella liability policy with the intensification of protests, destroyed property and possible boycotts. This damage control campaign featured slick public relations productions brimming with mostly smiling non-Caucasian faces that supposedly confirm their commitment to diversity.
High profile positions occupied by minorities such as former President Obama and select Fortune 500 CEOs are notable but merely an illusion and clever imagery misdirection as signs of progress towards a nation of meritocracy. But composition of minorities in the “bread & butter” governmental and corporate decision-making positions are unchanged while controlling the trickle of qualified minority candidates for top level consideration.
Because the spigot of this pipeline restricts the number of qualified minorities available to vie for upper-level positions, the present-day few in number is not a threat. Those that don’t make the cut to the C-suite are “kettled” into pre-designated departments established as the new corporate diversity work camps, highly paid but with no decision-making “teeth” or resources to accomplish the department’s mission in search of not just unicorns, rather purple unicorns.
The creation of diversity positions and departments is an additional administrative layer for the purposes of misdirection and obfuscation of the corporate personnel structural problem.
Even when those minority candidates get on the so-called “short list” for final interviews, final selection at this level is qualitative, not quantitative because those on the “short list” are already qualified. A perfect case study is the exquisite theater of the absurd demonstrated by the continued hiring of Caucasian NFL coaches despite the surfeit of qualified and experienced minority candidates.
For this reason the simmering frustration and anger of minorities continue unabated and spillover to the streets as the pandemic has exposed the blatant and open governmental and private industry discrimination, corruption and record-breaking inequities as quantified by the Gini-index.
WORKPLACE | MINORITIES’ DOUBLE BIND
One standard practice for discouraging minority promotions to the upper-management ranks is unethical and discriminatory practices that are difficult to prove. It’s the corporate practice similar to law enforcement’s tactic of arresting a suspect who’s a minority under dubious circumstances. Although he’s eventually acquitted of all charges, he now has an indelible arrest record which prevents him from future employment consideration.
In the corporate work this creation of obstacles for promotions begins at the lower levels which represent the double binds. On one hand the supervisor gives a minority worker an assignment with a specific objective. During the project the worker takes the initiative and achieves beyond the objective of the project without utilizing more resources than allotted and well within any financial or legal risks.
Instead of congratulating the worker, the supervisor reprimands the worker not for exceeding the objective, rather by not following instructions and halting at the original objective. A slight variation is reprimanding the worker for trying to “reinvent the wheel” as the present system operates fine.
This perceived micro-“insubordination” might be communicated on performance reviews stating with the misleading comment that the worker doesn’t follow instructions despite the huge corporate benefits provided by the worker.
On the flip side the same minority worker who reaches the objective and halts is “reprimanded” because he didn’t take the initiative and achieve more with the allotted resources and within the financial and legal risks. Again the variation on this undeserved criticism by the supervisor is that one can’t continue to do things the same way and must be creative and innovative to achieve a greater competitive edge.
Once again this micro-“insubordination” is memorialized in the performance review stating that the worker is intelligent but fails to take the initiative. You can feel the discriminatory presence but cannot provide a definitive legal proof.
The performance review has always been an onerous and fatally flawed politically-laden tool, even when contested, that determines the employee’s company-specific and often career path. The performance review document, counter-signed by management at various levels, is the most hated and odorous pile of corporate excrement ever created.
This is one of many clever tactics that enables upper-management to forcibly sabotage the career trajectory of talented minorities. Instead they shuffle minorities laterally between departments, a perverse corporate purgatory, which is a far easier practice to justify nowadays as corporations have flattened their hierarchy thus conveniently reducing available upper-management positions.
The No-Win Double Bind Challenge | Career Check Mate
Quite a number of these minorities have professionally and diplomatically challenged their supervisor’s judgements by requesting them to explain the differences. Supervisors are flummoxed and tongue-tied because they’ve never been challenged in this manner. Just by engaging in this professional query is a career killer within the organization which takes various forms such as being sent off to corporate Siberia – literally physically set apart from everyone else – assigned to less challenging assignments. These are the consequences one pays for greasing the corporate mask that falls off and exposes their unfiltered and brutally ugly intentions.
The reality is that the corporate supreme priority is not profit rather power & control which goes against the interests of the shareholders, customers and community. Profit is important but is incorporated into the shadows of power & control in a way that they’re almost indistinguishable. But when forced to make a distinct choice, power & control is the priority since profits can be regained later – a near-term cost of doing business on their terms - while loss of power & control is far more difficult to recoup.
Corporations maintain the status quo by engaging in creative personnel accounting by shuffling minorities to the back of the bus (back office) while including them in the overall head count to assuage governments and activist groups. If they hold up in public audits and demonstrate some measure of “best efforts” through recruitment then legally they’re protected even though they’re breaking the spirit of the law.
Cagey Corporate Conspiracies
The pitch-black side of diversity is when a corporation appears to be enlightened by hiring a minority at the highest level such as CEO at the tipping point when the corporation is about to face a crisis such as a suddenly turbulent marketplace.
This pandemic period is a perfect example of extreme stress and turmoil creating the ideal environment for a political set-up. A minority candidate is provided the opportunity to succeed yet lacks the usual resources and support in the pre-pandemic era to right a sinking ship which compounds the possibility of failure. When the firm crashes and burns the minority CEO suddenly becomes the fall guy and conveniently removed. This trend was astutely articulated in The NY Times article entitled Women in Power Are Set Up to Fail, published on 12 December 2008.
The Big Tech Terror on Diversity
Big Tech has become a powerhouse in an astounding short period of time dominating the early 21st century. Its exponential growth and demands for highly-skilled technical workers has resulted in a paucity of minority workers. As with the corporate finance sector, minority workers are heavily represented by those of Asian descent.
Interestingly one might assume that the Millennial aged leadership would be more progressive than earlier leadership generations who were unaccustomed to working and living amongst non-Caucasians Fascinatingly, the Millennial leadership mindset is little altered because minorities are disproportionately represented possibly lower than during pre-Civil Rights corporate America.
The broader picture and dramatical increase of dissatisfaction among all tech workers can be viewed in the following chart entitled Tech Workers Unite! provided by Collective Actions in Tech and presented by Statista.
The perverse irony is that Big Tech aggressively markets their products & services as unifying and egalitarian yet which are increasingly privacy-invasive. Further their steep prices are out of reach of many minorities particularly during the pandemic when many of these minority students were unable to attend school remotely. For this reason they fell even further behind their counterparts.
How It All Plays Out
Against the backdrop of explosive governmental debt, business bankruptcies, restructurings and downsizing, there will continue to be considerably fewer available middle to-senior level positions for minorities to compete. The snail’s pace increase in workplace diversity continues to lag further behind the faster paced demographics of a growing educated minority population in America. This means that the social pot will continue to boil at dangerous levels while big business waits for sufficient economic recovery and business confidence to create opportunities.
[Originally published 1 April 2021]
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The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that provides prescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on geopolitical dynamics and global urban security.