Economic Upheaval Changes Meaning of 'Diversity'

Don Tennant

Discussions of diversity in the workplace tend to fall into two buckets. They're either robotic proceedings in which requisite, if fleeting, attention is paid to providing an inclusive environment for minorities, or they're heated debates about the legitimacy of addressing what many see as an exercise in blind political correctness. I tend to see the topic in terms of an upending of the world's equilibrium.


A great example of what I'm talking about appeared earlier this week on MercNews.com. An article headlined, "Blacks, Latinos and women lose ground at Silicon Valley tech companies" lamented the fact that African Americans and Hispanics made up a smaller percentage of tech workers in the Valley in 2008 than they did in 2000. Buried deep in the story was this afterthought:

With the number of white computer workers also dropping after 2000, Asians were the exception. They now make up a majority of workers in computer-related occupations who live in Silicon Valley, although they hold only about one in six of the nation's computer-related jobs.

It was apparently a difficult notion for the writer to wrap his head around. Diversity was never about a white minority. Diversity was always about a white majority with a sprinkling of African Americans and Hispanics, and a lot of hand-wringing or back-patting, depending on which way the sprinkling percentages changed in any given year. The number of white computer workers also dropped, and Asians now make up the majority? That just doesn't fit the diversity model. The author tried to write the story to fit it, but that model no longer reflects reality.


In fact, while the percentages of African Americans and Hispanics in the Silicon Valley tech workforce dropped 0.4 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively, the percentage of white workers dropped a whopping 9.5 percent. A reader who identified himself as an African American with a Masters degree in electrical and computer engineering brought that fact to the writer's attention, and added this:

[What] is the point of isolating the statistically insignificant declines in blacks/Hispanics? Seems like you are fishing for something and avoiding the major observation which stands out like a sore thumb. Missed it? Let me point it out. Major decline in whites. Major increase in Asians. Why ? Simple. Everyone has [a] racial preference at the end of the day. Those Asians you hired on the thinking [that] they work 12 hours, you pay them for 8, have their racial preference, too. It ain't white people. Once someone gets their foot in the door, especially ethnic groups that are very proud, they like to see more of their own, and thus hiring is skewed.

While I strongly disagree that "everyone has a racial preference," it's clear that we haven't yet gotten past the point where most people indeed favor their own race or ethnicity. Other readers who commented on the MercNews.com article, and a number of readers who have commented on some of my recent blog posts, have written of their experience that people from Asia -- China and India in particular -- tend to hire people from their own countries, and lock out Americans.


I don't know how widespread the practice is, but I've seen enough anecdotal evidence to be convinced that it happens. According to the MercNews.com article, Asians in 2008 made up 53.9 percent of the tech workforce in Silicon Valley, up 10.9 percent from 2000. That's hardly an overwhelming majority, but it's enough of a presence to make accounts like this one from another MercNews.com reader quite believable:

I think I was the only Bay Area hire at a company I just started at. When in line for my badge I was the only person [who was a native English speaker]. Many were talking about their flights over from India and how they hope to stay once [their visas have expired].

Another reader made this observation:

As the older, mostly white professional and managerial classes exit the workforce due to retirement, the career networks promoting diversity will also disappear. The ethnocentric Asian professional networks will tend to exclude non-Asians and create a class system where only Asians are given access to premium jobs. It is already happening at Cisco -- Indians tend to hire Indians, Chinese tend to hire Chinese.

To the extent that this is happening-and we would be pitifully nave to say that it's not-there's a gross injustice that needs to be rectified. Hiring based on racial or ethnic preference is always wrong, and people from China and India clearly aren't immune to the prejudice that afflicts our planet.


That said, we need to recognize that those mostly white networks that were ostensibly promoting diversity weren't doing all that great of a job, so we needn't mourn their disappearance. The world's economic equilibrium is changing, and it's unsurprising that those who never experienced discrimination in the past will begin to experience it as part of an upheaval that any dramatic change in equilibrium necessarily creates.


Those who carry out discriminatory practices in this new environment need to be held accountable and compelled to cease those practices. True diversity needs to prevail, and it will. But in the process, some pain will be felt by many who never felt it, and who were therefore never able to fully comprehend the pain that others have felt all their lives. This ain't your daddy's diversity.

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