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Diversity in all its forms

February 10, 2015

As I said in my last post, I’m trying to work through some thoughts on diversity. Though my goal is to eventually tie it to science and religion, it might take a while to get there. For now I’m going to frame my writing around a specific incident.

Last October, BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith announced a diversity vision. Smith wanted a workforce with enough “people of a particular group that no one person has to represent the supposed viewpoint of their group — whether ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, gender identity, socioeconomic background, or disability.” He explained in great detail why diversity matters, how editors could promote it, and where BuzzFeed stood on key metrics.

In a long twitter exchange, Michael Brendan Dougherty and Ross Douthat argued that Smith’s vision would be incomplete if he ignored Christians and conservatives. Despite the laudable intentions in his opening sentences, Smith’s vision–unsurprisingly–focused on race and gender. Douthat noted that Smith was missing a lot:

Part of the problem is that Douthat and Smith are making different types of claims. Douthat et al. are making a consistency argument from first principles. That is, a diversity policy that excludes half the country is unprincipled and no diversity at all. From that standpoint they’re correct. Religious and ideological diversity should be as much of a focus as other measures of diversity.

I think Smith is implicitly making a fairness and historical argument. Though he doesn’t say it explicitly, I suspect he’d argue along these lines: “Straight, white male Christians have historically been in positions of privilege, and conservatives have never been targeted as racial minorities, women and homosexuals have. And so when constructing a diversity policy, it’s fairer/more moral/sensible to target the latter groups rather than the former.” Liberal Matt Yglesias sarcastically makes a version of this argument in the thread: “It’s time white male Christians finally got a fair shake in this country.”

As someone who agrees with both takes, I think there’s another dimension that gets neglected: effectiveness. Presumably conservatives want newsrooms to be more religiously and ideologically diverse. And presumably folks like Ben Smith want the idea of diversity to get as much buy-in as possible. Framed this way, methinks there should be some common ground.

I realize I’m heading dangerously down the lame “if we could only see each other’s point of view” middle-of-road BS that I want to avoid because it accomplishes nothing at all. So I’m going to somewhat abruptly end now. To make up for my odd closing, here’s a picture of White River near Ocho Rios, Jamaica:


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Agellius permalink
    February 11, 2015 4:50 pm

    But racial and gender diversity is supposed to be about diversity of ideas, isn’t it? The color of one’s skin doesn’t show in one’s writing. If someone’s whiteness or blackness or gender shows up in their writing, it has to be in the form of the ideas that they’re expressing. So if diversity doesn’t encompass diversity of ideas, ultimately it’s no diversity at all. If you have whites and blacks and men and women and transgendered people all expressing the same ideas, well, so what? You may as well have them be all black or all gay or what have you.

    • February 12, 2015 7:09 am

      Great point. The argument is often that racial and gender diversity is ultimately about diversity of ideas. My friend Kenny Gibbs (I’ve referenced his writing a few times here) makes just that case. A lot of the research I’ve read also comes back to ideological diversity.

      The connection to race and gender is that on average people from different racial groups, etc. think differently. So you get ideological diversity with racial/gender/sex. orientation diversity.

      But I agree you’re missing a LOT if you don’t explicitly make ideological diversity a goal.

  2. Victor permalink
    February 14, 2015 12:46 pm

    I agree with Agellius. In negotiations science, for instance, if we go into a negotiation with learnings about the culture or nationality or race of the person or few people with whom we are negotiating, we may get lucky or we may lose out. That’s because in a negotiation, it doesn’t matter the person’s wider race culture or ethnic culture or school culture or national culture. What matters is the person’s personal culture.

    So we always focus on that, realising that a businessman from Japan and a social worker from Nepal may have very similar ideologies and perspectives and cultures much more than a businessman from Japan and a software developer from Japan.

    So it’s good to acknowledge the diversity of ideas within a race, within a gender, within a nationality, within an ethnicity, etc.

    I agree with Praj, in that, as the numbers of people of a race get larger and larger (greater representation), you may increase the diversity of ideas of the entire group. But it doesn’t have to be true in every situation. And there are ways to pick large numbers of the “right people” of a particular sub-group so as not to change the status quo of the entire group’s thinking and actions.

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