Check-The-Box “Diversity” is At Odds with a Merit-Based Society

When did merit cease to serve as the primary basis for political or professional advancement in this supposedly colorblind, “gender-neutral,” equality-oriented society? 

I of course recognize “diversity” (however one defines it) as a worthy goal, broadly speaking. But it amazes and troubles me to see “diversity” totally eclipsing all other considerations in so many aspects of contemporary life.  

We saw this most recently in the confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Now Nasdaq is following in California’s footsteps by proposing a requirement for its “listed companies to have at least one woman [on the Board] and another director who is either a racial minority or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.” – criteria “that three-quarters of its nearly 3,000 listed companies don’t meet,” according to the Wall Street Journal.  

“A bigger, more sensitive issue… is making their boardroom additions more than just a check-the-box exercise,” reports the Journal, rather humorously, since isn’t “checking the boxes” the whole point of what “diversity advocates” are in this case demanding? 

Fortunately I’m not the only “minority” who isn’t excited about the growing prevalence of check-the-box diversity in corporate America.  

Jim Taylor, a vice president of leadership initiatives at BoardSource, a board-governance nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., told the paper that “he declined two invitations to join nonprofit boards in recent years after it became apparent that the groups had largely sought him out because he was black. He recalled how one director interviewing him seemed unprepared to answer what he thought Mr. Taylor could contribute to the board beyond helping diversify its makeup.” 

Mary Winston, a director at companies including Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and Bed Bath & Beyond Inc., told the paper that even she occasionally worries about being a checked box on someone’s diversity chart, despite a distinguished and long record of success. “When I get those calls, my first reaction isn’t, ‘Oh I’m getting those calls because I’m a Black woman.’ My first reaction is: ‘Oh, I’m getting the call because I’m a finance person,’” she told the Journal.  

Winston and other female black executives should be confident in assuming that their record of accomplishment, and their merit, is what makes them such sought-after board candidates. But creating diversity requirements for companies will always raise niggling doubts about that. “I can’t say [that the invitation might be based on my race is] not in the back of my mind,” said Winston.  

And why is the board makeup of listed companies any of Nasdaq’s business, aside from an apparent desire by the organization to appease diversity enforcers and appear “socially conscious”? Is the profitability or unprofitability of a company no longer the basis on which a stock exchange values a company?  

Let’s look at another (arguably even more egregious) example of how an all-consuming drive for “diversity” can do more harm than good – even to the point where it puts public safety at risk. I’m talking about the FAA’s Obama-era insistence that merit should be superseded by diversity in its air traffic controller ranks. Here the dangers of an all-consuming drive for diversity go beyond just who sits in which corporate board room. At risk in this case are the lives and safety of everyone who flies on a commercial or private airplane in America.  

One case of “check box diversity” puts investors, workers, and company profits at risk. The other puts air travelers at risk, by eschewing a strictly merit-based FAA hiring process in favor of a preference system put in place by a diversity-conscious Obama Administration. Neither case is an argument against pursuing diversity as a broad aspirational goal. But they should raise questions about whether check-the-box diversity is at odds with the fair, colorblind, gender-neutral, merit-based society we aspire to be.   

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