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Diversity Vs. Competence

UPenn law prof Amy Wax says that the evidence shows you can either hire for “diversity,” or you can hire for merit, but — to the horror of diversocrats and human resources departments everywhere — you cannot have both. Excerpt:

Although the Supreme Court has never held that all workplaces must be racially balanced, lower courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is charged with administering Title VII, have firmly embraced the presumption that the racial profiles of particular workplaces should reflect the racial composition of the broader population.

This presumption makes no sense, however, unless people from all racial groups are equally qualified for positions at all levels of the economy; only then will every racial group be represented in each occupation exactly in proportion to its share of the broader population. If members of one racial group are more qualified for particular positions than others, they will be hired in disproportionately greater numbers; persons from a less qualified group will be under-represented in those jobs.

The unfortunate reality is that there today exist pronounced differences in worker qualifications by race. That pattern is rooted in historical and social circumstances that may well call for policy reforms and other remedies. But the Court’s disparate-impact doctrine does nothing to change those circumstances or to bring about such reforms; indeed, it stands only to further disadvantage minority groups by setting their members up to underperform and by draining attention and resources away from the true causes of minority under-representation. Moreover, by burdening employers with an arcane tangle of perverse requirements — and by making it virtually impossible for companies to match the most qualified candidates to available jobs — the disparate-impact rule clearly does more harm than good.


An entire cottage industry is now devoted to refining personnel selection with the goal of increasing work-force diversity without compromising an employer’s search for the most able employees. This quest has spawned a voluminous literature; the basic approach in nearly every case is to de-emphasize the academic and analytic measures on which minorities lag behind in favor of other abilities that yield smaller or non-existent racial differences.

This work has produced uniformly disappointing results. Except in highly specialized circumstances or in staffing for the least competitive jobs, adopting alternative screening methods that minimize the significance of abilities related to intelligence almost always results in the selection of less capable workers. The reason is simple: The paucity of non-Asian minorities in competitive positions reflects real differences in human capital and skill. Thus changing entry requirements to create a morediverse work force, including scrapping existing civil-service exams, will generally not result in a more qualified work force. For now, the diversity-validity tradeoff remains the iron law of personnel selection.

A while back, I remember a journalist colleague in a position to know telling me that his newspaper was constantly hiring underqualified minorities for reporting slots, and depending on editors to clean up their mistakes. It wasn’t that minorities were inherently less capable of doing competent journalism; it was that those in charge of hiring were so eager to get minorities into positions that they hired and promoted on the basis of ethnicity, not experience and skill. The colleague who told me this is a liberal (and indeed a minority himself), but he was frustrated by the pretense, and the refusal of the management culture at his place of employment to recognize the cost of its preference for diversity over competence.

Anyway, good thing this law school professor heretic has tenure.

(Via Steve Sailer).

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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