All Commentary
Monday, September 1, 1997

The Diversity Machine: The Drive to Change the White Male Workplace by Frederick R. Lynch

Where Will Irrational Ethnic and Gender Group Consciousness Lead Us?

The Free Press • xv + 416 pages • $27.50

Brad Stetson is director of The David Institute, a social research group in Tustin, California. He is co-author of Challenging the Civil Rights Establishment (Praeger Publishers, 1993), and author of Human Dignity and Contemporary Liberalism (forthcoming, Praeger). His E-mail address is [email protected]. A shorter version of this review appeared in First Things.

Even though race-and-gender-based double standards are encountering increasing public opposition, the affirmative action steamroller and the diversity machine have continued their work. Affirmative action has sustained some severe critical and legal blows lately, but its commercial cousin, the diversity movement, has escaped close scrutiny—until now. With this wide-ranging book, sociologist Frederick R. Lynch of Claremont McKenna College crushes the Potemkin Village of slogans, moralisms, and stereotypes that have shielded diversity management from careful analysis.

Lynch diligently traces the diversity movement from its roots in the affirmative action campaigns of the 1960s to its entrenchments in the boardrooms of today’s largest corporations. He carefully documents the language and rationales of “diversity trainers,” the salespeople for the movement who practice a subtle form of extortion by urging CEOs and personnel managers to have a workforce that “looks like America” or “reaches out” to the “underrepresented.” In other words, the best way to avoid being called names at an interest group’s press conference or to preempt discrimination is to artificially pump up the number of women and minorities employed and promoted. Of course subsequent training in “cultural sensitivity” and multiculturalism also looks good—and is very profitable for the firms devoted to providing such “services” to corporations.

While Lynch is respectful of the good intentions of many in the diversity movement, he does not accept their rhetoric at face value. At conference after conference, he encounters “diversity experts” who, for all their multicultural awareness and self-proclaimed sensitivity, are unwilling to acknowledge either intragroup differences or the legitimate grievances of white males.

The diversity machine’s general blindness to internal group differences stemming from age, religion, education, and even gender undercuts the validity of its generalizations about group traits. As Lynch illustrates, “The Hispanic manager could be a fourth generation Mexican-American with an Anglo mother and a Stanford M.B.A.; subordinates might be first-generation Guatemalans with a sixth grade education.” Similarly, dismissive talk of white male “backlash” and “resistance” is the ready response of many diversity “facilitators” to the white male employee who voices disagreement with the diversity mandate. Lynch shows that the diversity machine’s dispute with “white male” culture is in fact a veiled argument with the values and methods of capitalism and meritocracy.

The basic reality that supports the diversity juggernaut is the same phenomenon that sustains affirmative action programs and so much politically correct cant about race and gender in American life: “preference falsification.” This phrase, coined by economist Timur Kuran, refers to the mobilization of social pressure to make people publicly praise ideas as true which they privately believe to be false. So in public, out of fear of being labeled “racist” or “insensitive,” people may accept the reasonableness of affirmative action, but in private they deem it a cloak for racial discrimination. The same holds true for corporate diversity programs, except that the pressure to be approving is magnified, as people’s promotions and jobs may well be jeopardized if they are too forthright in their disagreement. Indeed, as Lynch clearly shows with interviews and vignettes from the diversity seminars, dissenters from diversity orthodoxy experience an enormous amount of fear and intimidation.

The exhaustiveness and relentless detail of Lynch’s investigation have a cumulative effect that will be persuasive to any open mind. Emerging from this meticulous dissection of the diversity movement is the unsettling truth that both the means and goals of this now largely mainstream, institutionalized philosophy are antithetical to the basic liberal values of the American founding: free speech, individualism, equality of opportunity, and nondiscrimination on grounds of race, gender, or religious faith. The diversity machine, with its underlying ideology of ethnic-gender proportionalism, cultural relativism, and identity politics can only foment social acrimony and, ironically, given its banner and rhetoric, a homogeneity of thought. Were this a nascent or fringe movement, it would be troubling enough. But given that the mantras of diversity have already mesmerized American politics and business culture, it is even more distressing. The diversity machine’s momentum will not soon slow, and we should be deeply concerned about where the irrational ethnic and gender group consciousness it stimulates will lead us.