Inside a Google Summit on Diversity and Inclusion

Joseph Klein:

A number of the panelists also praised unconscious bias training for employees. As of 2015, 20 percent of companies provided such workshops. The notion of “unconscious bias” is based on implicit-association tests, which ask participants to look at pictures of members of various identity groups and then measure their response time in matching images with either pleasant or unpleasant words. Such tests have been subject to an abundance of criticism—most notably that the tests don’t measure bias, but unrelated things such as the time it takes to switch tasks. It’s also the case that many people with strong negative implicit-association test results don’t show any overt racism in their actions.

Unconscious bias training is based on an unproven and cynical worldview: Deep down, everyone is at least a little bit bigoted. This perspective may serve to delude bigoted people into justifying their prejudices as “normal.” Some research explicitly suggests unconscious bias training may actually create a norm for stereotyping and thus increase its prevalence.

Mr. Kazmierczak also referred to the T. Rowe Price Associates board of directors as having “over 40 percent diversity,” as if an individual can be measured as diverse. In Mr. Kazmierczak’s telling, a board made up entirely of black women would be 100 percent diverse. That’s not the definition of diversity; the word means having “variety” or “difference” in relation to a larger group. In practice, labeling an individual as diverse “others” members of minority groups, which weakens the concept of a larger unified humanity, and encourages individuals to silo themselves according to tribal notions of group membership.

The panelists claimed that to be competitive, businesses must hire and promote for a diversity of identities and ethnicities, but in fact, research shows the most valuable sort of diversity in hiring is diversity of thought. Intellectual diversity can sometimes correlate with diversity of identity group membership and end up increasing demographic variety as a side effect, but it doesn’t need to.