Pushback on Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Initiatives


Some of the biggest arguments we hear against diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are around how they can potentially alienate white men and arguments against using “quotas” because these are believed to reduce meritocracy. Let’s dig into both of these arguments to see why DEI and quotas are good for everyone.


Diversity Needs White Men

Truly positive efforts to increase diversity, inclusion, equity, representation, and belonging will always include white men. To quote one of my favorite DEI practitioners, people are not diverse, systems are. There is no such thing as a “diverse person”. Diversity can only apply to a group, and in order to have a fully diverse and representative group, we need white men…and women, and Black men and women, and individuals with accessibility needs, and people from various socioeconomic backgrounds, with different religious practices, and sexual orientations. A person can’t be diverse, which means a person also cannot be “non diverse”. The best DEI programs will view every person as an individual with unique experiences and abilities to contribute to the larger group. In this view, no one is above or below, and no one is better than someone else. White men are crucial to this process and this journey, and their experiences and backgrounds are just as valid as every other person in any given diverse group.


The Reality of Merit-Based Opportunities and Success

To assess the claim that quotas erode meritocracy, it is first important to examine how meritocracy currently plays out in our society. Meritocracy is defined as a system in which individuals are judged and rewarded (e.g., with a job offer or promotion) based on “talent, effort, and achievement”, rather than background, connections, wealth, or social class. The problem with the assertion that quotas erode meritocracy is that we don’t currently work on a meritocracy. According to a Forbes article on the validity of arguments against affirmative action, “In elite colleges and universities, there are more students from the top 1% of income families than from the bottom 60% of families.” With a degree from an elite college, individuals become more employable and more promotable. So, if you are born into the top 1%, you are automatically more likely to be admitted to an elite college, and then more likely to be hired and promoted post-college. Yale Insights similarly calls out elite institutions as providing “enormously intensive and demanding educations almost exclusively to wealthy children.”


A meta-analysis study by the American Psychological Association shows that there is only a 9% correlation between job performance and GPA. So, while a degree from a great school makes you seem more employable to hiring managers, it has a negligible impact on your ability to do your job well. Taking this analysis into consideration, we can see that our current system is not a meritocracy where people are hired and promoted based on their talent, effort, or achievements, but that socioeconomic status has a much larger influence on a person’s success pre- and post-college. Additionally, the Economist reports that, despite stellar admission scores, Asian Americans are underrepresented at elite colleges and top universities, suggesting that these institutions are favoring majority groups and White people, and providing them with an unfair advantage pre- and post-college, regardless of merit.


Meritocracy in the Workplace

Moving into the workplace, Forbes indicates that there are 2 additional factors that influence professional advancement: “upper management’s subjective, personal preferences, and performance evaluation systems”. Performance evaluations, however, are notoriously biased, and because of this, cannot be evidence of meritocracy-based advancement. Further, reviews by managers are heavily influenced by their own preferences and research from Cambridge has shown that different managers will rate the same employee differently, ratings are more subjective than objective, and manager ratings of an employee have little correlation with that employee’s actual performance. Performance reviews are largely inaccurate and based on personal preference, and the fact that many organizations still use performance reviews to determine professional advancement for individuals is further evidence that our current system is not a meritocracy.


The below figure from Cambridge lists the most “Commonly Cited Reasons To Manipulate Performance Ratings”:


Scientists have conducted a wealth of research clearly showing that our current system for achievement is not based on merit, but on subjective reviews, socioeconomic background, and, often, whiteness. This means that quotas cannot erode meritocracy because we don’t have a meritocracy. The fight against quotas, based on the fear that quotas will destroy an imagined meritocracy, is putting us in a position where we need quotas more than ever. Fighting against quotas in favor of our current system means that success will continue to be heavily skewed toward the existing “in-group”, versus moving us toward a system truly based on merit and equity.


How Quotas Help Us All

So how can quotas help us? Quotas will help us fix our current system by giving more individuals the opportunity to grow and succeed, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, religion, gender, accessibility needs, and so on. Increased diversity in our organizations will then lead to improved creativity, innovation, revenue, and overall success. In fact, the National Academy of Sciences’ landmark report on diversity and performance shows that a diverse team of individuals will outperform “star” performers on a homogenous team.


The Takeaway:

The potential drawbacks of quotas and DEI work are minimal, but the outcry against implementing quotas and DEI programming poses a large threat to our collective success and the potential for a system legitimately built on meritocracy. Our current system is not color-, gender-, or class-blind and it is not producing optimal results. A genuine dedication to quotas and embracing DE&I is the only way to move us forward and to create a truly equitable workforce wherein all people are given equal opportunities to succeed.


If your current DEI efforts seem exclusive to any segment of your workforce, reach out to Level for more information on our fully inclusive programming.

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