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The social policy machine that sought to transform the "white male workplace" to accommodate increasing numbers of culturally different women and minorities is itself being reshaped by rapid cultural, political, and economic changes. From its scattered, experimental origins in the 1970s and early 1980s, valuing diversity and managing diversity policies have flowered into a vast variety of theoretical schools and techniques.
This new social policy movement has nominal roots in America's noble quest to cope with an ignoble heritage of racism, sexism, and gross economic inequality. Organizational life in the United States has indeed been riddled with informal norms and understandings that have operated to exclude certain classes of people. Insofar as institutional policies violate nondiscrimination laws and principles, some diversity studies and reforms have been well advised. However corrupted they have become, diversity management and its half-parent, affirmative action, have had some positive, practical consequences. The policies have forced many institutions to reexamine formal and informal rules and procedures. "Gray flannel suit" conformity has been needless and oppressive in all too many corporate settings, and career and time schedules have not been family friendly. Testing criteria and job descriptions have been reconsidered, and sloppy or informal "good old boys" recruiting has been checked, at least somewhat. Perhaps mechanistic concepts of merit were due for challenge and rethinking. And diversity management advocates sounded a useful wake-up call in terms of the nation's demographic future: indeed, we are being forced to reconsider the very definition of what is a nation.
But the ambitious organizational change masters astride the diversity machine have far more in mind than limited reforms. They are extending affirmative action's top-down hiring campaign into a broader multicultural revolution in the American workplace and beyond. Both the ends and the means of this policy movement pose a substantial threat to the values of the generic liberalism enshrined in modern American law and culture: free speech; individualism; nondiscrimination on the basis of ethnicity, gender, or religion; equality of opportunity; equal treatment under universalistic laws, standards, and procedures; democratic process; and, above all, a sense of national unity and cohesion embodied in the spirit of E Pluribus Unum.
While diversity practices have been tempered by time and changing realities, their ideology continues to mold and stimulate sociological and cultural forces in the workplace and beyond. Lingering emphasis on race and gender reinforces a simplistic, two-factor, ethnic-gender focus in public discourse and policy formulation. Only recently have the machine and its allies encountered public debate and limited journalistic and social science scrutiny. Organized political opposition still sputters and stalls at both national and local levels.
The agenda of proportional fairness based on ethnic and gender cultural differences has acquired very deep structural roots - and strong support in high places. As Dinesh D'Souza, Richard Bernstein, and many others have aptly noted, multiculturalism and more radical politically correct (PC) egalitarian censorship first gained ground among elites in major religious, educational, philanthropic, and media-entertainment institutions. It spread quickly into teachers' unions, such as the giant National Education Association and higher education's American Council on Education. The large liberal foundations (especially the Ford, Carnegie, and MacArthur foundations and the Pew Charitable Trusts) have been instrumental in advancing the multicultural agenda in civic and community affairs, the arts, and education. As David Samuels noted in the New Republic, "the ideologically-driven pursuit of 'diversity' and 'inclusiveness' is perhaps the one area in which today's foundations are influencing public policy with anything like the force of their powerful predecessors of the '50s and '60s."
In many universities, foundations, and government agencies, then, diversity dogma may be "in with the bricks." Although prolonged budgetary pressures may have dampened diversity drives, real rollbacks will be difficult; there are too many true believers in "equity, inclusion, access, diversity" who now have organizational clout. And they have been training others for a very long time; hence, the diversity machine's ideology of proportionalism, identity politics, and cultural relativism has spread from university curricula, to news and information services, jury selection, legislative redistricting, mortgage lending, and personnel policies in public and private sector employment.
The crucial new arena in the drive to transform Western values is the allegedly monocultural "white male workplace." When the cause of an older, backward-looking, black-white model of affirmative action began to sputter in the 1980s, savvy consultant-theoreticians fused multiculturalism with new demographic forecasts and threatened "glass ceiling" regulations to reformulate a forward-looking policy rationale for the 1990s. This new vision linking demographic change with multiculturalism energized an emerging core base of internal organizational advocates and external consultants who built a policy movement, a diversity machine. They have successfully promoted varying blends of social science and ideology through conventions, newsletters, a growing professional literature, and, more recently, mainline professional associations. Aided by powerful allies from corporate boardrooms, to major foundation directors, to White House administrators trying to build a government that "looks like America," diversity policy architects have not fully institutionalized their programs, but they have moved beyond faddish "flavor-of-the-month" status. Conceded Republican theoretician James Pinkerton in a recent Fortune magazine article: "Multiculturalism, as an economic and aesthetic value, seems to be permanently embedded in U.S. corporate culture."
According to star author-consultant R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., the key question addressed by diversity management is, "How do I manage people who are not like me?" Standard white male management allegedly does not value the unique cultural competencies that women and minorities possess. Diversity management offers the paradox of seeking to remove group-based inequalities by institutionalizing collectivist countermeasures: culturally adjusted, unequal treatment ("fair treatment") and "managerial accountability" (evaluations and rewards based on proportional hiring and promotion). Formal rules and testing procedures are not merely reconsidered; they may be manipulated to attain proportional results.
The civil rights movement's original aspirations to color-blindness and its admonition to treat people equally "without regard to race, color, or creed" are regarded as laughable and delusionary in diversity circles. Like the multicultural theories nurtured in the universities (and critical race theory in law schools) diversity management proponents debunk assimilation into American liberalism as a mask for white male "one-size-fits-all" domination. Marx's class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat has been converted to identity politics' cultural war between white males and everyone else. But the alleged "monoculturalism" of the "white male workplace" has been an ill-defined concept.
One has to consider carefully the claims of many women, ethnic minorities, and well-credentialed diversity consultants who argue that there is a dominant white male culture in the workplace, especially when compared to values, norms, and behavioral styles of other groups. Asked in August 1996 to describe white male culture, Los Angeles diversity consultant Pam Fomalont readily echoed diversity management lore and literature, defining white male culture as "very goal-oriented, future-oriented, very competitive, intensely individualistic, work-centered, oriented to objective goals and measurements, affectively neutral, competitive, and they assume that the best man wins." More than anything else, felt Fomalont, white male culture lacks empathy. White males, especially the young, lack the capacity to put themselves in others' shoes. When I suggested that lack of empathy might be a trait of men in general, Fomalont countered that she saw such insensitivity in terms of taken-for-granted white privilege. The culture of Asian males, she admitted, resembles that of white males in many ways, though she felt Asian men retain more emphasis on tradition, family, and group harmony. Individuals or groups who do not fit under this cultural canopy may experience intentional and unintentional exclusion.
Yet the portrait of a modern workplace dominated by white male culture blurs when one observes that many of the cultural traits and interpersonal styles identified with white males are also those of wider cultural and social systems that transcend particular groups and individuals. As sociologists have long recognized, cultures and organizations take on a life of their own; social systems may modify and generate their own values and norms. Specifically, the cultures of both capitalism and formal bureaucracy emphasize rationality, efficiency, goal setting, careful measurement, impersonal rules, and emotional control. Characterizations of white male culture are also carelessly blended with cultural elements of the Judeo-Christian ethic in general and the work-driven Protestant ethic in particular. What is often critiqued as "white male culture" is nearly identical to the work-driven, ambitious, highly individualistic values and norms of the upwardly mobile middle classes …