Diversity: Dream or Detour From Excellence? (EP.170)

Affirmative Action


There is a growing push for diversity, diversity defined by characteristics such as race, gender, and sexual preferences. The belief is that this type of diversity brings benefits in and of itself, with the more diversity the greater the benefits.

That is the subject of today’s 10-minute episode.


All of us want all groups and all individuals, to have reasonable access to the educational and other tools that when grasped and utilized, will lead to a successful life. By successful, I don’t necessarily mean comfortable. I mean I want everyone to have access to the tools, the knowledge, that when added to consistent hard work will lead to financial, personal and emotional success. That will lead to the ability to teach, encourage and give a head start to future generations. (And if you don’t want that, you are in the wrong place.)

There is a mix of things that we need to have in place and working to get to our goal. School choice, i.e., ready access to an equally funded selection of traditional public schools, charter schools and private schools, needs to be in the mix. We, you I, sharing our time and expertise one-on-one and in groups, need to be in the mix. Where is diversity in this mix?

When we look at the possibility, depending upon your view,  of a forced choice between diversity and excellence, affirmative action comes to mind. In the 80’s, I was listening to a talk show where the host and a caller disagreed. The host was an affirmative action supporter. The caller’s position was in two parts: 1. Affirmative action is unfair to the people who are not hired or not accepted in favor of affirmative action candidates and 2. Affirmative action does not solve any core problems, and creates endless needs for more and more affirmative action policies, with no end in sight. The caller wanted to end affirmative action, and replace it with a massive effort, focused on making kindergarten work for everybody, advancing this effort year-by-year, following the students up through the years, after 20 years or so, removing the need for affirmative action forever. The host responded by saying that it was unconscionable to “abandon” an entire generation. That was almost two generations ago, and we are still implementing and debating affirmative action. Look no further than the Harvard admissions dispute, where a federal judge just reaffirmed Harvard’s use of affirmative action to benefit blacks at the expense of Asians in the admission process. Expect that one to go to the Supreme Court.

If any hiring or acceptance, work or school, process is well thought out, and ranks candidates’ qualifications correctly, then it must follow that any affirmative action process that raises up lesser qualified candidates and lowers higher qualified candidates, reduces the overall qualification, the overall excellence, of the candidate pool. And it eventually lowers the excellence of the group which these candidates join. Oh, and if the selection process is not the right one, and does not correctly rank the qualifications, the excellence of the candidates, change it, and keep changing it until it does. 

Pause for an important point. Let’s drop the misleading phrase “qualified” candidate, and substitute “best” candidate. Affirmative action supporters often propose that the selection process should determine a pool of qualified candidates, then allow the affirmative action process to rearrange that pool according to criteria like race and gender. The selection process needs to be precise enough to rank all candidates, not simply separate the pool of qualified candidates from those deemed unqualified.

Affirmative action, a major diversity tool, reduces excellence in both the pool of successful candidates and in the group these candidates are joining.

There are times when diversity for the sake of diversity is not only okay, but is highly desirable. Diversity of opinion is an example. Diversity of experience is another. If I am marketing products to a wide audience, I would want to get feedback from a diverse group of current and potential customers. If I am trying to organize a permanent or semi-permanent group of people with the intention of providing mutual support and insights, I would want a diverse set of experiences represented. And if I am organizing a talent show, I would want a diverse set of talents on the stage. And friends. I benefit greatly by having a diverse group of friends. And I hope to be a benefit to them. These are examples of where diversity for the sake of diversity itself are key parts of the mix needed to realize the goal we stated at the beginning of our time together.

Okay, Will, what about diversity in voters? Yes. Yes, as long as they are qualified and very well educated on all the candidates and issues. I am not a get-out-the vote fan; I am a get-out-the qualified and well informed vote fan.

We are all in this together. Collectively, by definition, we are highly diverse. America is the most diverse nation on earth. And all of us, following common principles in the pursuit of common goals, are needed to make everything work. The whole is–needs to be–greater than the sum of its parts. And we need to be aware of where and how diversity works to achieve our common goals.


As we get ready to wrap up, please do respond in the episodes with comments or questions about this episode or anything that comes to mind, or connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. And you can subscribe on your favorite device through Apple, Google, or Stitcher.

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Will Luden, coming to you from 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.

Will Luden
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3 Responses

  1. Ryan Pendleton Reply

    Great episode. I agree concepts surrounding diversity are much more complicated than is typically acknowledged.

  2. Charles Reply

    Awesome points Will. The diversity issue creates a slippery-slope that will never ends and will eventually end in shared failure for everyone. Just like socialism results in shared misery.

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