Stoffa: Does diversity achieve the actual goals people desire?

Gabriel Stoffa

There has been a kerfuffle concerning President Barack Obama’s appointment of all white males to the “big” cabinet posts. Why though? Does being a woman or a minority mean that an individual will represent those sharing their particular traits?

That’s what some folks would have you believe, but is it really so?

Yes, it is commonplace to find that a female candidate for elected office has, as a part of her platform, a devotion to issues targeted more toward women.

That is politics, though. Politicians pander to a particular demographic in order to attain more votes. Sometimes the devotion to an issue is legitimate, sometimes it is a dog-and-pony show to get the win.

That’s not to say the candidate doesn’t actually support the given issue(s), but that those issues wouldn’t really be one of their priorities were it not for the need to sway particular people.

However, the cabinet posts are not elected officials, they are appointed; so those folks might decide to focus on items that don’t represent the demographics of the people they are to represent overall.

The goal of having such diversity is, well, to work towards diversity and the merits implied. You see it in the workplace and schools all the time. Those in positions of hiring or inclusion believe diversity to be an important fix to dealing with some of the problems of patriarchy and white-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant domination.

Jay Carney, White House press secretary, said, “The president believes that diversity is important because having diversity increases the excellence of the pool of advisers around you, the pool of the staff that you have here. And I think that will be true in the second term.”

Those are goals that need to be addressed, as white does not mean right, nor does being a woman mean being less apt than a man.

But at the same time you have to ask yourself if such a push for diversity is really in line with the goals of such diversity plans; to provide for the overall good of people.

Having a woman in a position of power does not mean women are suddenly going to receive increased pay at jobs across the nation or find a universal upswing of other women in positions of power.

It does encourage other women by letting them know patriarchy might be losing its dastardly hold. It likely means said woman in power will work toward the goal of making sure other women are not relegated to lesser positions in jobs, but there is no guarantee.

What is to say that a man in the same position will not champion the same or to an even greater degree on behalf of balancing the scale to eliminate sexual discrimination?

Now look to minorities. Does being black or Latino mean those particularly large percentages of the nation will no longer suffer from the historical lording over by some white folks with superiority complexes? Does that mean the odds of overcoming ethnic discrimination are unlikely to be achieved by someone if they are white?

I’ve seen efforts for diversity in schools, workplaces and clubs; sometimes those efforts really do add to the overall excellence of the pool of people. Often enough though, I’ve seen those efforts fall short of their goal because the people chosen weren’t as effective as hoped at upping the quality.

Maybe it is necessary to use affirmative action techniques to ensure diversity and representation so that everyone can learn from each other and we can all be shiny, happy people living in unity.

Personally, I fall more in line with merit-based appointments. I prefer my groups and workplace and leaders to be the cream of the crop; at least the best that can be had for the overall tasks. If you are a woman or a minority, it hardly matters unless those traits are highly pertinent to the demands.

What I care about is if you do the job you are meant to do with the highest balance of efficiency and prosperity. I want men, women, blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, anyone really, to all have the same opportunities to prosper and live a happy life free from too much toil.

To achieve that, I would rather have the “best” person(s) for the job, even if the seeming power of diversity and representation is not in line with the population demographics that make up the United States.

That merit suggestion doesn’t guarantee Obama’s appointment of those four white guys to what are understood to be the top four posts in the president’s cabinet — secretary of state, secretary of the treasury, secretary of defense and attorney general — as the most apt choices, but perhaps overall they are the “best” choices for the job given Obama’s goals and the future prosperity of the world.

Maybe you like Obama; maybe you don’t. But what gives anyone the impression Obama didn’t think about some female or minority candidates when making his Cabinet appointments and merely that the choices made didn’t happen to be women or minorities?

Would Machiavelli be dead-on with an Obama assessment with the general assertion that absolute power corrupts absolutely? Maybe, just maybe, efforts for diversity should be looked at as a relevant factor, but in the end merit should win the day.

Merit-based appointments aren’t the absolute of equality, because some people are simply better at some things than others; that’s how life works. But merit is giving all those an equal opportunity to be great, to let ability determine the winner.

None of this is to say women and minorities will not be better served, generally, by having a woman or minority in a position of power looking out for their interests. Nor is it saying merit means all people had equal chances from the get-go, as discrimination can still occur when folks are unscrupulous.

But don’t fall into the trap of believing the mere act of diversity ensures that baseline of equal opportunity for all, or that you need a person of the same sex or ethnicity in order to have your interests looked out for.


Gabriel Stoffa is a graduate student in political science from Ottumwa, Iowa.