This Is As Awkward As Mayonnaise On White Bread

, , , , , | Working | September 15, 2020

In the mid-1990s, “diversity” became an important buzzword in our company. As used by human resources, it meant that having persons of varying backgrounds, genders, and ethnicities together lead to better solutions in groupthink situations. The team I supervised, however, almost never made group decisions. Instead, we all acted as individual contractors, working alone on technical problems for clients. Diversity to me meant hiring the person who had the best demonstrated technical abilities and being sensitive to cultural differences when interacting with them one on one. It did not mean going out of my way to ensure that we all looked different.

As a supervisor, I had to attend a Diversity class. The problem was that getting the instructors to define the word was like nailing jello to a wall; it kept changing all the time. After repeatedly telling us that Diversity was more than counting noses and that it was deeper than that, I gave them an example. In a previous job, I had been in a small group with two other workers. One of us was a Catholic from mid-America suburbia, one was a Jew from a large rust belt city, and one was a Protestant from a small town in rural New England. I called this group diverse by their definition, but suddenly, things changed and the fact of our all being white males trumped the rest.

The fun part came when we were asked to describe what made us diverse individually. We were in the central valley in California, so there were a lot of stories about Latino immigration, working on farms, and the like. Then, it was my turn.

I am a glow-in-the-dark straight white male WASP. My father’s family traces back to the Mayflower — at least nine lineal ancestors on the boat — and other migrations from England and Scotland in the 1600s and 1700s. I was raised in an upper-middle-class household and went to exclusive private schools for high school and college. I went over this in detail. 

Surprisingly, that wasn’t what they were looking for.

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