Thursday, February 18, 2010

Exclusionary exploitation

Those who have been reading this blog regularly might have noticed that the liberal bloggers I pick on most frequently, aside from the obligatory digby, are PZ Myers and Melissa McEwan. I do it partly because their particular brand of liberalism happens to be the kind that irritates me in a way that amuses me, but it's also because they each post genuinely interesting things often enough to make them worth reading. With Myers it's the occasional fascinating science post in amongst all the smug atheist time-wasting and liberal vapidity, and with McEwan it's the occasional genuinely worthwhile feminist post in amongst all the crap.
The communication habits of white men, treated by corporate America as the natural and best and only way to communicate, leaves people from backgrounds who didn't grow up speaking that language (literally and/or figuratively) feeling frustrated and excluded. White male colleagues who aren't aware that "the rules" of corporate America have been designed to suit them regard their not-whitemale colleagues as unqualified, as not understanding "how to play the game." Not-whitemales have a more difficult time getting their ideas heard, their concerns addressed. Not-whitemales who figure out how to speak the right language are promoted, thus reinforcing the cycle of non-diversity, even as diversity is hailed a hero.

These are the problems of half-assed diversity programs. And the result is that, 10 years after everyone was kissing Silicon Valley's ass for its embrace of diversity, the companies' inclusion is sliding backwards, especially at the top.

Diversity without multiculturalism is just hiring people who look different and expecting them to act the same. If these companies want to get serious about diversity, then they need to reflect that in their culture, not just their hiring records.
I have some serious objections to this, obviously, but the general outlines are very familiar to me--and as a white non-stereotypically gay male (I want to write more about that detail soon) I don't fall far outside of the whitestraightmale realm. Hell, even white straight males who fall outside of mainstream consumer culture can feel this exclusion, as JR from ladypoverty discusses towards the end of one of the most astonishingly brilliant blog posts I've ever read. (And JR, if you're not a white straight male and this reads as implying that you are, I apologize; I mean to say only that the interaction between coworkers you describe there could apply equally to a white straight male as to anyone else.)

What McEwan doesn't mention, and may not be conscious of, is that "hiring people...and expecting them to act the same" is exactly what the companies do, deliberately. They expect everyone to sacrifice themselves to the company's profits. Currently white straight male culture is the best suited to this; if that changes, companies will embrace whatever culture rises to replace it.

UPDATE: Rachel points out in comments that what I said was actually pretty severely untrue (though she's kinder than that in her phrasing). And this is because I said it all wrong. What I meant to say is that enforcing white straight male culture is a good bludgeon for company purposes, which I think makes more sense than what I said originally.


Rachel said...

Mmm, I disagree. If you're expecting sacrifice, you can't do better than female culture - white male culture is far less suited to it. Clearly there's something else going on here.

Ethan said...

Oh, shit. I said that all wrong. You're right, of course, and what I said probably came across pretty shittily. What I meant to say was that enforcing white male culture is a good bludgeon for those purposes. Does that make more sense?

Rachel said...

Much improved! It is odd though, isn't it, how poor the fit is between the self-sacrificing play-by-the-rules company (white, straight) man of corporate culture and the endlessly self-indulgent and adolescent (white, straight) man created and nourished by the advertising department of that same company. Gives me the giggles, I tell you.

Ethan said...

That is a damn good point.