David Embrick, Ph.D, talks the meaning of the word diversity in “color-blind” world

By Christa Rodriguez || Assistant Campus Life Editor 

This week’s Common Hour featured David G. Embrick, Ph. D, associate professor of sociology at Loyola University in Chicago. His presentation, “What Does Diversity Mean in an Era of Color Blindness?: Diversity Ideology in the 21st Century” dealt with the problematic ambiguity of the term “diversity” when applied to institutions such as corporations and colleges. Embrick is published in a wide variety of journals including Current Sociology, Sociological Forum, Issues of Race and Society, and much more. He is the editor of the journal Humanity and Society and a co-founding editor of the journal Sociology of Race and Ethnicity. In addition, Embrick has authored nine books dealing with race, racism, and inequality and he edited (or co-edited) five volumes.

Embrick spoke of two ways in which “we care about diversity”, based on his 15 years of research. The first part is that diversity is a part of the mission in colleges, businesses, and most institutions. He pointed out that even Franklin & Marshall’s mission statement talks about diversity. Secondly, he noted that institutions are committed to diversity, and we hear about this when a controversial event occurs surrounding diversity. He quoted Ellen Berrey, who said, “commitment to diversity is an enigma”, to which Embrick agreed.

As part of his research, Embrick interviewed managers, officers and other positions of leadership in institutions and asked them questions about diversity. He found that there “hasn’t been drastic or any improvement” in corporate America concerning representation of minority groups. According to Embrick, African Americans are one percent of the CEOs in the Fortune 500, and this has decreased. He also noted that women are half the work force but constitute much less representation in higher positions of power. Embrick said there are more of these types of trends through looking at salary, hours, access to resources, training, and more.

Embrick hopes that presenting his research through looking at real people in America, besides just the numbers, gives a better visual of how diversity works. Embrick said there is a disparity between what institutions say and what they actually look like. His first example was Merrill Lynch, which, at the time of his study, made it known that they cared about diversity and had won diversity awards. Stan O’Neil, the former CEO, was one of the few African Americans in that position, as well as one of the few interviewed that spoke about race and ethnicity when talking about diversity. However, on the executive board, thirty out of thirty-four of them where white men, three were women, and one was a black man.

A second example was Bank of America, whose website claimed “diversity and inclusion is the foundation of who we are.” Embrick believed this was a big statement, especially since the board of directors looked much the same as that of Merrill Lynch.

Embrick decided to look at younger companies like Google as part of his research to see if there was any difference in diversity. Google was voted as the number one place to work by FORTUNE in 2013, and has named diversity and inclusiveness as some of their main ideals. Again, he saw that board of directors and executive officers were not greatly diverse based on phenotype.

Embrick said his research became “tiresome,” with finding the same situations within most institutions. He wondered how in 2016 institutions are still able to get away with excluding women and minorities in positions of power in the work place, and in places that claim they are already diverse. He said that there is a “potential danger in the language.” People do not really know what diversity is or what it actually means. Embrick noted there is a “big difference between what we say we care about and what we say we’re committed to and the stark realities.” Although diversity is a term that feels good and makes people happy, Embrick believes it is still ambiguous, which makes it problematic. According to his research, no real change is occurring while institutions are claiming that they are committed to diversity.

Embrick suggested instead of talking about these terms like diversity, tolerance, and inclusivity, people should be talking about specific issues. Embrick emphasized that he is not against diversity, but only has a problem with the way the word is being used, which seems to cover up issues like a band-aid. He is “in favor of specificity”, and having people decide what they are going to actually do to combat problems such as racism and others that fall under the umbrella of diversity.

According to Embrick, it is easy for institutions to have a diversity office or claim diversity and say everything is good.

“People are complicated,” he said, and everyone has their own stance on what needs to be done, and the umbrella only gets wider. Embrick says taking the discussion beyond diversity, and talking about issues like gender and race will carry more meaning and accomplish more towards improving corporations, colleges, and other institutions.

First-year Christa Rodriguez is the Assistant Campus Life Editor. Her email is crodrigue@fandm.edu

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