As President-elect Joe Biden struggles to fill positions with people representing the diversity of America, and corporations and nonprofit boards are challenged to do the same, I have a few questions.
Namely, with one axis of an x y chart representing diversity and the other ability – where do (or should) those two lines intersect? In other words, when should diversity, pardon the expression, trump ability?
Take El Paso Inc. as an example. If you include our affiliated company PDX Printing, we have 29 full-time employees. Taking to heart the events of the past year or so suggests we have been wrong in our hiring – that we haven’t paid enough attention to diversity. We thought hiring the very best people we could find was the right thing to do.
The result is we have a staff that is 28% Anglo, 72% Hispanic, 55% female and 45% male. The manager cohort of 11 is 45% Anglo, 55% Hispanic, 55% female and 45% male.
Some will surely argue that this is not in keeping with the spirit of the times. Had we been more progressive and put a proper emphasis on diversity, we would be represented by Black, Asian and LGBTQ members mirroring the general population. OK, so our company size is too small to be taken seriously but it will serve to make a point.
Let’s say our hiring is skewed in favor of Hispanics and Anglos – thereby shutting out the other minorities mentioned above.
So how can we eliminate this bias? Let’s take reporters. Perhaps we could hire candidates sight unseen based on a demonstration of their ability to perform by, say, having them do a test reporting and writing assignment, e-mailing us the results. But what happens if we then wind up with a workforce that was even less representative of the community?
As this was written Biden was under fire on social media for this very issue. Progressives scored him for not being more aggressive in standing up a cabinet that “looks like America,” especially after his first two key choices were white males – for secretary of state nominee Antony Blinken and chief of staff Ron Klain.
The pushback was immediate – to the point of a New York Times story suggesting that Biden was just populating his appointments with “buddies,” many from the Obama era.
The thing is, cabinet nominees must still face Senate confirmation. So, what if Biden was balancing his expectations of performance ability with an eye toward picking candidates with a shot at Senate confirmation?
And therein is the answer to my questions above.
Everyone should be in favor of ending racism and doing what we can to avoid any kind of discrimination. But neither should common sense be abandoned in striving for that end.
A perfect outcome will never be achieved at any institution or company. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying – while doing what makes sense.
Got thoughts? I’d love to hear them – for publication or private. You can email me at