Rishi Sunak will be PM, but don’t get too excited – cascading diversity doesn’t work

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This is a bad time for proponents of the cascade economy. Joining Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng in the bin of bad ideas is the belief that good luck, or handouts, for the people at the top translates into benefits for the majority.

But at the same time, we seem content to continue with the similar notion of “cascading diversity”. This is the belief that putting people of color at the top of an organization will automatically benefit black people further down the ladder by changing the culture of an organization by increasing the employment of people of different backgrounds at all. levels and creating better policies for a multicultural society. Sounds great, right? But sorry, it’s also a disaster.

We’ve already seen the limitations of the idea that people of color at the top always mean positive change. He thinks of Suella Braverman, daughter of immigrants from Kenya and Mauritius, who shares his “dream” of seeing a plane full of refugees flying to Rwanda. Think of Rishi Sunak, who will soon be prime minister, bragging about changing a funding formula that gave more public money to “deprived urban areas”.

Some reprehensibly argue that the explanation when right-wing politicians like Braverman and Kwarteng say things progressives oppose is that they are the “wrong type” of women or people of color; or even that they are only “superficially” black.

But this is not the problem: the problem is the concept itself. The idea that simply increasing diversity at the top of an organization, regardless of whether you are prime minister or CEO, will lead to diversity across the board is not supported by the academic literature. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that the opposite happens.

Two years ago, when I helped found the Sir Lenny Henry Center for Media Diversity, one of our main goals was to help media organizations increase their diversity and inclusion by drawing on the best academic research to inform their hiring policies. I have since participated in numerous panels with large media organizations – many of them liberals – all of them genuinely confused as to why the growing diversity in senior positions has not fundamentally changed their workplace culture. The one thing I always recommend: Simply changing the people at the top won’t get the results they’re looking for.

We all know single women and people of color in senior positions who fearlessly work to help improve diversity and inclusion. But we must also know that that concentration often comes at a cost: study after study has shown that women and people of color pay a heavy personal price. In a landmark article, Harvard researchers found that when men promoted diversity, they received slightly higher performance ratings. They were perceived as “good guys” who created a better job. However, when female executives promoted diversity, they were perceived as biased and their own performance was therefore perceived negatively as a result.

Another study has even worse implications. It suggests that people from ethnic minorities who have previously demonstrated a tendency to advocate for diversity are less likely to be promoted or to get a new job. Those who included experiences related to their ethnicity in their CVs were more likely to be ignored for work, even in companies that openly valued diversity.

The consequences are that very often “different” workers have to choose between personal ambitions or help people from their background to progress. I know this is true. Just the other day, I spoke to a newly promoted black executive whose reaction to his elevation was to say, “I’ll fight to get more black people promoted, even if it costs my career.” He only saw binary options.

Related: What has changed on Blackout Tuesday? Not much – TV meeting rooms are still very white | Michelle Kambasha

So what, in Black History Month, can we take from all of this? First, there is no doubt that UK companies and institutions need to increase the number of women and people of color in senior positions. But even if progress is made in this important area, the effect will be minimal unless these people receive active support so they can help without worrying about being penalized for their efforts. Until then, the people who are most likely to recover will be those who don’t believe in diversity, or others who, aware of the chilling effect of being seen fighting for it, decide to stay away.

To bring it back to politics: a reality check might help. We cannot expect people of color or women to grow up in any party if their beliefs and values ​​are different from the party they are trying to succeed in. People of color and women in senior positions simply reflect the values ​​of the organization they are in – research suggests that it is unrealistic to expect them to rise to the top and then being agents of change, challenging the culture that has allowed them to be successful. Whoever does will be the exception to the rule. This is reality.

I applaud brave women and black and Asian executives who promote diversity by knowing the risks to their careers. But if we take progress seriously, they shouldn’t be forced to make that choice and the burden shouldn’t be on their shoulders. Until these actions stop requiring extraordinary courage, real progress will never be made.

• Marcus Ryder is the host of the Black British Lives Matter podcast

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