The Weaponization of Diversity

I’ve had this on my reading list for a long time. I finally got around to reading it, and I highly recommend it. It’s a clear-eyed, direct, honest post by

My choice quotes:

Many people fail to appreciate how success is just as much about emotional stability and health as it is about intellectual and analytical capacity; and the formula for producing the former is often far more complex and nuanced than what’s necessary for the latter.

Stereotypes alone do not really make you a racist. They make you human. It’s how strongly you hold onto a stereotype, and your willingness to give individuals the benefit of the doubt, that determines whether or not you deserve the label.

 Every major country has different strata with their own subcultures and attitudes, including about education, work, family building, and many other life factors.

…the general message is centuries of distinct history produce distinct cultures with distinct values that generate distinct kinds of performance in distinct environments.

 The fact that, on average, even middle and upper middle class URMs continue to reflect an educational performance gap, but that the gap narrows and even disappears for specific sub-cultures of URMs, necessitates acknowledging that something deeper is at play.

To ignore the reality of cultural values is to cowardly stick your head in the sand, and therefore never fully address the main source of the problem. 

 To really address this problem requires a lengthy, candid discussion about childhood, parenting, family structure, and cultural identity. Calling “the system” and its performance standards racist gets you nowhere.

…even if oppression is the historical cause of cultural values that now generate underperformance, that doesn’t at all mean that today URMs are (on average) underperforming because they are academically or professionally oppressed.

…people become farmers, so that their children can become merchants, so that their children can become professionals, so that their children can become artists and entrepreneurs.

there is often a generational progression to career trajectories, and that progression is tied to economic stability, which itself is tied to psychological resilience and willingness to take risk

How much of this unfortunate reality can actuallybe materially impacted by recruiters and investors in any short-term sense?

helping people meet the requirements of high-performance takes time

I’m afraid that a segment of the community – either well-intentioned or not – has chosen to weaponize the issue of diversity in a way that is not only hostile and disingenuous, but counterproductive to its own cause.

 Instead of stereotypes truly holding us back, we are foolishly incentivizing their amplification.

The more exposed any position is to the harsh, unforgiving reality of the market, the harder it is to compensate for underperformance. 

 If there are nuanced, complex reasons for why a disproportionately small number of latinos meet the requirements of medical schools, I doubt anyone wants to suggest we guilt and shame the schools into graduating more of them anyway.

The fact is that, in the United States, equal opportunity largely stops at who your parents are.

 Many recruiters in certain high-performance industries know how much extra effort it can take to find truly high-performing “diverse” candidates. It is not because they do not exist. It is because they, for all of the discussed reasons, are in shorter supply; and because they are in shorter supply, they get taken up by employers with the best brands and compensation packages.

 Our unwillingness to openly talk about the uncomfortable reality, and instead continue with the same “we just need to try harder at ending racism” stories, is exactly why we are making so little progress.

 Achieving results requires intervention into household environments, and that requires letting go of our misguided and self-defeating fears of discussing family cultural differences.

Angrily pointing fingers at people who are sincerely trying to improve an issue that they really did not cause, and in truth are very limited in their ability to quickly fix, is counterproductive. If we push them to promote candidates who truly are not ready, the resulting underperformance will not only ruin the confidence of people who otherwise might’ve had very positive outcomes in a more appropriate environment, but it will also harden stereotypes that we should instead be, strategically, weakening.

Friday reading

Some interesting reading for you today:

  1. Oliver Burkeman’s Eight Secrets to a (Fairly) Fulfilled Life
  2. One theory about the relationship between specialization and innovation
  3. I (re)discovered Lara Hogan’s excellent post about building a Voltron
  4. Some crafting wisdom on the humble function

An excellent classic:

And in case you hadn’t seen it, much of California is on fire. For example:

Have a great weekend and stay healthy.

Incremental improvements and big bets

I was reading Auren Hoffman’s Step Functions and One-percent Improvements and remembered a key piece of advice we received early at Bloc. I can’t remember who told us, but it was:

Every project is either an incremental improvement or a big bet. You need both.

I think about this a lot during roadmapping exercises or strategic planning.

Some examples of incremental improvements:

  • Find your customer’s pricing ceiling by methodically raising prices until you see a drop-off in conversion rates
  • Take the website’s load time from 350ms to 200ms
  • Address student delinquency by checking in with them more frequently
  • Increase customer satisfaction by investing in continuous improvement of the curriculum

Some examples of big bets:

  • Launch a 2-year long Software Engineering Track
  • Move from a contract role for your instructors to a full time and part time employment role
  • Redesign the marketing website from the ground up
  • Provide customers with a tuition reimbursement guarantee

By investing in each of these buckets proportionally you can optimize your chances of growth. Of course it also influences who you hire and what your org structure evolves into.

I’ll let you guess which one of these worked and which didn’t!