The Appearance of Diversity
11 min readMay 16, 2019

There are two types of diversity, and only one of them is real…

America has promoted increased racial diversity in business and academic environments since the 1980s. Despite this, there has been little change in the representation of African-Americans as CEOs and senior managers, or academic administrators and tenured professors. In fact, relative to the growing importance of key sectors and essential research fields like STEM underrepresentation of minorities has become more acute over the last two decades. So, although both Wall Street and ‘The Ivory Tower’ have spent billions to promote greater diversity there appears to be little return on investment.

The failure of most diversity initiatives is recognized, but not fully understood. The promotion of diversity in America fails partly because even the most noble creators of diversity programs can’t differentiate between what diversity looks like and what it means. Initiatives fail because they either alienate the minorities needed to create diversity or threaten the established culture of the business or university being diversified. The result is a default search for people of color to create the appearance of diversity efforts without real and substantive change of the organization’s culture. And no matter how committed the organization may be to cultural diversity, initiatives also fail due to a lack of qualified and interested minorities.

Kenneth Frazier at Merck, Roger Ferguson Jr. at TIAA, and Marvin Ellison at JC Penny are the only African-American CEOs of a Fortune 500 company

“You say diversity, I say inclusivity…”

As a recent Forbes article puts it, “It’s not news to anyone that there is a diversity problem in the U.S. workforce.” It has been more than three decades since American corporations began developing diversity initiatives and little has changed in terms of African-American representation amongst CEOs and senior management of top 500 businesses. Only 3 of the Fortune 500 companies (0.6 percent!) currently have black CEOs, and the percentage of African-American representation amongst senior executives and management has stayed essentially static between 3% and 3.3% since 1990. The Harvard Business Review reports that in some key sectors such as commercial banking there has been a decline in the overall…