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Balancing Diversity and Meritocracy – Global Issues

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title=/Source: US Census Bureau. Statement by Joseph Chamie (Portland, USA) Wednesday, November 23, 2022 Inter Press Service

PORTLAND, Nov. 23 (IPS) — Countries around the world and as diverse as India, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Ireland, Israel and Italy are grappling with how diversity and meritocracy are best expressed across diverse ethnic, racial, Caste, linguistic and religious subgroups in their population.

In a growing number of areas, including politics, employment, careers, education, the armed forces, immigration, the justice system, entertainment and sports, countries are making sweeping decisions about when to embrace diversity and when to emphasize meritocracy.

Some may see the goals of diversity and meritocracy as not contradictory. In practice, however, the two goals are often difficult to reconcile, especially in the case of imprecise definitions, different concepts and a lack of reliable measures.

Promoting diversity certainly poses a variety of challenges for societies. However, the pursuit of meritocracy also faces unrecognized risks and biases and discrimination behind merit-rewarding efforts.

The rewards attributed to meritocracy are often simply the result of privilege, legacies, and entitlements. Furthermore, some have argued that the pursuit of meritocracy actually creates inequality, stifles social mobility, and increases discontent.

Admittedly, diversity and meritocracy between the populations of countries is diverse and varies significantly globally. Still, useful lessons can be gleaned from considering the experience of one country that exemplifies a nation trying to strike the right balance between diversity and meritocracy: the United States.

US law prohibits racial discrimination. At the same time, however, policies and practices such as affirmative action aim to counter discrimination against certain racial groups by improving their chances of employment, promotion, higher education and other opportunities.

Since the first US census in 1790, the US Census Bureau has been tasked with collecting information about the racial makeup of the American population. In the 1790 census, an estimated 81 percent of the US population identified as white, with the remaining 19 percent as black, of whom 92 percent were slaves.

The proportion of whites in the US population rose to 90 percent in 1920, where it remained until 1950, when it began to decline, reaching 80 percent in 1990. In the early 21st century, whiteness continued to decline to about 75 percent, where it has remained. The proportion of whites is projected to continue to decline, reaching 68 percent of the US population by 2060 (Figure 1).

How best to balance diversity and meritocracy remains a major challenge for America and many other countries Source: US Census Bureau.

The methods the Census Bureau has used to collect racial data over the past 230 years have evolved, reflecting changes in American society. Based on the 1997 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) racial standards, the Census Bureau collects self-identified responses to the racial question, with respondents allowed to select more than one race.

OMB requires at least five categories: White, Black or African American, Asian, Native American or Alaskan Native, and Hawaiian Native or other Pacific Islander. These categories reflect a social definition of race and do not define race biologically, anthropologically, or genetically.

The racial categories and their proportions in the 2021 population of America’s 332 million are: White at 75.8 percent, Black or African American at 13.6 percent, Asian at 6.1 percent, Native American or Alaskan Native at 1.3 percent, Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders at 0.3 percent and two or more races at 2.9 percent (Figure 2).

title= Source: US Census Bureau.

Considering a range of examples from different walks of life in the United States is helpful to illustrate different aspects of the country’s efforts to balance racial diversity and meritocracy.

In professional basketball in 1960, African Americans made up 20 percent of the league’s players. Today, African Americans make up about 75 percent of basketball players in the National Basketball Association.

In contrast, African Americans make up less than 2 percent of the players in the country’s orchestras. Almost half a century ago, the selection of musicians for orchestras switched to blind auditions, where candidates performed behind a curtain. Because blind auditions have failed to make orchestras more diverse, some have called for blind auditions to end and for races to be accounted for so that orchestras reflect the communities they serve.

In professional football, African Americans make up 58 percent of the players. However, they make up 9 percent of the head coaches, or five head coaches, in the 32-team National Football League (NFL).

Nearly 20 years ago, following allegations of discriminatory hiring practices by head coaches, NFL team owners agreed to a policy change to address those allegations. Among those changes was the so-called Rooney Rule, which said: “Any club wishing to hire a head coach will interview one or more minority applicants for the position.”

In the armed forces, African Americans make up 23 percent of enlisted soldiers, nearly double their percentage of the US population. Among officers, however, the proportion of African Americans is significantly lower at 11 percent.

The US military has taken a number of initiatives to promote racial diversity in the senior ranks. The Army, for example, has removed photos of officers from personnel files, so promotion committees are less racially aware and more minority officers select combat assignments, a crucial stepping stone to high-profile officer ranks.

Regarding higher education, the racially aware admissions practices of Harvard University and the University of North Carolina are being challenged in cases currently pending in the Supreme Court. The court is asked to consider the constitutionality of racial preference in college admissions at these two universities.

Asian American admissions to Harvard University and the University of North Carolina are 25 and 22 percent, respectively. These percentages are approximately four times the proportion of Asian Americans in the US population.

Nonetheless, the racially aware admissions practices of these two universities are under court scrutiny. After its first hearing of the cases on Oct. 31, the Supreme Court appeared poised, based on its questioning and comments, to rule that the Harvard and University of North Carolina admissions programs were unlawful.

These admissions practices, which allegedly discriminate against Asian Americans and effectively cap Asian enrollments, have been compared to previous efforts by Harvard and other elite universities to cap enrollment of Jewish Americans. If only academics were considered, internal research from Harvard University suggests that Asian Americans would make up 43 percent of an admitted class.

In four Gallup polls from 2003 to 2016, at least two-thirds of Americans said college admissions should be based solely on merit. A recent Washington Post national poll in October found that a majority of Americans, 63 percent, supported banning race considerations in college admissions. At the same time, however, a majority in this poll, 64 percent, supported programs to promote racial diversity on campus.

Imbalances in achieving racial diversity are also reflected in the composition of American occupations. For example, while Asian Americans make up 17 percent of active physicians, the proportion for African Americans is 5 percent.

Similarly, in science and engineering, the proportions for Asians and African Americans are 21 and 5 percent, respectively. Among US attorneys, the proportions for both Asian Americans and African Americans are relatively low at 2 and 5 percent, respectively.

Americans’ personal views of diversity in the workplace also reflect the difficulties in balancing racial diversity and meritocracy. A national PEW survey in 2019 found that a majority, 75 percent, value diversity in the workplace. However, a majority in that survey, 74 percent, also believed that hiring and promotions should only consider an applicant’s qualifications and not their race, even if this results in less diversity.

How best to balance diversity and meritocracy remains a major challenge for America and many other countries. This challenge has become more difficult in the United States. with the confusing and biased use of racial, ethnic, linguistic, ancestry and origin categories increasingly making little sense.

In summary, with a growing world population of eight billion, changing demographic landscapes of national populations, and the fundamental need to ensure human rights for all, the challenge of balancing diversity and meritocracy is likely to become even more critical and momentous will countries in the years to come.

Joseph Chamie is a consulting demographer, former director of the United Nations Population Division and the author of numerous publications on population issues, including his recent book Births, Deaths, Migrations and Other Important Population Matters.

© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Balancing Diversity and Meritocracy, Inter Press Service, Wednesday, November 23, 2022 (posted by Global Issues)

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