Diversity Lands on Mars

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The diversity movement has broken free of all earthly bounds

It was recently announced that 40% of management positions on Mars will be filled by minorities.

No, not the red planet, but my former employer, the privately-held Mars, Inc., a conglomerate with an estimated $37 billion in revenue and 130,000 employees.

The announcement is an example of how the diversity movement has become untethered from reality and is now being propelled across the ether by platitudes, virtue-signaling, group-think, double standards, and racial stereotypes.

The announcement was made almost simultaneously with the company changing the name of its Uncle Ben’s Rice to Ben’s Rice, after the Houston-based rice division had been accused of racial insensitivity for the former name and the accompanying caricature of a black man as venerable Uncle Ben. The accusation must’ve shocked the family owners, because they had always avoided politics and prided themselves on their progressive employment practices, high pay for plant workers, and concerns for all stakeholders.

No good deed goes unpunished in today’s hypersensitive America.

To digress for a moment, here’s why I’m qualified to speak about diversity and Mars:

In 1992, the Wall Street Journal published a long commentary of mine that touted the management philosophy of Mars, based on my experience working there as an executive in the 1980s. The article was subsequently used as a case study in business schools.

One of my responsibilities at the company was diversity, although it wasn’t called that at the time, because this was prior to the term being coined in 1990 by R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., in his landmark article in the Harvard Business Review. It was called equal employment opportunity or affirmative action and was often accompanied with sensitivity training and with the firing of managers and workers for prejudicial behavior—all of which I oversaw.

Mars was known for its marketing prowess and for high productivity and efficiency, a deserved reputation that was due in large part to its recruiting at some of the best business schools and engineering schools around the world, as well as its practice of rotating managers between divisions and countries in order to spread best practices across the organization. For example, when I worked at the headquarters of its U.S. confectionery division, the vice president of manufacturing was Dutch, the vice president of R&D was British, the division president was British, and the vice president of human resources had come from Mars’ pet food division.

The company’s divisional offices were always connected to a plant. Although one of the company’s first U.S. plants/offices was in Chicago, and although one of its first European plants/offices was in Slough, the working-class part of metro London, it preferred to locate its newer plants/offices in semi-rural locations in the States and Europe. The thinking was that the work ethic was better than in cities, and that cities had too many constraints in terms of limited space, poor truck access, and neighbors who might object to the noise and odors of 24/7 operations.

This is why, a half-century ago, the company moved the headquarters of its U.S. confectionery business, as well as the adjoining plant that made M&Ms, from Newark, NJ, to Hackettstown, NJ, in the northwestern part of the state near the Pennsylvania border.

It was of course more difficult to attract blacks and Hispanics in Hackettstown than in Newark. The same for semi-rural locations in the Netherlands and Germany. But these limitations were more than compensated for by its operations in diverse parts of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Texas.

Cultural dynamics changed within the company when the family retired from day-to-day operations. The dynamics further changed with Mars’ purchase of Chicago-based Wrigley in 2008 for $23 billion. It became more “professionally” managed, which is a euphemism for being managed in accord with conventional American business practices—practices that have resulted in manufacturing workers in other industries being treated like widgets and seeing their jobs shipped to Mexico and China.

It is Mars’ prerogative to change its longstanding management development policies and plant/office locations to advance diversity—and to send a potentially divisive message to its workforce that preferences will be given to some employees over others until 40% of managers are minorities. But there are two troubling societal aspects to this.

The first is legal. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act unequivocally states that employment decisions should not be based on race or ethnicity. Although it’s legal to eliminate racial and ethnic barriers to employment and promotion and to reach out to previously overlooked groups, it is legally questionable to favor some groups over others in order to meet some arbitrary racial mix—not that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cares about discrimination masquerading as diversity.

The second troubling aspect is the ambiguous meaning of “minority.” Most people would say they know what it means, but do they really?

They would say that in the context of diversity, “minority” refers to those races that are in the minority in America in terms of numbers, such as African Americans, Asians and non-white Latinos. Not only are there business benefits to this racial form of diversity, the thinking goes, but it’s a way of redressing past discrimination and achieving social justice for historically disadvantaged people.

 

A PhD dissertation could be written on the fallacies in this thinking, but since PhD dissertations put people to sleep, let’s look at the biggest fallacy.

The biggest fallacy of the current zeitgeist on diversity is that it is based on stereotypes. The underlying assumption is that all individuals within an official governmental racial category are the same in terms values, beliefs, outlooks, and socioeconomic circumstance. As such, all whites are seen as coming from privilege, even though many are impoverished, unlike, let’s say, college-educated emigrants from an upper-caste in India, or Latinos from the Spanish aristocracy of Mexico. Moreover, all whites are seen as being in the majority, even though there are over 100 unique ethnic minority groups within the so-called white race, such as Italian Americans, who are only six percent of the population, or Iranian Americans, who are only a tenth of a percent of the population.

Memo to stereotypers: A coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia didn’t grow up with the privileges and perspectives of a Mars daughter. Likewise, this grandson of a coal miner didn’t grow up with the privileges and perspectives of a descendant of a Boston blueblood family that became wealthy from the cotton trade. For you to believe otherwise suggests a political agenda or reflects appalling ignorance.

Japan, South Korea and China are manufacturing powerhouses and big markets for Mars and other American companies. But, ironically, they are not very diverse in terms of race, although China has some degree of ethnic diversity. Time will tell if diversity will prove to be a competitive advantage for U.S.-based companies. But even if it doesn’t, diversity should be pursued for other reasons, as long as it’s done legally and includes ethnic and socioeconomic diversity.

The only group that should be excluded from diversity considerations are aliens from the planet Mars.

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