DIVERSITY BEAN COUNTERS have a new guru: Mark Willes, publisher of the Los Angeles Times.
Willes has said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that he wants to tie the compensation of editors to how many women and minority sources are quoted in stories. He believes the newspaper quotes too many white males and that it's bad for business. Whether a reporter is "writing about steel or Barbie dolls or international trade or human rights in China, and you can't find a quality woman or minority to quote, then I will," he threatened.This is diversity run amok. Purposely manipulating news sources in order to satisfy diversity goals is a good way to undermine the credibility of a newspaper. It's also insulting to both women and minorities to suggest that they are so self-absorbed that their interest in news is limited to stories containing people of similar chromosomes.
Institutions such as the L.A. Times that take a "diversity-by-the-sword" approach serve to reinforce group stereotypes rather than dispel them. They force us to group-identify, often creating expectations that people within racial, ethnic and gender groups have a monolithic viewpoint. They presume that people of the same color or sex will have the same interests, views and lifestyle - a proposition that is not only false but patently discriminatory.
Willes gave a perfect example of this convolution when he exhorted his editors to attract more women readers by offering stories that are "more emotional, more personal, less analytical." Here's a man who reaches out to women readers by slapping them in the face. Although Willes later apologized for the remark, it is a prime example of the diversity trap.
In addition to gender and racial categories, advertisers pigeonhole us into Gen Xers, soccer moms, empty nesters, etc., and then they play the odds by appealing to the generalized preferences of those groups. It is a helpful to revisit the 1875 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision in the "Motion to admit Miss Lavinia Goodell to the Bar of this Court." The court refused Goodell admittance to practice law solely due to her gender.
Of course, the court had its reasons: "The peculiar qualities of womanhood, its gentle graces, its quick sensibility, its tender susceptibility, its purity, its delicacy, its emotional impulses, its subordination of hard reason to sympathetic feeling, are surely not qualifications for forensic strife. Nature has tempered women as little for the juridical conflicts of the courtroom, as for the physical conflicts of the battle field. Womanhood is moulded for gentler and better things."
Today, to suggest that women shouldn't be lawyers would be absurd. They make up about half the law students in the country. But the court's sentiments are eerily echoed in Willes' recent statement that women enjoy less analytical, more emotional news stories.
The women I know don't read the newspaper to count up the number of women quoted. They read it to be well-informed. Willes should watch his step. His inclusion plan just may exclude serious readers.