Does Diversity Work?

UTM Sociology Professor Ellen Berrey was recently profiled on the UTM Research News page. The full story is available on their website. We have pasted the beginning of the piece here:

Does ‘diversity’ work?

Ellen Berrey
Wednesday, December 14, 2016 – 2:31pm

The concept of diversity has been celebrated and supported at major organizations and public institutions since the 1980s. It’s a widely supported ideal in contemporary society, but what if its unintended consequence is to perpetuate social and racial inequality? That’s the thorny question at the centre of UTM sociology professor Ellen Berrey’s research.

“Decision-makers in many social domains endorse diversity with an emphasis on the payoffs for everyone – it’s good for learning and good for business – rather than the goal of equality,” says Berrey, who arrived at UTM this summer from the University of Denver. She examines what she calls “the promises and pitfalls” of promoting diversity in environments such as universities, corporations and courtrooms. “I’m interested in organizational and legal efforts to remedy problems of inequality, and how these efforts actually play out on the ground,” she says.

While the term “diversity” covers many differences – including religion, sexual orientation and ability – Berrey says that race is the default assumption when people talk about diversity. “The language of diversity comes directly out of race issues in the United States, especially the black-white divide.” Most of Berrey’s research focuses on the U.S. context.

There have been some important social reforms implemented in the name of diversity, she says, but they have been small and incremental. “Diversity communicates a shared commitment to the social good across differences that divide us. Yet there’s much more of an appearance of change than actual demonstrable change. The movement for diversity hasn’t undone some of the deeper, institutional conditions that reproduce inequality.”

In her 2015 book The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice, Berrey explores some of those entrenched discriminatory conditions in employment, university admissions and housing. Drawing on six years of fieldwork in a Fortune 500 company, a major American university and a Chicago neighbourhood, she argues that the public embrace of diversity hasn’t accomplished the social change required for racial justice.

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