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Pamela Newkirk, a journalist, academic and author explains why the diversity business isn’t working, and how to turn it around.

How would you describe the billion-dollar diversity business?

In writing the book (Diversity Inc.), I wanted to explore the tension between the constant rhetoric about diversity and the billions of dollars that are spent annually on consultants and anti-bias training — and the fact that most of these organizations barely move the needle when it comes to hiring people of colour. Whether it’s creative fields like fashion and Hollywood, academia, law or business, people of colour remain radically under-represented in every influential field. They make up close to 40 per cent of the U.S. population, but they are in the single digits in most influential fields.

Why are some of the fields that should be the most progressive not making any headway?

That was actually one of the surprises of my research. The creative and cultural fields — museums, Hollywood, fashion — that position themselves as being the most socially progressive are among the least diverse. Corporate America has made far greater strides than any of these fields. It still has problems, particularly in the upper echelons of leadership, but it is far more diverse. That’s because, first of all, there are many more jobs to fill, so there is greater competition, and they really want to get the best of the best. And secondly, they often have structures in place like anti-nepotism clauses, which force them to reach outside of their tiny sphere of influence. Because we live in such a rigorously segregated society, people are still generally hiring who they know and who their friends know — and these spheres of influence often exclude people of colour.

Read GATE Faculty Research Fellow Sonia Kang’s discussion with Pamela Newkirk here.