“The management of virtue. Corporate diversity in New York and Paris » is a book designed over twelve years. During the 2010s and until 2022, the doctor in political science, sociologist and director of research at the CNRS Laure Bereni investigated the profession of diversity manager on both sides of the Atlantic. She interviewed a hundred professionals asking them what they do all holy day. From these questions was born a book published in March 2023 by the Presses de Sciences po (282 pages, 25 euros) combining in-depth analyzes and very touching verbatim by specialists (or not) in diversity working in private companies. Some (in France) arrived a little, by chance. Others (in the United States), from visible minorities, embody this fight. All experience, to varying degrees, difficulties in reconciling their cause with the need to make a profit.
The book aims to “reveal the contradictions and ambivalences of this management of virtue” while offering critical insight into the operation of other virtuous showcases of contemporary capitalism. But also to identify proximity and difference between the two countries.
Diversity, by providing a positive and sparkling image of the organization, then makes it possible to conceal inequalities and thus to reproduce them.
About the British researcher Sara Ahmed quoted in the book by Laure Bereni
1/ Diversity serves to mask rather than combat discrimination
The purpose of “Management of Virtue” is ambitious. It is, as the author points out, “to offer an original reading of contemporary capitalism and its new clothes” via a comparative analysis of diversity policies in American (New York) and French (Paris) business circles. The sociologist believes that these diversity policies, on both sides of the Atlantic, have the mission of allowing “companies to escape the image of purely economic entities closed in on themselves and impose that of a business world concerned with the common good”.
Laure Bereni puts forward the idea that diversity services and their anti-discrimination policies may have the objective of masking discrimination rather than combating it. It shoots red balls at these diversity managers who, to pass the pill, promote a link, not really demonstrated, between diversity and profit. It’s the idea that teams mixing genders and ethnicities produce better and more.
It is also the idea, promoted on the French side, of “deracializing diversity policies in companies, preferring professional equality, disability, seniors”.
2/ Instrumentalized diversity in the service of performance
Virtue management would be a lever like any other of performance development. Plural teams in gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation would be more efficient. THE diversity policies have been used to attract new talent, conquer new markets, promote employee engagement, stimulate their creativity and improve the company’s reputation.
However, the author points out that there is a long way from the cut to the lips with hierarchies largely insensitive to the wind of diversity. According to a BCG study cited by the author, 11% of senior executives of American companies in the S&P 500 belonged to ethno-racial minorities, even though they represent more than 40% of the population of the United States. Similarly, one-fifth of management positions are held by women. While in France, according to Mozaïc RH, in 2022, 3.5% of the members of the executive committee of the SBF 120 had an African, North African or Asian sounding name…
3/ Diversity, a legal screen
According to Laure Bereni, companies use diversity management to “reduce the scope of the law, which protects and emancipates employees”. Diversity programs are used as proof of the good faith of employers wishing to relieve themselves of their legal responsibility in the event of a dispute.
The “law in its repressive dimension is then kept at a distance from companies” like all the exogenous rules that come to constrain and disrupt business life. In France, adds Laure Bereni, barely 10% of diversity managers are “racialized”. Their “whiteness signals the marginal place of the ethno-racial question in diversity systems, the affirmation of loyalty to a national model of non-racism “blind” to race and the inclusion of diversity in managerial concerns for performance and profit”.
In short, diversity managers are the “custodians of their company’s image, responsible for signaling its virtue to different audiences”, stings the author.
4/ The impossibility of responsible capitalism
At the end of the demonstration, Laure Bereni carries the thrust. Ultimately, she believes, this survey aims to show how diversity policies are largely tokenistic and have no effect on employees. These diversity managers would “not have the weapons to tackle the discriminations and inequalities that structure organizations”.
What’s good for business is “the appearance of diversity, more than the diversity itself”
Hence the real impossibility of seeing the emergence of responsible capitalism, no more in terms of diversity than in terms of CSR, for example.
This work has the advantage of plunging its reader into the heart of the corporate reactor. Reading can be irritating, unpleasant, even unbearable if one exercises a function in diversity… But the observations of the author make it possible to open the debate and – it is to be hoped – to reduce the gap between the intentions and the means.
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