The Case for Diversity - Higher Education
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The Case for Diversity

by Arlen Meyers

I’m a privileged, old White guy who won the ovary lottery.

Consequently, I was able to grow up in the right ZIP code and take advantage of the opportunities afforded to me by sheer dumb luck. As a result, I wound up being an academic surgeon and worked at the same place for 40 years until I retired as an emeritus professor to pursue my next encore side gig, including working with several nonprofits that sit at the intersection of sick care, higher education, biomedical and clinical entrepreneurship and diversity, equity and inclusion.

Like everyone else though, regardless of status, there was a lot of life collateral damage along the way.

Increasingly, my story has become a rare one. A more common commentary is getting multiple degrees with big student debt, jumping from job, or side gig or career to job or no retirement savings and living in your parent’s house. Just ask your Lyft driver who’s moving back in with mom and dad. Younger people are also more likely to be lonely.

I pursued these adjacent careers because, in part, after 40 years of taking care of 20 patients a day, I increasingly felt I was treating the societal and systemic symptoms and not the disease. They are wicked problems indeed with no simple single bullets.

The disease – opportunity, income, healthcare and education inequality – has become epidemic and all the statistics show it. As one of the haves, I’m trying to set an example for the other haves and show why and how diversity, entrepreneurship and sick care are wicked problems requiring inter-system solutions and why it is in the best interests of old White guys like me to solve them

Four key arguments make the case for diversity, equity and inclusion:

  • The moral or social justice case asserts that each person has value to contribute, and that we must address barriers and historical factors that have led to unfair conditions for marginalized populations. For example, racial equity refers to what a genuinely non-racist society would look like, where the distribution of society’s benefits and burdens would not be skewed by race, and individuals would be no more or less likely to experience them due to the color of their skin. From a moral perspective, nonprofits are created to improve society and as such they should be diverse, inclusive and equitable.
  • The economic case is based on the idea that organizations and countries that tap into diverse talent pools are stronger and more efficient. Economists see discrimination as economic inefficiency – the result of a systematic misallocation of human resources. In fact, the Center For American Progress finds that workplace discrimination against employees based on race, gender or sexual orientation costs businesses an estimated $64 billion annually. That amount represents the annual estimated cost of losing and replacing more than 2 million American workers who leave their jobs each year due to unfairness and discrimination. In this argument, organizations should become more diverse and inclusive because it makes economic sense to leverage the talent pools of different populations.
  • The market case states that organizations will better serve their customers if they reflect the diversity of their market base. A dramatic demographic shift is under way in the U.S., which will be majority non-White around 2043, according to the Census Bureau. In the private sector, companies such as Deloitte recognize the buying power of minority populations and highlight that diversity is critical to growing market share and bottom line. In the nonprofit sector, clients are our customers, and they want to see themselves represented in the organizations that serve them. Donors are also customers, and organizations and their clients can benefit from the resources of different groups. What’s more, organizations with diverse leadership are more likely to understand the needs of a diverse client base.
  • The results case is that diverse teams lead to better outputs. Scott Page, author of The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies, uses mathematical modeling and case studies to show how diversity leads to increased productivity. His research found that diverse groups of problem-solvers outperform the groups of the best individuals at solving problems. Diverse nonprofit organizations, and the diversity of perspectives within them, will lead to better solutions to social problems.

I’ve worked for many years in “safety net” hospitals – city and county hospitals, university hospitals that take care of a disproportionate share of poor patients, VA patients who are homeless and native American facilities located on reservations with a culture of poverty. In most instances, health success has little or nothing to do with what goes on in the examining room. Instead, the psycho-social and behavioral health context usually is a predictor of treatment success or failure. In most instances, doctors are ill-prepared to deal with those issues and live at the epicenter of medicine, the legal system, medical sociology and a very dysfunctional mental and behavioral health pseudo-system.

Here is how education affects health and the price we, as a society, are paying by ignoring the long-term consequences.

No one group, like all women or all Hispanics or African-Americans, can solve issues for that one group.  And the majority group — the Caucasian males representing the majority of money, privilege and power, have to be involved in making the change we need.  It can’t happen without all groups participating and without White privileged people leading the way to make the playing field level for all, especially those who haven’t grown up in privilege. That is why I am committed to getting this majority group to understand the emerging majority issues and to fight for access so that all young people can have the advantages that many of these people have taken for granted with their own kids.

Dr. Arlen Meyers, is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs and Chairman of the Board at GlobalMindED

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