Jon Stewart was known for being hilarious when he hosted — usually looking shaken and not smiling — “The Daily Show,” a satirical news program in which he claimed he was a “fake newsman.”
But Stewart was not kidding during his years on the show (1999–2015) and he wasn’t kidding last weekend when he talked about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in the workplace during a March 26 CNN interview with Fareed Zakaria.
Stewart compared corporate DEI initiatives to the Rooney Rule, which was implemented 21 years ago by the NFL with the goal of increasing the number of Black people and people of color hired in head coach, general manager, and executive positions.
When it came to delivering the news, polls and reviews suggested Stewart was the “most trusted man in America,” Salon reported. He is credited with changing American politics and jumpstarting the career of many of the most notable comedians including Trevor Noah, Jessica Williams and Hasan Minaj.
The guy people could trust to tell it like it was, Stewart is now the host of “The Problem with Jon Stewart,’ which premiered September 2021 on Apple TV+.
“Diversity initiatives,” Stewart said on March 26 during Zakaria’s CNN interview, “are only there because we refuse to actually fix the real problem. The diversity inequity initiatives are … to pacify and mollify because we won’t actually do the real thing. We won’t actually dismantle the vestiges of all the systemic racism and classism and all the systemic gender issues.”
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Researchers at Stanford and three other universities studied most U.S. public companies from 2008 to 2021 and found that DEI initiatives were good for raising investment.
Corporate leaders who talk the most about diversity may benefit from more investment in their companies by socially conscious funds, even if hiring and promotion efforts are lackluster, the study concluded. The biggest braggers may benefit the most from what researchers call “diversity-washing,” Bloomberg reported.
Many companies look to their HR teams to take ownership of DEI, according to a blog by InStride.com, a provider of workforce education programs.
“While this may seem logical since HR is the business unit responsible for training and hiring, much of the work involved in DEI extends far beyond these practices … bucketing diversity under an existing business function moves it even further away from the team that should be held accountable for its success: executive leadership.”
Diversity initiatives are just a distraction to keep attention away from the owner’s box and the real problems, Stewart suggested. Instead, companies dedicate a director and a room in the building and time to DEI.
“But what we will do,” Stewart continued, “is you can have an office in the building. And every few months we’re going to have to sit and listen to you talk for like an hour. And so we’re good, right? … I’ll explain it like, OK, the NFL, right? You know the Rooney Rule? The Rooney Rule in the NFL is because there are so few African American coaches, you have to at least interview, like, one of them.
“So that’s the rule now — (DEI is) the thing you put in place instead of looking at the owner’s box … That’s just the legacy of the economic segregation that’s been in our country since its founding, so we’re never going to deal with that. So here’s what we are going to do: A diversity and equity initiative. We’re going to have to talk to one Black guy. Are we good? I think we’re good.”
One of the reasons DEI programs fail is the racial pay gap, wrote Candice Bristow, director of EID at Expel Inc., in a November 2021 TechCrunch report.
Bristow cited a 2019 survey conducted by PayScale that found Black men earned 87 cents for every dollar earned by a white man.
“Truly equitable systems provide fair pay wages regardless of ethnicity or gender,” Bristow wrote. “This is an area where businesses still struggle … The primary goal is to close the pay gap so that Black employees and people of color earn the same as their white counterparts.”
Images: Jon Stewart, screenshot from CNN interview with Fareed Zakaria, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXL6YHNC_Gw People at the table: Christina @ wocintechchat.com, https://unsplash.com/@wocintechchat