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The DEI debate: Musk, Cuban, and the common problem of what are they really saying?

In brief
  • Elon Musk and Mark Cuban’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) debate shows how slogans can have a range of meanings.
  • DEI can be just colour blind common-sense business practices to ensure there is no discrimination.
  • But once you get the “experts” in, you may find the DEI label has been used as a trojan horse for something more radical than you expected.
  • Sometimes there is one shot to get it right. How important is diversity compared to competence at that point?

Cuban vs Musk – Two points on the DEI spectrum

Mark Cuban and Elon Musk‘s recent exchange on X (formerly Twitter) exemplify two distinct positions on the spectrum of applying Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) policies. Musk’s scepticism towards formal DEI policies represents one view while Cuban’s advocacy for DEI’s supposed underlying principles represents another. 

Cuban champions diversity, advocating for casting a wider net to tap into overlooked talent pools, regardless of demographics. His support for broadening hiring searches reflects the belief that embracing differences can create a sense of belonging and enhance organisational success.

Cuban vs Musk – Two points on the DEI spectrum
Marc Cuban is an advocate for DEI. Image: The Cable Show

Musk, on the other hand, contends that formal DEI policies can risk prioritising race over qualifications in hiring. Musk’s scepticism aligns with those who question whether any particular organisation has a prior problem DEI policies are addressing, or whether such policies are often a Trojan horse for political extremists? And it can be anywhere in between.  

Legit non-prejudice as a foundation vs sales job and hidden agendas

Legitimate non-prejudicial policies and approaches should be the bedrock of any workplace. DEI policies perhaps need only be formalised if there is a concrete problem to address. Unfortunately, if the diversity mix doesn’t meet their ideal breakdown, then the DEI enthusiasts often think that is irrefutable proof of prejudice. It isn’t, but may be cause for further enquiry.

Organisations may, wittingly or unwittingly, come under the influence of radical DEI cultists. The result may be blinkered groupthink, which could harm  the organisation’s effectiveness. 

The debate between equity of results and equality of opportunity is at the heart of the DEI discussion

DEI policies started over a desire to see groups, perceived as being left behind economically and socially, given a leg up in the hopes they could close some gaps in outcomes.  

These policies are meant to overcome perceived societal barriers  like “institutional racism” or “institutional sexism”,  which may or may not actually exist at any particular organisation. 

There are lots of critical and serious jobs that society vitally needs, which cannot be given to people who aren’t absolutely competent. The stakes are simply too high. But when equity prioritises diversity outcomes over merit, talent, and effort the main question becomes: 

How important is diversity compared to excellence when it is a crucial matter and there is only one shot to get it right? History is replete with examples including the 1982 catastrophic sinking of the Ocean Ranger, in Canada, with all 84 lost. There was one opportunity to avert the disaster but mandated local hires were not sufficiently qualified to take the needed action in the brief time they had.

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