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Diversity vs. Quality: Is Elon Musk right?

Updated: May 13

Since diversity, equity and inclusion’s (DEI) explosion into mainstream relevance following the resurgence of 2020’s BLM movement, the last few years of strong support for its principles has been met by a growing opposition. 

Every month we track the news and highlight the biggest stories around the area and once again another name has come up top: Elon. 

In a pendulum swing of sorts across 2023-2024 critics are calling to discontinue and dismiss DEI principles. Elon Musk is one of the most prominent detractors of DEI, criticising its application in schools and hiring for focusing on the “diversity of immutable characteristics instead of the qualities/qualifications of a person.” 

In March, he was interviewed by Don Lemon where he used a similar criticism about DEI in medicine, how it threatens to risk lives by lowering the standards for incoming medical practitioners citing Duke University of Medicine as an example. Sounds like a pretty valid criticism.  

But just how valid is it? 

Musk’s comments highlight a fundamental misunderstanding about DEI considerations and the approach. A common site of disapproval around DEI in education and hiring in particular is the considerations it makes for people with specific identities when doing standardised. testing. This undermines people getting in by merit of their own intelligence, surely? Well research indicates that these standard tests often favour privileged candidates, showing significant disparities in test scores based on socioeconomic backgrounds and racial identities

Acknowledging this issue being not entirely the fault of the candidates but rather environmental and structural factors - like lack of access to educational resources - increased familial responsibilities etc. the “DEI approach” is actually to make assessments more accurate. Having a more comprehensive assessment that is indicative of academic potential for everyone. The standardised testing is still an extremely important part of the process, but it now isn’t the only aspect that is assessed. Duke University confirmed this stating how they have “not lowered standards and continue to rely on GPA and MCAT scores, among other criteria,” the among other being the important phrase here. 

But does it still lower standards?

Contrary to Musk’s assertions it doesn’t.

Research demonstrates that candidates from marginalised backgrounds may initially score lower on the standardised tests but in later evaluatuions actually excel. Healthcare as an institution throughout both the UK and US is actively seeking out diverse candidates as having more diverse professionals and teams can better serve an increasingly diverse patient population for better outcomes. There are numerous barriers facing people in marginalised groups but DEI initiatives and hiring processes aim to broaden the pool of qualified candidates benefitting all individuals regardless of race, ethnicity, socio-economic background etc. 

So in terms of DEI being a risk to people’s lives, I’ll let you be the judge of that. It is understandable to be upset about standards that seem to be unfair and threatening to our quality of life. However, we should be able to agree that lack of access and resources that many of us experience or are born into are also both those things. 

So Elon, I hope your heartbeat can rest next time you get a Black doctor. 

These are the stories that caused headlines and social media traction over March:

  • As one of the most important economic partners with Israel in the EU and an intertwined history between nations, commentary has become more prominent surrounding Germany’s support of Israel. Read more here.

  • The racist comments made by top-Tory donor Frank Hester about Diane Abbot set the news alight with outrage this month. Observing her subsequent treatment in the House Of Commons and the responses from both the Labour and Tory party adding fuel to the fire. Inclusion executive Chynna discusses this here.

  • B!GOCEAN debuted as the first ever deaf KPOP group. They use sign language in their music videos making their music accessible to everyone. This has brought attention to other times KPOP groups have also used sign language to include their deaf listeners. Read more here.


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