October marks Global Diversity Awareness Month. It’s a month to celebrate the beauty of ethnicities and cultures around the world. Thanks to curiosity, we have been able to move across the planet meeting a variety of people creating unique experiences. Technology removes obstacles preventing us from to exploring various cultures and histories that make us all unique.
However, during Global Diversity Awareness Month, we must be cognizant of how globalization works to kill off traditional cultures. Ensuring that we honor and embrace cultural diversity ensures that we respect each other’s differences. In recent events, there is no better time for us to learn why the world better off being diverse than now. Diversity is what makes up our population.
As the world becomes more diverse, we see signs that indicate how many still want to remain unchanged. We asked members of the National Events Council and the public to give their views on why Global Diversity Awareness Month is important.
What do you believe people are not seeing when it comes to diversity?
Front Tony Alexander -SGI Stategies
These are very scary times for a lot of people who are just now realizing that America is not, and has never been, the melting-pot utopia that their parents and teachers told them it was. Many are just now realizing how justifiably hurt, angry, and terrified so many people of color have been all along. People of color who have been fighting and yelling and trying to protect themselves from a world that doesn’t care, are suddenly be asked to give them a chance.
Federal regulations and court rulings have forced organizations to face legal and social demands to become more inclusive, at least in numbers. These regulations include equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws, affirmative action (AA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Businesses that enter into contracts with the federal government become subject to EEO/AA laws and regulations. These enacted laws seem to frustrate organizations and thus becomes a checkmark on the form – while ensuring they do and invest as little as possible to meet the mandate requirements.
When diversity initiatives are driven primarily by legal and social pressures, the concept of inclusion can become quite controversial because what is viewed from one group’s perspective as an appropriate and fair measure taken to remedy inequalities within the group can be viewed by other groups as unfair, wrong, or divisive. Many diversity consultants argue that initiatives framed solely from this perspective are much less likely to be successful in the long term, because they encounter more resistance from members of groups that do not feel included or believe they have something
Many do not see the benefits of diversity because they feel it’s forced up on them. The act within itself becomes a resentful action. Research shows that the need is not only to frame the business case for diversity, but also to go beyond using it as a sales tool and to be as clear as possible about benefits that organizations can gain from becoming more inclusive. These benefits include:
- improvement in retention, skills performance, and development of employees
- being better prepared to work with internal and external customers, partners, and suppliers and expanding the range of business opportunities within the marketplace;
- better business and quality of life for stakeholders in the community
- increased productivity and the capacity to deal with change effectively and creatively within the organization at large.
The organization becomes the ideal place of employment for people in the community however, many fail to recognize and acknowledge its contributions.
In what way has diversity helped your personal life or in your career?
From Joe Gerstandt – Inclusion Strategist
Diversity is a doorway, wherever diversity is present there is an opportunity to learn. As my network of personal and professional relationships has become increasingly diverse, I have learned no shortage of things about the world, about our society and about myself. As individuals we have a fairly narrow and biased view of the world, diversity interrupts that. Diversity reflects different things back to us. Diversity introduces us to our blind spots. I know of no more valuable source of learning for myself than being exposed to different people, cultures, and perspectives.
Why do you believe diversity measures never gain traction?
From Corey McDougle – Partner
Most people are genuinely well-intentioned when it comes to declaring their support for diversity and the much-needed actions to drive change. Fully recognizing that there is still significant work to be done across the board, it is important to highlight that we did not get into our existing diversity challenges in a short period of time.
It has taken us years for the societal, professional, ideological, and systemic constructs to be built and strengthen that are constantly presenting barriers to equity and inclusion (going back to the challenging interactions between indigenous people and colonists starting in 1585, the initiation of slavery in 1619, its abolition in 1865, initiation of the women’s rights movement in 1848, and the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Not saying it should take an equal amount of time for these barriers to be broken down by any means, but we have to remain intentional, determined, and strategic in how we not only educate and challenge our non-diverse peers and leaders but also how we drive accountability for measurable change.
There has been some positive movement in certain industries when it comes to employing and retaining diverse talent and increasing equity in leadership roles and income (i.e. Healthcare, Education, and Professional Services) that provide case studies for successful measures that we may need to replicate where appropriate.
Ultimately, I think the reason many of these measures don’t gain consistent, broader traction more broadly is due to the following:
- The relative shortness of people’s attention spans does not allow enough focus on most issues to see them through to resolution – especially via social and traditional media. If it isn’t today’s hot topic, people move on rather quickly despite the topic’s true importance. This isn’t a hot topic….this is tied to people’s lives and deserves focus and attention. We do a single day of blackouts on our profiles or we choose a day to not shop at certain companies, but that doesn’t drive long-term, sustainable change. We have to commit to truly changing our behaviors and holding others accountable by not reverting back to what we did before we declared our support due to inconvenience or distraction.
- If it isn’t tied to individual performance metrics or the company financials to directly impact those in power or the company’s shareholders, sadly there is no direct incentive (beyond basic human decency and kindness) for those who do not live the plight or challenges of diverse talent to drive change. Those in power need to have skin in the game and if they don’t feel a personal loss, unfortunately, some will not be motivated to drive consistent change.
- Messaging around diversity programming is outdated and sometimes provokes shame or antagonizes instead of encouraging engagement and understanding. The Harvard Business Reviewconducted a study to highlight why some diversity programs tend to fail. One of the main reasons is due to leadership teams taking a controlled approach mandating anti-bias training and inclusive behaviors with terminology that shames teams into feeling like they have to choose between compliance or their jobs. Instead, many companies in the study have seen positive returns by “engaging managers in solving the problem, exposing them to people from different groups, and encouraging social accountability for change.” We still have work to do – like many companies – but we have seen similar successes at my firm by owning past missteps, focusing on creating a sense of belonging for all employees, and adopting a collaborative approach at all levels to implement change.
- A lack of understanding or appreciation for the importance of these measures to enable holistic adoption. There are so many terms tied to diversity – for example, anti-racism, implicit bias, microaggressions, privilege, equity, etc – that are overwhelming, obtuse, and not always clearly understood by those in power or who don’t experience oppressive behaviors in their daily lives. Further, there is the unfair presumption that they should make the effort to learn due to their roles and sphere of influence. While they should indeed make such an effort, there has to be a meeting of the minds to help provide context to better define why this important and how it is mutually beneficial for all to participate. With all that is going on in our world, people are overwhelmed and are not always able to digest all of the information presented to them in an actionable way. That is by no means an excuse, but the importance of diversity and inclusion has been talked about for years creating a level of fatigue and loss of emotional connectivity to the root issues for those with the power to effect change.
- Finally, there isn’t formal governance or legal precedence making diversity in leadership a measurable requirement. There are Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action mandates, however, there isn’t anything that forces specific measurements or metrics to intentionally provide for equity in positions of influence or agency. California Governor Gavin Newsom just passed legislation in September 2020 that will require corporate boards in California to reserve one seat for at least one member from underrepresented communities by the end of 2021, two by end of 2022, and three by end of 2023 (depending on board size). Otherwise, they will face stiff fines. This is the first of its kind nationally and could be a real game changer for providing clear, immediate, and direct access for underrepresented people to have a seat at the table where critical decisions are made about a company’s strategies and processes. Diversity in thought and experience inspires innovation and change. Intentionally having diverse perspectives and experiences in the room pushes otherwise non-diverse leadership teams to think differently and more inclusively.
Global Diversity Awareness Month is a great opportunity for us to show the advancements we have made as a people. It shows how more diverse the world is becoming. We see the differences in each other and how we add to the success of our communities. It is a critical topic of marginalized communities with Gen Z being the most diverse in history. Even in the workforce, diversity is central to attracting talent. Glassdoor reports 72% of women (v. 62% of men), 89% of African Americans, 80% of Asians, and 70% of Latinos ranked workforce diversity as important in their job search.
These things and many more are reasons why Global Diversity Awareness Month matters. Leaders and communities around the world must adopt diversity and inclusion. It’s impossible to believe we can avoid making these changes. Those who are underrepresented have no desire to remain unheard.
How do you feel about diversity?