No Quick Fixes to the “Diversity Problem”
In the wake of the recent public protests and outcries against racism, discrimination and violence against members of BIPOC communities, many companies are now hastening to hire consultants or specialists with “proven track records of success” in diversity (also known as inclusion, equity, and/or justice) programming and policy. When I first saw the postings with that requirement, I could not decide whether to laugh or cry. Such a requirement tells me that we still have a long way to go before company leaders start taking this subject more seriously.
First, it tells me that they are in full panic mode. It is damage control time and they need to react quickly to quell the situation. They need someone – an “expert” – with a proven method, which can be quickly implemented to fix the situation ASAP.
Second, more obviously, the leaders had never really thought of diversity as a priority before. Maybe it came up in passing – under “other business” – but it was never a part of the main agenda. Only now that social pressure is ramping up, they have no choice but to deal with it.
Last, but not least, it tells me that they have no idea what “success” means. This one really pains me. If there were so many “successful” programs around, why would you think so many people are upset?
“A problem can’t be solved by the same kind of thinking that has created them.”— Albert Einstein
Therein lies my biggest issue with the way many companies – and even some civic organizations – are reacting to this “crisis”. Executives are resorting to the same command-and-control approach that has led us into the current mess (see Why Diversity Programs Fail). They expect to assign someone to the problem, apply a solution then move on. What they do not understand is the extent of participation and accountability required from all levels of the organization.
In my opinion, diversity should be an ongoing collective exercise, not an individual competition. If someone were to purport to have a “proven track record of success” (in diversity or otherwise), I would question the metrics being used. What works for one organization may not work for another. It would be an opportunity to learn, but I would not expect *the* solution. The key is being humble enough to know that you do not have all the answers and being okay with that.
“There is no respect for others without humility in one’s self.”― Henri Frédéric Amiel
Diversity is in, what my systems thinking professor would call, a “complex” context. Without clear solutions, it is the leader’s job to create an environment to allow patterns to emerge. Such patterns may be discovered through increased levels of interaction and communication to help generate ideas for change (see A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making). In short, executives who want to deal with the “diversity problem” need to start learning to listen – to their staff, to their stakeholders, to their communities, and to each other.
“There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”― Arundhati Roy
Many friends – including former colleagues from organizations which are now in the spotlight – and I have been doing our best to comfort each other during this time. The outrage, frustration, fear, and disappointment are all too real for those of us who have had to endure generations of systemic discrimination, racist attitudes, microaggressions, and for some, even physical violence. It is no wonder that, while some braver souls have begun speaking out, many more are being cautious. It will, therefore, take time and patience before more will feel comfortable sharing their perspectives.
Even while I was still trying to process my own feelings, I applied to a couple of the aforementioned postings. I did so, hoping that I might finally have a chance to more seriously engage with executives on the business case for diversity that I, along with others, have been trying to advance for decades. While my “successes” might not count for much in traditional business metrics, I hoped that my experience with and observations of the systemic barriers and gaps in management decision-making might at least offer some worthwhile insight. Most of all, I hoped to learn more about the present opportunities to change our context, including what we can – I can – do to help. I offer not a solution, but a willingness to work together towards one. I am still waiting for a reply.
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”― Martin Luther King Jr.