Diversity – It’s About Everyday People

I was recently asked to comment on an article about the role of corporate diversity offices. The article, written by John Fitzgerald Gates, Ph.D., ran in the Huffington Post and was entitled, “Do We Really Need Diversity Offices?” 

The article talked about the state of diversity management in corporate America and the fact that diversity as a function has grown little in focus and impact since this function began.  Gates went on to explain how the diversity function has remained focused on equal employment opportunity and affirmative action related functions typically administered by the companies human resources and legal departments.

It was in the late 1990s that my friend and colleague Mary-Jane Sinclair, a contributing author to The Big Book of HR presented a workshop at a SHRM diversity conference. The topic:  Beyond EEO & On To Respect.  That corporate diversity offices are still focused on EEO and affirmative action is somewhat startling.

Diversity practitioners in recent years have begun referring to diversity as inclusion.  The premise behind this thinking is that if diversity is sometimes about counting people then inclusion is about making people count.  Counting people is clearly a function of EEO and affirmative action. However, in recent years I continue to hear the term diversity with respect to counting people.  This led me to agree with the conclusions drawn by Gates the article.  Last year I received a call from one of my clients who is a multi-national corporation headquartered in Europe.  The caller was from the European headquarters and she was inquiring if I could do a diversity plan for that office since I do similar plans for offices in the United States.  The plans I “do” for the U.S. offices are affirmative action plans, which are written according to specific regulations.  They are about counting and categorizing people in accordance with specific requirements.  I explained to the caller how I went about the analysis for this plan and that the methodology was not universal since it involves using U.S. Census data.

Diversity is about uniqueness. Diversity is what makes each and every one of us a unique individual. We each possess unique characteristics and qualities that we bring and contribute to the organization for which we work.

Diversity relates to people's values. Diversity also relates to an organizations values. Individuals want to work in an environment where others care about them and where they feel accepted and respected.  Diversity is about culture, both individual culture, and that's only one of the reasons why it's a business issue.

Gates says that we are stuck in seeing diversity within its limited definition of human difference. I'm not sure that I would interpret difference as limiting. Rather I interpret difference as uniqueness.  Diversity extends beyond what is obvious about people, those primary dimensions of diversity such as age gender race etc. Diversity encompasses much more including our backgrounds as education, religious believes, work experiences, geographic differences and also cultural variables.  Despite the fact that we live in a world that is global, the cultural variables or so often overlooked.

I do agree with the conclusions that Gates made. We have to unlearn our old mental models in which we see diversity as counting people and celebrate excellence and uniqueness.  When we do this we can celebrate differences and recognize that diversity has a place and affects all aspects of the organization – learning, resource allocation, product development and innovation, leadership integrity and even the bottom line. That's the business case for diversity that Mary-Jane Sinclair SPHR was trying to make so many years ago.

A link to the article is below.  As you read it, think about the song by Sly and the Family Stone, “Everyday People”. Those lyrics define what diversity is all about.


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