We all know that diversity helps make everything better. Throughout business, as it’s evolved and included different perspectives, cultures, sexes, races, experiences the results have always been improvement. Yet there is still a void of Diversity in this country. People are still wondering, why should I invest in Diversity?
When Men Ruled
Once upon a time in this country MEN designed products for babies, although they didn’t provide care of babies because that was woman’s work. Did you know the disposable diaper was development because a man, probably like the one on MADMEN, came home from work and asked his wife how can they improve the diaper, see they used to be made out of cloth and you had to wash them, anyway this guy’s wife said something like, I wish I could throw them away. Boom!
Well, you might say “that was the old days” and “men don’t think that way now” right? Well excuse me but recently didn’t a man get on the news and say that it was virtually impossible for a woman to get pregnant as a result rape? Hmpf, here’s my point, it’s not been that long ago and unfortunately in this country – in this American work force – in our institutions of education – there are people making statements and decisions without the benefits of diversity. No consideration to other perspectives – cultures – races – and sexes.
When was the last time you were in a grocery store? If you haven’t been in a while I suggest you go shopping and notice all the products on display. We have more flavors and varieties to choose from. Just about every product has a new flavor or flavor combination; milk, chips, ice cream, sauces, soda, beers, cereal, rice, pasta, and peanut butter. There’s something for everyone. Marketers and Advertisers understand that the world is not just plain vanilla any longer. People want foods and beverages that reflect their expanding taste buds and diverse cultures.
One of my dearest friends, Chiem, she’s Asian. She’s taught me a lot about Asian culture, from the clothes, to the food, music and family rituals. Now I am not as ignorant when I’m around others with an Asian background and they seem to appreciate that I have a familiarity with their culture. That’s diversity in action.
Today Diversity is Mostly B.S.
Wait, let me explain, I need to take you back to the early 1990’s; I was born and raised in Memphis, TN a majority black city and sadly majority poor city. The birthplace of Elvis Presley and the death place of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I went to undergrad school in Davenport, IA, a nice mostly majority white populated city.
A lot of my time in Iowa was spent trying to explain and educate the masses on the importance of Diversity and Inclusion. When you are minority is a space of majorities, you are always under a microscope. Anything you say or do is taken as an indication of the group you represent.
While in Iowa, I met and befriended some really great people who I am proud to say I am still friends with to this day- they happen to be white people. There were also many good administrators, faculty members, and teachers, who understood the importance of diversity and tried to help spread the word as much as possible.
Most of the time we had to justify and explain why it was important to invest funds in a Black Student Union, why it was important to try to hire black faculty and staff, and why it was important to invest minority scholarships. And for years this went on and it’s still going on. Unfortunately, you either get it or you don’t – it’s just that simple.
America Still Has Work To Do
Fast forward to today and there is still work to be done. Some feel that there is not an issue with Diversity in America because we have a black man in the Oval Office however, have you seen and read the things that prominent people have said about him and his wife in the news media? He’s been called a “boy” and “dick” and his wife has been respected too. And while the President is a black man, the election process is a prime example of racial tensions that still exist in this country – for instance, some people are convinced he is a Muslim. Make no mistake there are people in the country that have a hard time with the fact that a black man is the Commander in Chief.
There are still companies and institutions with little to no minority representation. Even though we know diversity and variety makes for a more robust life and more exciting workplace – we are still a predominately plain vanilla culture.
Let’s talk about Title VII and Civil Rights Act of 1964
In my line of work (human resources) the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title VII are the cornerstones of compliance. In a nutshell, it prohibits discrimination based on protected class status – race – sex- age. All too often I see instances where a company, manager, director or leader gets themselves and their organization in a bunch of trouble because they try to manipulate and abuse the law, instead of uphold it. Both sexual harassment and racial discrimination claims are up according to the EEOC.
Lately the Civil Rights laws have changed to include sexual orientation and preference, the LGBT community. That’s cool but I wonder if people really understand the origin of Civil Rights – it is about more than sexual freedom.
The American Negro (black) was the first real model for Civil Rights in this country. Civil rights and liberties are what black people hung for, got shot for, got beat for, got imprisoned for, lost their families for, deemed as less than a human for…it was all for civil rights; the right to be treated like a human. All we wanted was to be included, accepted, and appreciated.
Civil Rights laws were created to implement and protect diversity in American.
Today claims of racial discrimination are tagged as “playing the race card.” Which implies that race is not the issue but is being used as a pawn to evoke feelings of disparate impact or treatment. Blame O.J. Simpson for that.
Diversity in Business
I have a Master’s in Labor and Human Resources from The Ohio State University. I’ve learned a lot about the history of labor in America and I work with a lot of HR professionals and professional associations on workforce data. I do a lot of research on various facts of the job market and sometimes we have to really focus on issues of diversity. Just as in the example about diapers at the beginning of this article, it’s my job to make sure hiring managers and authorities understand the importance of implementing diversity into their work organizations.
I have to remind people that there is still work to be done, but it’s going to take significant investment- if you are serious about it. Things are definitely better now than they were 30 or 40 years ago. But statistically blacks and Hispanics still lag all the categories that matter. For instance:
- There’s only 1 American black billionaire – Oprah!
- How many black and Hispanic CEO’s can you name?
- What’s the unemployment rate for blacks and Hispanics versus all other groups?
- What’s the average salary of blacks and Hispanics versus whites?
- Who gets the highest interest rates on loans (on average) blacks, Hispanics or whites?
- What’s the % of blacks and Hispanics in prison versus whites?
The numbers don’t look encouraging. Let’s hit closer to home – think about your office – how many blacks or Hispanics do you have working there? Now what’s their average salary in comparison to the whites in your organization? How about the titles, how many blacks or Hispanics in your company hold prestigious titles – supervisors don’t count – babysitters supervise!
Affirmative Action and Diversity
Yes, I am challenging you because most of you will fail! You need to look at Diversity seriously. Are you making a genuine investment in diversity in your organization and institutions? Are you recruiting for diversity? Are you spending money to attract the best talent to your company and workplace? Are you identifying minorities internally for succession planning? Are you developing and training those valued assets for future opportunities?
Some people say there is no need for Affirmative Action in America, but as an HR professional, I can tell you, that’s a lie. If left without checks and balances, we all tend to pick and choose the people we can relate to the most. If you were to walk into a room with 5 different groups of people, you would gravitate to the group that MOSTLY looks like you. These are the same groups we offer opportunities to.
In HR, we have the Society of Human Resource Management professional association or SHRM. And every year there is the conference season that usually kicks off in the spring and goes all the way until November. And I see a lot of my colleagues attending these conferences and sharing ideas and thoughts –BUT, there is also a Diversity and Inclusion Conference held annually, and I hear just about NO ONE talking about it. It’s interesting, HR pros who love conferences and suppose to champion the diversity cause but when the Diversity Conference comes up, we’re quiet as church mice – myself included – I have to be a better example…I have to invest more.
It’s time to stop talking about diversity and get serious about it.
When I hear Diversity I think it’s all B.S. – its lip service – it’s rhetoric and political correctness – it sounds good and it makes people feel good but there is no action.
We use the word “fit” as a way to justify how we close ourselves to other cultures and differences; they don’t “fit” our brand or “I don’t think it would be a good fit.”
In HR, we tell our workers to get out of their comfort zones and try new things yet we don’t hire or recruit out of our comfort zones – we hire who we are comfortable with and who “fits”.
Diversity Is Irrelevant Until…
When will Diversity be relevant? When there’s an investment made in it – when you put your money where your mouth is – when you put resources behind Diversity then it’ll be valued and respected , other than that – it’s just noise –plain vanilla noise at that.