It’s been said, “Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.” In like manner, winning the Diversity game means at the end of the day, you’ll merely be different. Your difference may be valued, at least where it matters the most. The struggle to get others to embrace your differences simply means your difference will still be the primary means by which you will be identified by others. Is that really what you want?
One most recent example is embodied in perhaps the pinnacle of scientific successes in recent years. Primordial gravitational waves discovered by the Bicep2 experiment set physics tongues a-wagging worldwide. Newsnight, a BBC broadcast, covered it with three guests, all experts in the field: associate professor of astrophysics and cosmology at the University of Minnesota (and co-author of the study) Clement Pryke; reader in astronomy at UCL Dr Hiranya Peiris; and Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, research associate of UCL’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, and co-host of The Sky At Night.
Rather than an intense focus on the once in a lifetime scientific achievement, the story was beclouded by the reaction(s) to the “diversity” of the guest experts. While it was perhaps good intentions that launched the focus on differences as the way forward late in the last century, this news brings us face-to-face with the contemporary reality that “difference-consciousness” has risen to trump topics of even historic magnitude. The good news is that many were appalled at the apparent inability to discuss the origins of the universe without first sorting through “differences” between the participants as members of that universe.
Look, too, to Baltimore, MD, USA. The line up of diverse Police Officers now under charges related to the death of Freddy Gray can lead to one more standout observation about cultural differences, i.e., “diversity.”
In stark contrast to the Ferguson, MO police force, Baltimore’s has all of the human cultural “diversity” many would contend is necessary to generate positive change in an organization or community. Baltimore’s municipal workers seem to likewise reflect that diversity. And yet, despite the “diversity” achievements in municipal and police leadership, the headlines still cry out for “a turning point in police culture” — and “diversity” isn’t one of the changes on the public’s culture change wishlist.
Diversity consultants understand that “embracing differences” was meant to be a code phrase for “changing behaviors.” Differences aren’t the crux of the problem. The challenge is in the reaction on display through unproductive learned behaviors when differences meet dysfunctional bias. That’s no secret. But the waters have become muddied with an almost paranoiac urging that everyone should continuously learn an overwhelming array of cultural cues so as to avoid offending anyone else in any way. That’s the niche field of culture competence.
People are overwhelmed. One frustrated HR Manager bemoaned, “The diversity consultants are now focusing on ‘Generation Z!’” Douglas Coupland‘s 1991 novel, “Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture,” provided time markers for the Post-WWII generation. Strauss and Howard later wrote about Gen Y “Millennials in Generations: The History of America’s Future” (1991), with very loosely defined birth dates. What’s the logical follow up?
Yes, Gen Z, born around the year 2000. The most connected generation in history and the least interactive, according to Michael Maccoby, will soon be employable and ready to go to virtual work. If the X, Y, Z pattern holds true, Diversity consultants will have to switch to Roman numerals for generations born in 2010 and beyond. The perpetual parade of decades promises an eternity of work in generational Diversity consulting.
Human diversities constitute a bounded infinity of differences. Adding to the din, psychologists and neurologists have managed to poke the nose of neuroscience into the tent of Diversity. Rather than merely worrying about our reactions to the differences we can see, psychologists are poised to help us manage the reactions to unconscious bias, the things we cannot see. We’re now being subjected to deeply individual psychological and neurological analysis of the differences within our minds caused by the cultural norms without. You might almost imagine that HR Departments and recruiters will one day conduct job assessments and interviews with top candidates laying inside of an fMRI machine (functional magnetic resonance imaging).
With individuated psychological examination and training overlaid with infinite combinations of visible and unconscious diversities that consultant-advocates tell us change significantly with each successive generation, businesses could be doomed to eternally spend for endless Diversity training. Might C-Suites be paying attention to that possibility – and backing away from diversity altogether? Could you blame C-Suites for perhaps wisely declaring “Mission accomplished” for Diversity?
Who can keep up with it? Who can learn it all? Who can possibly afford it? Could there be another way? Could there be a universal method for neutral communication, day-to-day interaction and related decision making that forms a common-ground set of standard behaviors for multicultural and/or global settings — even where transactions are high stakes?
Some are asking whether the last 40 years of focusing on “differences” has been the wrong approach, or at least warrants reexamination for today’s needs. Might the now pervasive concept of “Diversity” have counterintuitively served to entrench difference-consciousness? Is there evidence that rather than teaching people to see “differences” first, it would be more productive to teach them to look beyond differences for more meaningful similarities and mutual gains?
How did we get here?
Key 1960s U.S. legislative victories were the cornerstone of a hopeful legal environment for broad progress in civil and social justice. The 1970s saw the development of an infrastructure of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Affirmative Action Programs and Title VII compliance framework for facilitating lawful workforce demographic change. However, the 1978 SCOTUS Bakke Decision quickly generated powerful political reconsideration and then reversals. By the early 1980s, social justice in the employment arena ground to a halt.
The new heterogeneity driven by both civil rights law and globalism called for some form of managing workforce pluralism, if for no other reason, to facilitate business continuity through global social change. The ‘diversity pig’ had entered the workforce python. However, with EEOC and AAPs effectively neutralized, the new “diverse” entrants were effectively stranded, with the edge of legal protections and class action recourse all but gone.
“Managing Diversity” had gained some popular footing, both inside corporate Human Resources, and among a fresh and growing crop of new wave consultants. In the late 1980s, that fledgling but now stranded “Diversity” movement gelled around the landmark report, “Workforce 2000,” based on a study commissioned in 1987 by U.S. Secretary of Labor, William Brock. The “Diversity Industry” quickly burgeoned as it promoted “managing, valuing and embracing “differences” as a filter for viewing the new labor force. “Diversity” became a ‘soft’ framework for dealing with the foray of traditionally discriminated against groups into the workforce.
Despite those auspicious legislative launchpad of the 1960s, the workforce demographic shift toward “diversity” has barely inched forward since 1980. Corporate America’s progress has floundered, and the outdated Diversity Paradigm is being reconfigured into an equally soft “business case” for “inclusion” and “equity,” even as skeptics question the need or efficacy. The linkages to a backfired and failed Diversity Paradigm may be too strong to overcome.
You may agree. A completely different route and a simpler way may be a necessity for dealing with the pluralism of increasingly diverse cultures and values in the workplace.
Join InclusiveWorks® in the game-changing discussion of a CultureNeutral® Framework that can pull each of us and our organizations out of the differences paradigm into a simpler, more measured and efficient approach to the endless array of variety among humankind.
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© Robert D. Jones 2013, All Rights Reserved
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