Not Everyone Is Enthusiastic About Diversity. Really

By Dr. Uma Gupta

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The hidden truth about diversity is that not everyone is enthusiastic about organizational diversity. While political correctness stops individuals and organizations from stating their true views and concerns about the issues and challenges surrounding diversity, it is fair to say that today one can sense a certain aura of tiredness and weariness about discussions surrounding diversity, whether it be panels, workshops or conferences.

We are bombarded with messages about diversity and its crucial importance and tangible and intangible benefits for organizational growth, innovation, and survival. Even a mere mention of the importance of diversity or even a small initiative to advance diversity by any of the Fortune 500 firms gets instant intense play in the media.

Many of us closely follow the progress of the diversity numbers of household names, such as Microsoft, Intel, GE, Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter, to name a few.

While no CEO or senior leader will dare admit that diversity is not one of the hot issues that keeps him/her awake at night, there is some evidence that companies don’t always have the time or resources to make a long-term and thoughtful investment in diversity initiatives and best practices that deliver impressive results, given the intensity and complexity of today’s business environment.
(https://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2015/02/03/20768/#1b7971786490)

While no CEO or senior leader will dare admit that diversity is not one of the hot issues that keeps him/her awake at night, there is some evidence that companies don’t always have the time or resources to make a long-term and thoughtful investment in diversity initiatives and best practices that deliver impressive results, given the intensity and complexity of today’s business environment.

41% of companies that responded to a survey said they were “too busy” to put a diversity/inclusion structure in place.

In other words, yes, most people in the workforce have heard about the importance of diversity, and yes, a certain segment even believes that diversity enhances the quality of the workplace and delivers impressive benefits. Still, progress is stunted. In short, it has not been a steady upward climb. Those who are committed to diversity have little to brag about and it is not due to lack of trying. The time has come to pause and ask why we have made so little progress.

Let’s open the doors for sincere and deep conversations that that allow everyone to share their ideas, concerns and misgivings about diversity ideas and initiatives. We need to reframe these discussions to be inclusive and reflective of our personal values, our deep-seated concerns, and our vision for a more open and inclusive world.

Perhaps it is time to change the conversation to one that engages all parties in meaningful and authentic ways rather than frame the conversation around victims versus perpetrators.

We know for sure that no one individual or organization has the answer to winning the diversity game. Diversity engages our logical mind and our emotional heart and there is no telling which one will win at any given moment or in any given situation. We are torn between hopes, dreams and resilience, and fears, anxieties and dislikes.

The great irony is that the human brain not only craves diversity, but also resists it. On one hand, we love to live within our comfort zone and be on auto-pilot. We prefer to meet people who are like us: listen to the same music, eat the same food, and do things that we have always done. We are set in our ways. Life is so much easier when all our everyday interactions are encased within our familiar bubbles.

But on the other hand, the human brain wants us to experience new things, meet new people, go to new places, and get off auto-pilot mode on a regular basis. As I discussed in We Need to Bring Diversity to the Idea of Diversity: “...the brain is a rich, complicated, intense, intricate set of neuro-connections and circuits. And when we do the same things over and over again, that circuit in our brain looks like a well-trod path…. For people who absolutely don't do anything different from their everyday schedule, who live only within their comfort zone, we find that, like a dying plant, the other parts of the brain actually start to fade and slowly die.”

So I offer a couple of suggestions about how to begin to change the conversation:

  • Why has there been such anemic progress when we’ve been talking about the lack of diversity in tech for so long? A progressive mindset cannot be mandated, automated or bought. Inspiring people to do what is right while keeping an eye on the long-term is difficult to achieve through mandatory training programs or sleek workshops. Instead, it requires connecting at a deep and meaningful level with employees and hiring managers to understand why we do what we do. In other words, we must begin by understanding the neuroscience behind change.

  • How do we change the conversation to one that engages all parties in meaningful ways rather than frame the conversation around victims versus perpetrators? We can change the conversation if we flip the dialogue from what is wrong to what is right and then expand upon this and encourage people to build on what is right. This is not to say we should not focus on what is wrong or lacking in our workplaces; we should build awareness, promote self-reflection and collective assessment, and initiate accountable change around the pain, suffering and humiliation that people feel when they are not treated fairly in the workplace. However, when we frame conversations to initiate social change using exclusively language that divides individuals into groups of victims and perpetrators, the conversation is argumentative and stymied.

We owe a great deal to the champions of diversity, both men and women, who have persisted against many odds to push the agenda forward for a truly inclusive society. Many social movements have succeeded when leaders pause, assess and redirect the efforts of individuals, groups and organizations to leverage what the moment demands. And that moment is now.  

It is time to change the conversation and address diversity from the perspective of the flawed human beings that we all are.  

Stay tuned for my upcoming articles in this Changing the Conversation series where I will address how to implement diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace so that all parties have the opportunity to share their ideas and concerns.


About Dr. Uma Gupta

Dr. Uma Gupta is an entrepreneur, consultant, keynote speaker and Professor of Business at Buffalo State College, New York and specializes in technology, strategy, leadership and entrepreneurship. She holds a PhD in industrial engineering, an MBA from the University of Central Florida, and a graduate degree in mathematics from Stella Maris College, India.

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