Moving Past the Window Dressing: What Diversity and Inclusion Is…and is Not!

“You are all right. But you are all wrong too.

For each of you touched only one part of the animal.” 

If you are not familiar with John Godfrey Saxe’s “The Blind Men and the Elephant,” I suggest you give it a read…especially if you lead an organization run by…humans. 

While the concept of “Diversity and Inclusion” was conceived decades ago, it is only now becoming more into focus due to the recent months in our country. It has also become more “sexy” and profitable for corporations.

The two main factors that seem to contribute to this trend seem to be (a) increasing scrutiny of companies after scandals or high judgment lawsuits and (b) an increase in the conscieness of consumers who now consider corporations' social justice fiber (or lack thereof) when choosing to move their business and money from Company A to Company B.

Although the terms “Diversity and Inclusion” are buzzwords and are utilized by more and more organizations, the actions behind those words do not actually result in actual diversity and inclusion. Not sure what we mean? Let’s look at some examples of what does NOT constitute “diversity and inclusion.”

1. Having an EEOC Person 

You cannot check the “diversity and inclusion” box by simply assigning mandatory regulation to a person who would only be authorized to ensure that the company is complaint with equal employment statutes. That, in itself, does not foster a setting that is actually diverse and inclusive. It is a layer of protection of those things, but does not, in itself, create them.

2. Appointing/Hiring a Person Belonging to a Minority as “Director of Diversity” or other Executive Office Position

It’s disheartening to hear an entity’s CEO or otherwise “high ranking” executive say “Diversity? Of course, we have that! Didn’t we just hire that Mexican fella/that chick for that Director of Talent position?” First of all, he is not Mexican, he is from Ecuador. Second, do you know what “that chick”’s name is? Appointing people of a minority group to leadership positions is not itself diversity and inclusion, nor will it foster an organiziation-wide setting of diversity and inclusion. It is window-dressing, plain and simple.

3. "But We Signed a Pledge!"

When news broke that several CEOs had signed a pledge to “support more inclusive workplaces” through the CEO Act!on For Diversity & Inclusion campaign, my first reaction was “Aww, isn’t that cute. Congratulations to the 300+ CEOs who signed this pledge to 'leverage individual and collective voices to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace.'” Sooo…how many women are on your executive board, how many Latinx or black people are partners in your law firm, how many LGBTQIA persons are on your non-profit’s board of directors? Signing pledges is "good for business" but does it actually take root in your organization from top to bottom? Are these voices actually given a space in the decision making in your organization?


4. Celebrating Cinco de Mayo or MLK Day Definitely Isn’t It

Even though we live in 2017, some entities still feel like they are doing their part of being “welcoming” and “inclusive” by celebrating certain days. Walking by a high rise in downtown Chicago that houses a large law firm on the 5th of May and seeing a margerita bar outside next to a taco station or seeing an email from the bosses telling the ranks below that today is a day of service to honor Martin Luther King (but you don’t see the bosses actually join in on said one-day project). Again, that does not qualify as “diverse and inclusive.” As a matter of fact, it is actually insulting and should be considered very, very carefully. 

5. "That's so brave!"

It is troublesome that in 2017 we have to talk about making the consciencous decision to create and foster diversity and inclusion as being “brave.” It should be obvious that it is simply the right thing to do. We learn as children that doing the right thing, doing good, will always make us, in turn, better off. It shouldn’t be considered brave to do the common-sensical thing. Furthermore, study after study tells us that entities and organizations that are diverse and actually include people of different walks of life and experiences in strategic planning and implementation results in better and more robust products or services because the project is susceptible to less blind spots and pitfalls and will engage a wider range of people. Humans love to relate to something. The more different people are involved in conceiving something, the more different people will be able to related to it. It is not rocket science. 

To be truly diverse and inclusive, you, as an entity, must deliberately seek talent in places you would not necessarily have looked. You must value to have people in your organization who have differing and different voices from yours, who will be able to see the trunk, or the tail, while you can only see the tusks of the elephant. You have to "be brave" (and mature) to recognize that no one group of people holds the answer but that you could complete the picture of the whole the more people with different abilities, expertises, and perspectives are involved.

If you are ready to move past the window dressing and the optics, contact us

Carla Kupe