Diversity and Inclusion: The Big Lie

I saw this trend a couple of years ago when supervisors would tell me that diversity and inclusion was not a priority for them anymore. They had more important things to worry about like hiring freezes, sequestration, disengagement and budget cuts. They had mistakenly viewed diversity and inclusion as a luxury rather than a core value of public service.

I also see “the lack of doing diversity and inclusion narrative” in the comments I get from employees I train on building a workplace where everyone can meet their full potential:

• Not Relevant-the information provided was interesting and stopped to make me think; however, I am not sure how useful it will be in my day-to-day work activities.
• Not the Right Culture-I learned new skills to apply diversity and inclusion principles. But, we need to maximize participation to identify the commitment to carry it out.
• Not Any Role Models-this will never work because the upper echelon that requires this type of training are the same people responsible for creating bias that will continue because they won’t practice what they preach.
• Not Worth It-I did not understand the need for this training. I do not feel that it will influence anyone to change the way they think or their behavior.

The overall message is nobody wants to talk about diversity and inclusion. This was certainly the case when Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz asked employees earlier this year at his 7,300 stores in the U.S. to voluntarily write #RaceTogether on their coffee cups of their customers as a window to talk about inclusion with his baristas. Not even a public relations stunt could get the Starbucks Nation to talk about race.

Maybe we have conversed about diversity and inclusion too much and in the wrong ways which has watered down its impact. Nowadays our largest generation, Millennials tend to view diversity as everything that makes us different as opposed to just demographic indicators like race or gender. I heard one thought leader define diversity as one’s preference to work the night shift or the day shift. Another talked about diversity as whether you are a dog or a cat person.

Possibly the problem is people like me who do diversity and inclusion trainings are not getting the job done. Numerous studies indicate that despite huge financial investments in the private and public sector for diversity and inclusion training, women and people of color continue to lag behind men and white people when it comes to workplace representation, engagement, and equal opportunity.

I like how sociologist, Ellen Berrey in her book “The Enigma of Diversity” frames this challenge. She suggests that we have championed the celebration of cultural differences as a substitute for the fight for justice and the abolition of discrimination. We have been told that diversity and inclusion is good for our business but in hindsight it has only been good for the status quo.

She calls the current diversity and inclusion climate “the big lie” dominated by glossy logos of diverse people holding hands without those hands rolling up their sleeves to do the hard, heavy lifting that real inclusion demands.

We may be diverse but we are far from inclusive. We have hit the snooze button when it comes to true equal opportunity. I hope we have not waited too late for our wake-up call.

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