How our segregated neighborhoods reflect our segregated workplaces

PBS produced a documentary with a corresponding website titiled,”Race: The Power of an Illusion”. This documentary details all the major issues surrounding race, it’s legacy, it’s origination, and the discrimination and predjudice that still exists today as a result of racial bigotry.

The current atmosphere in today’s business world is that the isms (racism, sexism, etc., ) are not the problem that they used to be. Today, diversity practitioners (myself included) seem to moving toward unconscious biases as the basis for diversity discussions. ( In my opinion this is a good thing.) However, it needs to be understood that the discussion of unconscious biases is a strategy to get to the much harder discussion of race, class, sexual orientation, and gender.

This is where the PBS website and documentary on Race can become a powerful tool. Of particular interest is how the government through small institutional discrimination set up a system which snowballed into significant advantages for the majority. Unfortunately, because most don’t realize this history or dynamic they attribute minority poverty to a lack of group motivation and a disconnected culture.

This same dynamic can be applied to the workplace. Historically company promotion, hiring, and development systems were set up to favor the majority group over minority groups. In some instances these discriminatory processes were minor in their application but significant in their impact. This relates back to my discussions of complexity science and it’s underlying architecture social network theory. From the complexity science perspective simple rules originating from initial conditions can create long term and significant outcome differences.

In the case of the housing market most americans get a majority of their wealth from the ownership of their home. This gives them an advantage against other groups who don’t have the same type of access to capital due to their lack of home ownership. Subsequently, it is much more difficult to send their kids to college, pay for medical expenses, or live in neighborhods with a high level of social capital.

In addition,our organizations reflect this same “spiraling” dynamic as our neighborhoods . Small initial advantages have mushroomed into deeply embedded systems that were built to give one group an advantage over another group. These seemingly subtle advantages are hard to change because the continued repetition of the process has shaped the mental models and consequently the behaviors of those within the system. As a result, a program like Affirmative Action that was devised to ensure every member was given a fair chance to succeed in the organization is alternatively viewed as an unfair advantage given to minority groups by those with little knowledge of the unfair advantage they enjoy by just being in the system.

The ability of us to change society is I believe predicated on our ability to change the workplace. Read the PBS link below and let me know what you think…


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