Despite huge investment in diversity and inclusion trainings, the formation of employee resource groups, mandated attendance at special emphasis program events, equal employment opportunity laws and regulations, the public sector continues to chase the ever elusive pipe dream of an inclusive workplace.
Even with the infusion of the most diverse generation (millennials) into the ranks of its workforce, the federal government struggles to recruit and retain women and people of color at rates equal to their representation in the civilian labor force.
One of the unintended consequences of trying to create a public sector in the image of the taxpayers they serve, is the definition of inclusion within the context of the subordinate group in a way which pushes the dominate group out of the conversation.
Since the dominate group has limited experiences already when it comes to interacting with the subordinate group, this singling them out for the condition of the subordinate group lowers their confidence in the inclusion space before the dialogue can get started.
How do we get inclusion to be an interest of everyone and not just those disproportionately impacted by the lack of it?
Derrick Bell, a professor of law and noted thought leader in the area of critical race theory claims the answer lies in interest convergence theory. Interest convergence suggest that subordinate groups will never have their differences fully recognized and embraced until the dominate group sees how those distinctions further their interests as well.
Bell reminds us how interest convergence led to the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that desegregated public schools. While this landmark ruling did not end all segregation, it set the stage for a post-Cold War era where the USA realized its reputation in the rest of the world was taking a hit by Jim Crow laws.
Some of you may be saying to yourselves, doesn’t the business case for diversity and inclusion get us to interest convergence around inclusion. Yes and no. While the business case for diversity and inclusion may be the smart thing to do for our business, at the end of the day it has to be more about the right thing to do for our people. It has to see diversity and inclusion from a lens other than the transaction of doing the work to one of how do we treat each other as we do the work.
There is no better example of interest convergence around the values of inclusion than the ouster of Bill O’Reilly by the Fox News Network. A confluence of events from paying out more than 13 million dollars to settle lawsuits brought by women who alleged O’Reilly sexually harassed them, to the exiting of Fortune 500 firms that forced the pulling of advertising from the “O’Reilly Factor” show and the release of Roger Ailes, a Fox executive accused of the same sins as O’Reilly, Fox’s parent company, 21st Century Fox had no other choice but to pull the plug on the most popular TV news host in the country.
Combined with the fact that morale, engagement and productivity were taking a hit among the rank and file employees at Fox, management had little choice but to rid themselves of this driver of exclusion. Did they do for the business side of the shop? Not necessarily so. O’Reilly was still bringing in record amount of viewers despite his purported antics behind the scenes. He also walked out the door with a sizeable door prize guaranteed by a safety net provision in his contract. What really drove this narrative from insiders familiar with the situation was the policing of their own mentality at Fox where the front line employees told management, enough was enough.
Is convergence theory the answer to all of our inclusion problems? Probably not. However, its promise wrapped in the notion of what is in our best self-interests when it comes to inclusion, guarantees we can keep the conversation going. Even if it is a discussion we don’t want to have.