Diversity and inclusion are part of the American fabric of life that will not change due to recent events and political change. If one studies history we can see similar times and disruptions. The question for the diversity and inclusion professional is "how do we remain relevant during these times and continue our momentum toward a more inclusive society in general and a more respectful climate in our workplaces?"
I am reminded of a quote by William M. Chase which summarizes the challenge in front of us: "Diversity is not casual, liberal tolerance of anything and everything not yourself. Instead, diversity is – in action – the sometimes painful awareness that other people, other races, other voices, other habits of minds, have as much integrity of being, as much claim on the world as you do. And I urge you, amid all the differences present to the eye and mind, to reach out to create the bond that will protect us all. We are meant to be here together."
Four Strategic Lens to Consider
With that in mind, I would like to offer four lens in which to examine both progress and threats to that progress in building a more hopeful and diverse society.
DIVERSITY: Many diversity practitioners have focused on building more diverse workforces and inclusive workplaces. We believe that valuing diversity and fostering inclusion are important dimensions on the personal, interpersonal, organizational, and structural levels. Recent work has focused on increasing representation of underrepresented women and people of color, educating the workforce on every day bias and respectful behavior, and talent acquisition and development strategies. An important dimension has been on strategic outreach to underserved communities.
ADVERSITY: Economic conditions and environmental concerns (climate change, loss of jobs, migration, hunger, war) have forced people in many parts of the country to migrate to areas of increased security and safety. People want to earn livable wages and to ensure stability within their own families. When threats to survival increase, individuals become more hostile to difference and fear increases. Equitable outcomes and success are impacted by conditions and life impacts that go beyond race and gender. These take on an immediacy that diminishes historical bias and discrimination impacts on certain groups. We can see this in the growing concern by working class white males of feeling left out of the diversity and inclusion conversation. To many of them these initiatives create "winners and losers" and increasingly they see themselves left out economically. Poverty, socioeconomic status, education and other conditions are having an adverse effect on the ability on working class whites in rural communities to compete on a "level playing field."
PERVERSITY: The demographic explosion in many areas, especially urban centers, is changing the political and social dynamic and reinforcing fear, particularly among working class whites. This fear is creating a counter movement intent on mitigating the impact to their privilege and historical preference. Factual arguments are giving way to biblical and identity based suppositions about minority and immigrant groups fostering a desire for greater homogeneity and which use false narratives to reinforce perspectives. The objective of such suppositions is to destroy beliefs and values supportive of inclusion by distorting, twisting and bending the truth. This behavior and response also can be found in social media and other forums where explicit attempts to mischaracterize, falsify and even pervert rules are use. Some are deliberately behaving in disrespectful, unacceptable ways that are contrary to accepted standards of civility or practice.
REVERSITY: The rapid acceleration of demographic change resulting in an unprecedented growth in people of color, especial immigrants and Hispanics, has helped to kick start a movement to reverse the demographic trends which is felt to have a disproportionate impact on the opportunities and preferences for working class whites. Unconscious and sometimes conscious bias is emerging to foster a desire to eliminate, impend, reverse and discount the challenges and legitimacy of institutional racism and systemic barriers to societal inclusion. White nationalist extremists are working to turn back the clock on affirmative action and diversity and are obliged to prevent diversity views from being heard or considered. Some have referred to "diversity and white genocide."
No Ordinary Disruption
The societal changes that we are witnessing are not ordinary changes. They are transformational on a number of levels. According Dobbs, Manyika and Woetzel of Mckinsey Consulting, "The world's operating system is being rewritten." In their recent book, "No Ordinary Disruption," they explain four disruptive trends reshaping the world and why organizational leaders must adjust to this new reality.
The Age of Urbanization. Economic activity is shifting the locus of its activities to emerging markets and urban centers. Population growth in these urban centers has grown significantly and have become more diverse with many of these urban centers in the US becoming majority minority centers. Nearly half of the global GDP growth between 2010 and 2015 will come from 440 cities in these emerging markets according to the McKinsey study.
In the recent presidential election a lot of attention was paid to these centers by democratic candidates without comparable attention to rural America. Given the fear in the minds of many white nationalists and working class whites, one can see how much of the more rural, white oriented citizenry supported Trump. This rural urban divide will be a challenge is created a unified America in the future as more working class whites gravitate to nationalism and alt right influence.
Accelerating Technological Change. For many working class individuals, regardless of their race, they have seen a rapid and steady decline in jobs, particularly in rural communities. In some Urban Centers, there has also been significant job loss. Most working class citizens believe the reason is jobs moving to other countries. While this is true to some degree, the bigger cause is that of technological change. According to Mckinsey, industry is seeing an unprecedented acceleration in the scope, scale, and economic impact of technology. Computer processing power and connectivity are part of the story but the data revolution is placing unprecedented amounts of information in the hands of consumers and businesses alike.
As a result, traditional jobs and apprenticeship programs are being retooled with higher levels of math and science competency requirements needed. Manual skills are being automated making traditional blue collar jobs and career paths obsolete. Many working class whites chose these paths in the 70s and 80s and now find these positions disappearing in record numbers. Most brought on by technological innovation. This job loss has enhanced fear among blue collar workers and unskilled and lower paying jobs are being automated. Many working class whites are feeling threatened by competition from a more diverse labor pool which includes significantly more immigrant labor.
Challenges of An Aging World. The human population is getting older and fertility rates are falling, especially in industrialized nations. Simply put, the world's population is graying dramatically in white countries. However, the patterns are reversed in non European countries and among Hispanics and Asians in the United States. By 2013, about 60 percent of the world's population lived in predominately white countries with fertility rates below those needed to replace the generation before. This rapid decline in birth rates is causing alarm in some white nationalist sectors who see the world as become more mixed race and with significantly more power shifting to non white countries.
Greater Global Connections. The United States cannot build a wall and keep out the growing connectedness of people and businesses from around the world. According to Mckinsey, the world is much more connected through trade and through the movement of capital, people, and information (data and communications) - what Mckinsey calls "flows." The world trading hubs have expanded into a complex, intricate, sprawling web. More than 1 billion people creased borders in 2009, over five times the number in 1980. We are moving from and industrial revolution to a more more connected, networked and shared global economy. Industrial ownership is not just American based but global with many companies doing business in the US having headquarters outside the US.
The cry to stop immigration, to build a wall, to restrict the flow of global talent runs very much counter to the way the networked economy has been built. The networked economy places a higher premium on inclusive leadership, diverse connections, cross cultural competence, and international collaboration.
These four factors are significant and cannot be dismissed or overlooked. It requires a lot of soul searching and hard work. According to McKinsey, "We need to realize that much of what we think we know about how the world works is wrong; to get a handle on the disruptive forces transforming the global economy; to identify the long-standing trends that are breaking; to develop the courage and foresight to clear the intellectual decks and prepare to respond......There is a powerful human tendency to want the future to look much like the recent past. On these shoals, huge corporate vessels have repeatedly floundered. Revisiting our assumptions about the world we live in—and doing nothing—will leave many of us highly vulnerable. Gaining a clear-eyed perspective on how to negotiate the changing landscape will help us prepare to succeed.”
The Inclusivity Disrupters
Global Demographic Explosion and Shifts. The population of our urban centers will continue to shift to majority minority populations in these areas. Identity patterns are changing as people claim multiple identities. The Socialist - Capitalism challenge will grow as income inequality widens. 21st century workers will become more self reliant, networked, and multicultural.
Oppression, Privilege and Power. As more an more working class white Americans feel threatened by the change there will be growing intolerance of perceived disparate impact and treatment (e.g. BLM movement). The demographic change occurring with create a tipping point around privilege and power. It will also accelerate the shift and balance of power exclusively held by whites. "Millenial" activists will return to grassroots organizing and non-violent protests. However, more white nationalists will begin to more openly challenge diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism on several levels (individual, organizational, and governmental).
Migration, Religious Expression and Extremism. As migration increases and as people from different religious and cultural heritages become a part of the fabric of American society several trends will emerge. First, cultural and religious polarities will rise, especially when white nationalism, founded in fundamentalist Christian values conflict with these relatively unfamiliar perspectives. This broader diversity will challenge diversity efforts as citizens voice concerns over safety, liberty and freedoms. With more racial integration and mixing, cultural identity and expression will become blurred. And, retaliatory acts against immigrants and those with different religious perspectives and non white ethnic identities, will become more common place if not kept in check.
Mental Models Shaped by War, Hunger, and Climate Change. Survival emerges as a major motivator of those who find themselves in countries and locations ravaged by war, lack of sustenance (food and water), and the brutal impact of climate change (fires, drought, wind storms, etc.). War is accelerating the movement of refugees and migrants. Climate change is forcing an unprecedented level poverty, hunger and disease. Family stability is impacted by growing fear, anger and violence erupting at local and more systemic levels. Where there is a growing number of refugees and immigrants living, traditional values in those urban centers are now being shared with Asian, Latin American and African values.
Inequitable outcomes and success are impacted by conditions that go beyond race and gender.
Health, Disease and Disability
Birthrates and Aging patterns
Family destabilization caused by war and environmental degradation
Social and environmental justice
Unconscious and sometimes conscious bias can help to foster a desire to eliminate, impede, reverse and discount the challenges and systemic barriers to societal inclusion.
Actions aimed at the destabilization of progressive patterns, beliefs and values (fear induced)
Growing sense of loss (diversity as white genocide)
Heightened sense of intolerance for difference
Dramatic change in migration patterns forcing vocal opposition to refugees and immigrants
Insurgents and anarchists opposed to inclusivity more vocal and insensitive (stop public policy by any means necessary)
Destroying beliefs and values supportive of inclusion are the cornerstone of those who seek to distort, twist, and bend the truth about diversity.
Actions and plans to distort and reframe the truth about people, policy, and programs supporting inclusivity
Behavior which disparages the use of “respectful and civil discourse and dialogue” often framed as getting in the way of the truth (political correctness)
A focus on discrediting the actors (character assassination) with little interest in listening to substantive ideas and recommendations
A distain for systemic intervention in changing institutional bias and barriers to change
It’s about my way, not yours.
21st Century Diversity and Inclusion
Valuing diversity and fostering inclusion are important dimensions on the personal, interpersonal, organizational and structural levels in the context of the following:
Pre and post racial mental models co-exist
Emergence of multi-racial, multi-cultural and pluralistic religious expression
Identity is being framed across multiple diversity dimensions (comfort in mixing of identity dimensions) and mental models
Global connectivity and intersectionality emerging reshaping perspectives and views (highly networked generation
Traditional command and control/hierarchical power eroding; information is power
Global connectivity and intersectionality emerging reshaping perspectives and views (highly networked generation)
Traditional command and control/hierarchical power eroding; information is power
Cognitive diversity emerges as a critical component for innovation and problem-solving
Yet a growing fear of human displacement by technology continues to exist
“Fostering inclusion and valuing diversity should be based on a good understanding of the systemic and disruptive forces at play in society today. These forces include polarities – those for progress and those against it. The impact must not only consider the narrower dimensions of this work but the economic, subversive, and reactionary dimensions as well. Diversity and inclusion is a must for many but a threat to some who want to sustain privilege.”
Inclusive excellence requires diligent focus and practice
The practice of inclusion must be agile, adaptive and networked
Competence is required across multi-racial, generational, sexual, philosophical and political similarities and polarities
The actors coming to the work place expect that shared similarities do not diminish or disparage difference
Leaders and change agents will need to learn how to navigate a growing array of difference
The players in emerging supply chains will be global, and bring a variety of cultural and linguistic challenges to traditional western management models
The Impact for Change Agents:
We must be ever vigilant in our efforts to create more inclusive workplaces and societies. Incremental change will not suffice. We must work at transformational and disruptive change.
We must retain a sense of urgency - decisions today are important. The real question is politics and whether the role of money in politics will allow us to continue in a forward direction.
The incoming leadership in Washington is intent on reversing progress that has been made. I believe that our response should be strong, respectful but unrelenting in our quest for an inclusive society.