Visible Lives: Oral Histories of the Disability Experience
I recently wrote about Visible Lives: Oral Histories of the Disability Experiencewhich is a New York Public Library project. This project excited me from the moment I learned about it and now I am even more inspired to continue as an interviewer and to invite others to participate in this unique initiative!
I interviewed Elinor Cohen, who has an amazing story and shared it openly and bravely during our two hour conversation (the time sped by!). In preparing for our taping, Elinor and I learned that we live across the street from each other. In fact, I am looking at her building while typing these words! We are also both City College, CUNY graduates. In addition to learning about one person’s experience and perspective on becoming disabled, I have made a new and dear friend. I am grateful to the New York Public Library for many things, including being my baby-sitter when I was young, and now I add my gratitude for connecting me with Elinor! Please let me know what you think of her story. http://oralhistory.nypl.org/interviews/elinor-cohen-pawejx
Visible Lives: Oral Histories of the Disability Experienceis an oral history project that works to both preserve and document a thematic history through personal recollections. This project will collect stories of people who have lived (or currently live) with a visual impairment or a disability. The Library will train community members to conduct these interviews. Interviews will be shared in a preservation archive at The Milstein Division and on the New York Public Library website. Public programs will also connect neighborhood residents and project participants.
Visible Livesis a project of Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library in Manhattan. A public archive will be kept at this local branch for future generations to listen to and research.
For more information about this project or to share YOUR story:
Please contact Alexandra Kelly at Outreach Services and Adult Programming, AlexandraKelly@nypl.org or (212) 621-0552.
I am interviewing other storytellers and will share those conversations with you as they are posted.
If you haven’t been inspired lately, isn’t this a wonderful time to be?
On December 3rd I was part of a wonderful celebration hosted by Jaime Klein, Founder of Inspire Human Resources. http://www.inspirehumanresources.com/
We participated in an (dare I say it), inspiring exercise! We were given blank journals and asked to decorate them and to write a message inside for participants in Dress for Success http://www.dressforsuccess.org/. The journals will be used to keep career related notes on job interviews, training and other thoughts. It was such a personal act: coming up with a design and a message that a stranger would have and read and carry with them as they embark on a new, hopeful chapter in their lives.
The force behind this exercise was Susie Schub, Founder and President of Caring Capital. “Caring Capital™ ignites employee engagement by empowering corporate volunteers to make appealing gifts for neighbors in need. Through our proven philanthropic team-building services, employees connect, create, and make an impact on the community. We deliver no-fail projects to employees worldwide, so each company may serve the community no matter where employees reside. Since its launch in 2009, Caring Capital has engaged 25,000 employees who have donated gifts, from furniture and clothing to bedding and toys, to nearly 110,000 children, families, seniors and service members.”
Look what resulted (Beaming Wendy!)
I am grateful to Jaime and Susie for the reminder that something that is easy and fun to do can make a huge difference in another person’s life! Please visit the Caring Capital website and check out some of their amazing projects! http://www.caringcap.com/
If your organization has not embarked on an opportunity to be inspired, isn’t this a great time to do so?
So, why did my heart leap? My heart leapt because we have the freedom to protest an act that many people have determined to be an example of injustice based upon the circumstances of Michael Brown’s race. Petitions were distributed within minutes of the announcement and many individuals and organizations have expressed their commitment to continue to work toward improving our systems of justice and law enforcement. This nation has been founded on the principal that we have certain inalienable rights, and since the passage of the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Constitutional Amendments, http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_amendments_11-27.html those rights have belonged to all U.S. Citizens. We have a legacy, in fact a responsibility to defend our rights and the rights of others, which is why we have a jury system, a jury of our peers, who hear arguments from both the prosecutor and defense attorney, is supposed protect our rights under the law.
When the decision was announced at approximately 9:30 EST on Monday, November 24, the internet lit up with millions of comments. People wrote of despair, heartbreak, rage, disappointment, disgust, and sadness. Others wrote hateful things, racists things, dividing things about those who grieved and mourned. Then, images began appearing of violence in Ferguson, MO. Images also appeared of peaceful protests in Ferguson and across the country; however, the predominant images posted by the media were of looting, burning, and violence. Let’s be very clear: violence solves nothing. Looting, burning of shops and destruction of property is worse than an exercise in futility – these actions result in raising barriers to inclusion and reinforcing the stereotypes held by many who do not understand the reasons for riots or even protests.
Individuals who believe that they are not represented by the justice system or their government may stop voting and if their frustration over their inability to effect change or achieve social justice reaches an extreme level, they will react not in a rational, ‘cool-headed’ way, but as a mob, pushed to mindless rage. There is not a specific cause and effect to riots. In other words, rioters or looters do not necessarily attack shops owned by people who treated them rudely or those with contents of the greatest value, there is just a need to vent. I experienced several riots in the 1960s first-hand and will never forget the enormity of the despair that consumed my community. The events of this past week have brought back those memories and feelings.
Haters ‘Gonna Hate
Since last Monday evening the twitter-sphere has been deluged by a steady stream of hate speech. I will not quote any of the comments here. I will state that although I have spent my life fighting hatred and have heard and read more racist comments than I care to count throughout my career and life, the sheer quantity and vitriolic intensity of many of the comments posted during the past eight days has shaken me. We do NOT live in a post-racial society. Racism is as prevalent today as it was in 1865. Yet, most people are fairly polite when they meet other people, in person, who are different from themselves. But if the numbers of comments on the internet in response to the events in Ferguson are any indication, we need to pay close attention to the reality that many people who are not discussing ‘the Ferguson matter’ at work, have very strong thoughts and feelings about this matter, which they are expressing elsewhere.
Some insight is offered by “The Whiteness Project,” being produced by PBS Video. This is “an interactive investigation into how Americans who identify as “white” experience their ethnicity.” http://video.pbs.org/video/2365320408/ The comments made by several of the participants indicate a profound lack of connection with or empathy for African Americans or their experiences. They also exemplify our nation’s deep polarity along racial lines which appears to be increasing rather than diminishing. [This project certainly warrants an entire blog post, but as it is relevant to this topic it is included here.]
Can We Talk?
We need to address the responses to the reactions to the announcement in Ferguson, MO by creating a forum for productive dialogue. This dialogue needs to be based on the desire to experience empathy. It is only through empathy that we can begin to understand behavior or feelings that seem foreign or unacceptable to us.
It is with this in mind that I am making the following request: How do you think you would feel if you were an 18 year old African American man living in the United States of America right now, observing all of the news, media and internet commentary regarding the events in Ferguson, MO?
Please, think this through very carefully before responding. As you try to walk in this person’s shoes, remember that the exercise is not based upon fashion or wardrobe choices, vocation, educational status, profession, religion, political affiliation, class, region, whether one was raised in a home with two loving, supporting parents or by a single parent, this has only to do with the circumstances of one’s birth – to be born as an African American male in the United States of America in 1996. Can you imagine how you might feel during this past week reading all of the headlines on “the Ferguson matter”? [If you are, or ever have been, an 18 year old African American man, please share your comments as well!]
Please send me your comments and – for the love of our country – let’s not be polite! Let’s start to talk about race honestly, openly, respectfully, and with the intent to work on healing a nation that has been poisoned by racism since long before it was a nation.
If you have not asked yourself questions like this before, isn’t this the time to begin?
Today NPR posted an interview with Tristan Walker, Founder and CEO of Walker and Company Brands and the non-profit, CODE2040 and J.J. McCorvey, author and Associate Editor for Fast Company, on how Mr. Walker is working to increase diversity, specifically representation of Blacks and Latinos in Silicon Valley and high tech. http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/11/11/363012130/tech-star-wants-to-make-diversity-plug-and-play-for-silicon-valley Mr. Walker has earned kudos for investing in efforts aimed at resolving the demographic gap (based on race and ethnicity), in high tech through his non-profit organization. CODE2040 addresses the issues of effective recruitment, access and networking, and the preparedness of graduates to successfully interview and get hired. Through his substantial influence as a highly visible and powerful CEO in Silicon Valley, Mr. Walker has been able to encourage large high tech companies to both donate to his non-profit and participate in CODE2040’s fellowship program and other initiatives. http://code2040.org/ These efforts should create a noticeable shift in both demographics and the success of people of color working in Silicon Valley if they are sustained.
Is Silicon Valley Ready for Diversity?
While Mr. Walker and others prepare potential employees to successfully enter and navigate the high tech world, I propose that we need an equally concerted effort to prepare the current leaders of the high tech world to successfully evolve into inclusive leaders. I have seen well-intentioned and deeply resourced efforts to ‘diversify’ an organization’s workforce fail miserably because the focus was on numbers, not relationships. I posit that most of the new job candidates who are fortunate enough to be participants in programs such as CODE2040’s will be quite adept at making the cultural observations that are a necessary element of a successful career. Those of us who have occupied the role of ‘the other’ in society learn at an early age to observe and understand the nuances of the dominant (white, heterosexual, male, Christian), culture as a survival tool. Those in dominant roles rarely pay serious attention to the subtle social cues of the ‘minority’ cultures around them. I have conducted hundreds of interviews with individuals whose intent was never to discriminate, but whose actions (yes, words count as actions), had the impact of discriminating against others. In the incredibly speedy world of high tech, people want a quick fix for problems. My programming friends might be called upon to develop a ‘patch’ to keep things going while a long-term or permanent solution to a problem is developed. The impact of thousands of years of discrimination, which is hardly limited to Silicon Valley or high tech fields, will not be resolved with a patch, however. Solutions need to be implemented that are strategic, practical, and sustainable.
[See my blog post from September 2013 “There is NOT an App for That!” http://www.inclusionstrategy.com/blog/?p=15 ]
What to Do?
While the future leaders of Silicon Valley are still in their first and second year as undergraduates, the leaders of Silicon Valley need to prepare themselves for the cultural changes that they organizations will need to go through when those students graduate and enter the workforce. Highly developed cultural competency will become a survival tool for all leaders, regardless of industry, sector or mission. (Think of butterflies.) The leaders of Silicon Valley may be brilliant in their respective fields, but how many of them have an expertise in diversity and inclusion? Just as a company might outsource specific technical needs, I recommend that experts in this complex field of diversity and inclusion be brought in to help you to increase an organization’s collective cultural competency.
If you are not ready to have real, interdependent, productive relationships with a diverse range of people, isn’t this a great time to prepare?
DESCRIPTION:At the current rate, parity in women’s leadership will be reached in the United States in 2085! Whether it’s politics, finance, entertainment, or the military, few women have a seat at
the decision making table. NYS PowHER’s panel will explore why and how to change the playing field, culture and ourselves.
Benchmarking Women’s Leadership Reportcompares fourteen job sectors. Bottom line, although outperforming men, women still do not have parity in salaries and leadership positions. Some examples:
Academia. Women win more than 55% of the most prestigious awards despite only holding 29% of tenured positions.
Law. Women were 47% of the graduates, yet only 15% of equity partners and 5% of managing partners in 2012.
Business. Women held 51% of professional and managerial positions but only 15% of executive positions and 13% of board of director seats in Fortune 500 companies in 2013.
Politics and government. Women hold 18 percent of seats in the 2013 Congress, cosponsor more bills, and bring in more federal spending to their districts. Similar to other states, the NYS legislature is only 22% female. More
We are a network of individuals and organizations coming together to accelerate economic fairness for New York women. Our backgrounds, jobs, economic status, age, and religions may be different, but we all agree that women deserve and need a level playing field. Some of us are long-time advocates and others new to the conversation, but we find common cause as a community: learning together, sharing information and actions, and generating PowHer to create a new reality for 10 million New York women and their families.
What is our mission?
NYS PowHer is building a broad, diverse, statewide collective effort to improve the economic outlook for New York women by addressing keys obstacles, promoting winning strategies, and educating and activating the public.
How do we get there?To tackle this, we will activate P-O-W-H-E-R:
When I developed the concept of ‘stealth inclusion’ it was (and is) intended to help those in the C-suite who resist diversity efforts and whose approval and support every successful diversity and inclusion effort requires, to participate in educational sessions where they can personally experience transformation. Often, members of the C-suite are white, heterosexual, affluent, educated, and male and so; this methodology particularly pertains to those among their ranks who are uncomfortable around issues of diversity and inclusion. Through interactive exercises designed to facilitate increased self-awareness and empathy, participants’ resistance to the concept of diversity and inclusion is diminished. It is as a result of the transformative process that we are able to create change in the workplace and our society as a whole.
Every successful leader needs excellent communication skills and a highly developed self-awareness. These competencies have elements of diversity and inclusion woven through them. One way that those who resist inclusion have been able to undermine its advancement is by stigmatizing and minimizing diversity and inclusion programs, including the terminology used in those programs. I posit that we need to have diversity and inclusion education as part of all leadership development initiatives, even if that education goes by a different name. Hence, the content for an educational session on effective leadership would necessarily include interactive exercises on the challenges of overcoming barriers to inclusion.
As I am sure you are aware, these are complex subjects and as such need to be handled with sensitivity and care. The ability to successfully facilitate these educational sessions (I do not refer to them as training as we are not training participants in a skill, such as how-to operate a cell phone), is predicated on highly developed competencies in the areas of adult education, E.E.O., and diversity and inclusion.
I have facilitated hundreds of these sessions with consistent success, often as the result of clients asking me to attempt to repair damage rendered by possibly well-intentioned consultants who did not have the requisite competencies, skills and experience. Diversity and inclusion practitioners may each have different approaches to the work that we do and certainly should have different perspective, but we all need to insist that the caliber and standard of our work is impeccable. This is one way that we can overcome some of the resistance to the work that we do. Another is to understand who it is that we critically need to reach if we hope to create sustainable change and how to best do so. It is in this light that I developed the concept of ‘Stealth Inclusion.’
Please let me know what you think in the comment section below or email me: email@example.com
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It has become increasingly clear to me that there is a growing resistance to diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace as incidents of blatant racism, sexism and really all ‘isms’ seem to be on the rise. I cannot definitively assert that there is a direct correlation between these two trends, but I believe that there is. So, I have developed a concept called “Stealth Inclusion.” Stealth Inclusion is a way to create inclusion in organizations by helping executives who may not necessarily acknowledge that they need help, to solve organizational problems. This is particularly necessary where ‘exclusive’ cultures result in negative conditions, such as: employee turnover, disengagement, sabotage, diminished market share, poor or damaged public image, etc.
In Act II, Scene II of “Romeo and Juliet,” Juliet says the following to Romeo, in response to his concerns over their belonging to feuding families:
“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”
So, what if we don’t call diversity and inclusion initiatives by their name, but use other names? What if we call our strategies, strategies for success, instead of inclusion strategies and our assessments, corporate assessments, instead of cultural assessments? What if we use different or diverse words to describe what it is that we do and why it is that we do it?
By Any Means Necessary
In1963 Jean-Paul Sartre wrote the words “by any means necessary” regarding class struggle, in his play Dirty Hands. The phrase was made famous by Malcolm Xa year later and became a metaphor for justifying violence to overcome oppression. (Which I certainly am not advocating!) What I am encouraging is that we find different ways to accomplish our missions. Is your organization behaving in a healthy way? (See my 2007 article, “The Evolution of Inclusion,” where I discuss organizations as organisms (Posted in my blog in January 2014)). Do the members of your organization:
a.) Know what your organizational mission is?
b.) Feel invited to contribute to the success of that mission?
If people are being excluded at your organization because of where or when they were born, how they worship, what they look like, how they identify, or any other distinction, you have a problem that needs a solution – a real, sustainable solution. You do not need buzz words, or pot luck luncheons, or awards programs – you need effective strategies that can help you to cross the complex chasms that separate you from achieving your goals and getting that mission accomplished!
Mission + Strategy = Success
What motivates the people around you? What really gets people excited enough to jump out of bed when it is still dark out and stay at the office past sunset? Being part of a mission matters to you and to everyone else! Being INCLUDED is what excites all of us! Being invited to help, create, innovate, achieve, and win! Not everyone can invite themselves to the party, many people need to be asked, many people come from places where there are different rules and customs about participation.
Excellent leaders learn about those different customs and learn how to invite and organize participation. Even when people have a common mission and are as motivated as the people were who filled Tahrir Square in Cairo in 2011, an effective, sustainable strategy must be implemented in order for success to occur. That requires experienced and competent leadership: leaders who are flexible and open to learning and finding new ways to achieve their goals when old ways fail. So, if we do not call it ‘Diversity Training’, but ‘Effective Communication’ and ‘Successful Leadership, does it really matter? [Note: This does not mean that I am changing the name of the company!] The most effective leaders know what they don’t know and bring in subject matter experts to provide the knowledge and competencies that they lack. Hence, part of a great strategy is having the right team members.
What is your goal? What is your personal mission? I have shared mine with you before: To make manifest the value of all people. Sounds simple, no? Well, it is not simple, it is complicated and takes real knowledge and competency and care and skill and passion and yes, sometimes, it takes Stealth Inclusion!
If you are not overcoming the barriers to inclusion at your organization, isn’t it about time that you do?
Please let me know what you think in the comment section below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please follow us on Twitter for more frequent observations and information.
Before beginning a search for a D&I / EEO expert to join or support your organization you should ask the following questions:
What are our D&I / EEO goals?
What resulted from our previous D&I efforts?
Do we think that we need a full time staff person to take on our D&I/EEO Goals or can an outside consultant sufficiently support our needs?
Do we know the difference between D&I and HR?
How do you know when someone is a qualified D&I professional?
Great at self-promotion!
Some people are great at telling you how great they are. As I noted in Part I, some people are happy to ‘fake it ‘til they make it’, so you need to find out how great they are in others ways.
Checking references is a good way to begin. Verifying someone’s track record may seem obvious or simple, but references are rarely checked. Often the recipient thinks, “They gave me the references, so they must be good!” Recently, I checked someone’s references and two of the telephone numbers were disconnected and no one answered the third. Obviously, I did not go with that person.
Ask for examples of how they have personally and specifically:
Increased diversity and inclusion at an organization;
Diminished discriminatory behavior;
Supported the mission and vision of an organization through D&I strategies
Measured the results of their efforts
Individuals who have been doing D&I/EEO work successfully for any period of time should be able to share multiple examples of their successful endeavors. You should also ask them about failures. If someone is hesitant to provide you with examples on the spot, beware.
A Multidisciplinary Field
Since D&I is multi-disciplinary, practitioners may have bachelor’s degrees in various fields of study, including: Human Resources Management, Business Management, Public Administration, Organizational Development, or as in my case, American Studies, an interdisciplinary degree. Also, graduate degrees such as in Law (Juris Doctor), and a wide range of human relations fields are appropriate. Many practitioners, who have not gone to graduate school, have been grandmothered-in by engaging in ongoing professional development and obtaining certifications at institutions such as, Cornell University. I recommend that you be prepared to examine the skills and competencies that individuals have developed and how they have applied those skills and competencies in the past. Facilitating a 60 minute webinar is not the same as developing and facilitating a 5 day workshop on inclusive leadership. So, a resume or bio with “Training” as a bulleted item does not provide sufficient information. Ask for details.
When Passion Meets Purpose
Passion alone does not qualify anyone to as a D&I practitioner, but being very passionate about it is one of the requisites for success. Ask potential consultants or employees why they are in this field. Did their response excite you about D&I? If not, they most likely will not excite your executive leadership, stakeholders or employees. If they do not excite people about D&I, it is doubtful that they will be able to create or sustain inclusion.
If you do not have someone who you can trust to lead your organization on a successful D&I mission, isn’t it about time that you do?
Please let me know what you think in the comment section below or email me: email@example.com Follow us on Twitter for more frequent observations and information.
Recently, there have been a plethora of scandals concerning domestic violence, discrimination, and sexual harassment in the news. Each of these disturbing events seem to elicit responses by self-proclaimed ‘experts’ purporting to know how to solve problems of inequity and discrimination. This has led me to ask the question: If you have a tooth ache, do you tie a string around that tooth and tie the other end to a door knob and slam the door? NO! Do you go to a chiropractor or a cardiologist to have the tooth removed? NO! You go to someone who you are sure is an expert. You go to a licensed dentist. When it comes to EEO or diversity or inclusion (D&I), knowing who is really an expert is not as simple as going to Healthgrades.com and looking up a dentist’s education and licenses before getting that tooth pulled.
D&I/EEO is a multidisciplinary field with a few distinct points of entry such as employment law, human resources, and organizational psychology. The recent trend, however, is that people with degrees and experience in sales, marketing, communication, etc. are jumping on the D&I band wagon as the demand for diversity training increases. This is a perturbing development. In some cases, people are asked to become an organization’s diversity officer based on their being a member of a protected class: they may be people of color or women or members of the LGBT community or be differently-abled. They may be highly competent in the field in which they have spent their careers, but that does not make them experts in the complex field of diversity and inclusion.
My professional experience in Equal Employment Opportunity began in 1988. In addition to my undergraduate and graduate education, I received formal training at Cornell’s School of International Labor Relations and in courses provided by the City of New York’s Department of Personnel in:
conducting investigations of discrimination
compiling and interpreting demographic statistics
preparing affirmative action reports
conflict resolution and mediation
developing strategies to overcome historic perpetuation of discriminatory practices
developing and facilitating adult education in EEO, Sexual Harassment Prevention, D&I, etc.
It took years of on-the-job experience augmented by this training before I was qualified to call myself an expert in my field.
Fake it ‘til You Make It!
Unfortunately, there are individuals who are willing to ‘stretch the truth’ and claim to have the requisite competencies and skills to create D&I strategies, education and initiatives. They may even believe that they have those competencies or that their area of expertise is so similar to D&I that they can ‘fake it ‘til they make it.’ Some of this is due to ‘coaches’ and self-help ‘gurus’ who are telling people that faking it is o-k even admirable, as it will advance their careers. I vehemently disagree!
When Passion Meets Purpose
I have been passionate about creating inclusion for as long as I can remember. As both a woman and person of mixed culture (my father was Puerto Rican and my mother was of Northern European descent), I have personally experienced discrimination and sexual harassment. I have also been defending those unable to defend themselves since the 1960s in the schoolyard of my elementary school in Astoria, NYC. Individuals with a true passion to end discrimination and increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace should get the specific education and experience that will qualify them as experts in this field. Those who do not bother to get their credentials can cause real damage to the employees who are in need of help and organizations that strive to become inclusive. I have been asked to repair some of this damage by more than one of my clients, and it is the most challenging work that I do.
To be continued…
Most people do not know what questions to ask potential consultants or employees for D&I engagements. I will address this in Part II.
Have you been asking what makes a D&I expert an expert? If not, isn’t it a great time to begin doing so?
Please let me know what you think in the comment section below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please follow us on Twitter for more frequent observations and information.
“The Evolution of Inclusion” is an article that I wrote in 2008 and is a tutorial on how the field of inclusion has evolved since I entered the world of EEO in 1988. I have gotten enough feedback on my recent blogs to see that this is still a relevant and necessary discussion, so I hope that you find this post interesting and helpful! This blog post violates one of my rules not to exceed 1000 words, but I wanted to include the article in its entirety (just under 2500 words), for the sake of flow.
In the beginning
In the beginning there was Affirmative Action. Affirmative Action was all about making amends for past discriminatory practices in the workplace and the academy. Women and people of color, as well as many others who were not white, heterosexual, Christian males, were historically barred from many jobs in the United States both systemically and institutionally. In 1961 President Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925, which created the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity and mandated that projects financed “with federal funds ” take affirmative action” to ensure that hiring and employment practices are free of racial bias. It was not until 1965 when President Johnson signed Executive Order 11246 however, that there were actual enforceable actions that needed to be taken. This Executive Order also strengthened the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which expanded protection via Title VII of the Act, to prohibit discrimination by covered employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The Civil Rights Act also changed the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity into the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, giving it broad legal and administrative powers.
Equal employment opportunity law was the big stick that the government used to assure that employees who were members of “protected classes” (those covered by the Civil Rights Act) were protected once they were hired into positions that were previously not open to them. Affirmative Action includes guidelines for hiring protected class members based on the qualified candidate pool within an employer’s geographic zone (a 30 mile radius). The hiring goals are not quotas and never have been. They are recommendations based on the local population.
Mandatory training was implemented for all covered employers in the area of Sexual Harassment Prevention and for any employer where the EEOC determined that there was a “probable cause” to validate an employee’s claim of discriminatory treatment. This reactionary approach dominated the field of EEO for many years and resulted in a strong backlash by conservative groups and many white men in the workplace. Reverse discrimination claims began being filed as early as 1978 (Regents of the University of California v. Bakke) and have become fairly regular occurrences. There was also a great deal of negative media regarding affirmative action and EEO cases in an attempt to de-fang the law and its enforcement.
One of the greatest barriers to accepting the benefits of inclusion is a fear of numbers. Many myths and misperceptions surround the reporting of EEO data and Affirmative Action reports to the federal government. Employers conduct panic-stricken scrambles every time they are audited by the EEOC; they agonize over their Affirmative Action reports and their poor performance in relation to their hiring goals; and they focus on the very numbers that terrify them instead of the people they represent. This sense of impotence creates resentment and results in an attitude that we will do only what we are required to do in many organizations. They felt trapped by the EEOC requirements and not empowered to do anything about them.
The Diversity Revolution
We then experienced the ‘diversity revolution’ a period I like to refer to as the “Kumbaya Stage.” Celebrating difference became the favorite pastime of many members of organizations. People like me were able to proclaim pride in our heritage, our difference – ourselves as were never able to do previously. But after the diversity pot luck luncheons and diversity fairs, people would head back to their cubicles and remain exclusive. The celebration of difference did not extend to most employees’ personal lives. The human resources departments did not see any relief from their required reports or a great improvement in their statistics. These disappointments coupled with the negative response from employees who felt that they were not different enough to matter resulted in campaigns set out to prove that ‘our differences make us all the same.’ This approach played down race and gender and focused on less volatile differences such as job title, geographic origin (among U.S. born citizens), marital status, parental status, etc. These non-threatening differences could be used benignly, to prove that an organization embraced diversity, without having to really embrace inclusion.
Diversity practitioners across the U.S. were then asked by their CEOs, “What’s the return on our investment for diversity? This resulted in more panicked scrambling as folks set out to prove that creating a diverse organization improved the organization’s bottom line. The problem with this model is that it does not work and that there was no such proof to be provided.
The More Things Change
The more things change, the more they remained the same. A major concern of U.S. employers is poor employee engagement. There are millions of people who make it to work each day, even millions who arrive on time who are still quite disengaged. These workers occupy all job titles and levels, including officers. They are in every sector and industry. They are from several different generations. They are from all over the world. They are straight and gay; male and female; of every race and ethnicity; and they cost employers trillions of dollars every day. Employers spend an inordinate amount of money and energy to recruit top talent. They especially spend on the recruitment of women and people of color. Employers have, in general, become quite successful at recruitment, but remain unsuccessful at retention. A phenomenon has developed in the last decade or so that is referred to as ‘the Revolving Door of Turnover.’ This has become a The 64 billion dollar question.
In January, 2007 The Level Playing Field Institute published The Corporate Leavers Survey: The Cost of Employee Turnover Due Solely to Unfairness in the Workplace. The study found that unfairness in the workplace costs U.S. corporations $64 billion dollars each year – not in law suits – but in turnover of professionals and managers. People of color are three times as likely to be among those who leave as compared to white, heterosexual men and two times as compared to white, heterosexual women.
When the 2000 Census Report was published organizations became aware of a new customer base. People of Color, Gay, Lesbian Transgender and Bisexual people, Women, people born in foreign countries were entering an unprecedented period of prosperity. Smart corporations began marketing diversity. We could turn on any television channel and see flawless models representing organizations that looked beautifully diverse! Benetton led the movement way back in the 1980s with gorgeous young people wearing their trendy clothing. Their motto “The United Colors of Benetton,” became a generational celebration of diversity. Gradually, other organizations caught on and began targeting women and people of color who now had the buying dollars that they sought. One problem remained; the beautiful ads were not of actual employees. This was particularly glaring when looking at the leaders of organizations. According to a UC Davis Study of California Women Business Leaders (October 2007) women hold only 10.4% of the board seats and highest-paid executive officer positions in the top 400 corporations in California. The national average is 15%. Women remain more than 50% (50.9 in 2000) of the population.
The Inclusion Evolution
“As individuals we can accomplish only so much. … Collectively, we face no such constraint. We possess incredible capacity to think differently. These differences can provide the seeds of innovation, progress, and understanding.”
The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies, Scott E. Page
Scott Page’s book provides us with scientific proof of the brilliance of multiple perspectives. This is something that I have intuitively known for a long time, but am really grateful for the backing of a mathematician! I do not believe that ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ unless they are bad cooks or bad communicators. There is always the possibility that there is an unethical cook in the kitchen who sneaks in extra salt without letting the others know, but if called upon to create the world’s best broth everyone wants to be invited! By this, I mean that it would be an honor to be on the ‘A List’ of cooks for this project. The cooks would all vie to bring their most creative, their most engaged selves to the process. If they were told that their participation was predicated on their cooperation and in fact interdependence with the other cooks, they would pay attention to that fact and learn how to play well with others or be asked to leave. In other words, every one of us wants to be asked to make a difference, to be told that our presence matters, that our contribution is needed. What an amazing feeling it is to matter. Yet, few employers ever asked their employees to contribute to their innovation. Few employers ask their employees many questions at all for fear of invoking the evil God of EEO! This fear of asking questions results in a phenomenon I call “One third of the tree.” When I look out of the window and see a beautiful tree, let’s say a Willow tree and I decide that the Willow tree is exactly the addition that I need to make my organization truly diverse, I contact my top recruiter to go and get that tree. I do research on the care and feeding of Willow trees. I tell the other members of the organization that our team will be joined by a Willow tree and to be courteous and tolerant and never say offensive things such as “It’s not easy being green.” Then the recruiter goes out and chops down that tree and hauls it inside. We place it in a huge bucket and every day are diligent about adding nutrients and even throw in a few microorganisms to make the tree feel at home. What we do not realize is that we are missing two-thirds of that tree. We never thought to ask the tree to bring its history and cultural perspective to the organization and so it did not. We did not realize how our organization could benefit by knowing the full being. Another way to look at this is: I bring my gender, generation, class, ethnic and racial perspectives with me when invited to the board room table to contribute. These perspectives cannot be simulated by others who read about people like me. They can only be contributed by me. Isn’t that amazingly wonderful?
Organisms thrive because their parts are thriving. When an organism has cancer we cut it out or the organism will die. Yet, many organizations exist with dead and dangerous departments, units and individuals for years without taking any action. The whole is only as healthy as its parts. So, just as we need to get to know the whole individual in order to benefit fully by their contributions, we need to think about organizations as organisms that require inclusive care in order to thrive.
The first step to becoming truly inclusive requires practical steps beginning with the development of a strategic plan that holds everymember of the organization responsible for creating an inclusive environment. This plan needs to be created with the input of the CEO or equivalent and leadership from all areas across the organization or else it will fail. This plan also needs to support the organization’s mission and goals or it will fail. As our world changes at an increasingly rapid pace, this plan needs to be flexible and adaptable or it will fail. These are not very difficult requirements to meet if the planners remember to be inclusive in the process from the very beginning and remember that they are all interdependent for its success.
Step two requires a cultural assessment of the organization: Who are you as an organization? Where have you come from? What has been initiated regarding diversity in the past and what has the response been? What education has been provided and how effective has it been. Great tools to employ at this point are confidential surveys and interviews. If people feel really safe they will tell you the truth about their experiences within an organization. If they do not they will not.
Step three is to develop customized inclusion education for each level of the organization. This education needs to employ adult education theory as no employee enters the training room as a tabula rasa. Everyone brings a wealth of experiences, knowledge, ideas and again, perspective to the process. This needs to be given a great deal of attention and respect. The core of the education should focus on the following: “How do I benefit by being truly inclusive?”
Step four actually is step one through five – constant communication. Tell them what you are going to do, tell them what you are doing and tell them what you have done. This is the only way to assure support for the process and again, without this it will fail. Communication needs to be customized for employees, clients, board members, stock holders, the public and et al.
Step five is the establishment of support mechanisms for without them your inclusion strategy will fail. In addition to regular, ongoing education and communication organizations need ‘Inclusion Ambassadors’ to champion the importance of inclusion. These ambassadors may be members of an organization’s diversity councils or affinity groups and should receive special education on inclusion theory, communication, team building, project management and leadership. The ‘Inclusion Ambassadors’ of an organization might sponsor event, write articles, provide training, develop outreach projects in the community and more. They will become the face of inclusion of your organization and as such should be representative of many titles, locations, and functions as well as being culturally diverse. Another great support mechanism is cross-cultural mentoring. Cross-cultural mentoring may be part of a general mentoring program establish by the organization with specific mentoring on cultural topics or interests. For example, I might be a mentor on Puerto Rican culture and have a mentor on time management. Participants should receive training on mentoring and be clear on the expectations of the program.