Ask the White Guy: Why Do People Get Tired of Diversity?

Are you concerned about "diversity fatigue"? Connect the dots between reputation and talent development, philanthropy and supplier diversity.

Tired of Diversity?You should read David Brooks’ recent column “The Great Migration” on the New York Times website. He lays out why and how more accomplished people are moving to places where there are other accomplished people. He describes the ramifications of “positive ecologies” and “negative ecologies.” I believe this is mirrored in corporate “ecologies,” that a company with a negative ecology puts itself in a death spiral—which cannot be reversed without a concerted and overt emphasis on strategic diversity management, reputation and ethics.

Disparities in Income

I think the trend of competitive people clustering will accelerate as global economics continue to evolve. Despite more than one-third of the world living on less than $2 a day, the average wage for every earner on the planet, according to the BBC article “Where are you on the global pay scale?,” is $18,000 per year in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) dollars, which expresses what it would cost in the U.S. to get equivalent goods and services in your own country. The growth of the global middle class is accelerating for the same reason that the sorting inside our country is accelerating: technological advances in communication and transfer of money.

What’s the problem? The average wage in the United States is $42,980 (compared to $18,000 for the global average, which includes the United States). As economies grow, more people will be able to find work globally and there will be wealth generated, but not enough in the United States to keep up with the global growth rate. That means our average wage will likely continue to shrink as the developing world rises.

Why Top Performers Seek Diverse & Inclusive Workplaces

This tells me that the sorting trend is going to accelerate. The most talented people from around the world will sort themselves out. Many will come to the United States (if our government can get out of their way), since our economy is the largest on the planet. And the folks already here, your potential human capital, will aggressively sort themselves out, with the best and brightest proactively seeking “positive ecologies.”

Which folks are going to be attracted to YOUR company? Which business partners?

If you are a diversity practitioner and are concerned about “diversity fatigue,” here’s what I suggest you do: Connect the dots between reputation and talent development, philanthropy and supplier diversity. Reach out to your government-relations and marketing people, so they have a coherent understanding of your diversity reputation and how it applies to their roles. I still see many corporate diversity efforts (most not-for-profit and ALL federal-sector efforts) relegated to window dressing. Seen your budget shrink? That’s evidence of a sorting process, and you need to focus on getting that reversed. It starts with connecting the dots between your efforts and strategic trends.

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

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  • Why people get tired of diversity? First, some people get tired. Second, those who do do not experience the negative impact of the lack of diversity, at a personal level. That means: they do not Experience any “lack” of job opportunities, awards, trainings, promotions, etc; therefore, they do not understand what’s the big deal about diversity. They refuse to accept that is precisely “people like them” that keep benefitting “them” First and Most of the time, thus perpetuating the lack of opportunities for “others that are not like them or look like them.” Those who get tired of diversity act as: if they don’t “experience” a problem, it doesn’t really exist.

    • Luke Visconti

      Everyone feels the impact of a lack of diversity on a personal level. For example, the exclusion of women and nonwhites from science could not have led to better technology, could it. What could we (as a society) have cured had there been total inclusion of all the intellect in the process of discovery? Do you really think that our military spending—which is more than the next 16 highest countries added together—would be necessary if women were 50% of government officials and leaders? I don’t. As Lyndon Johnson said, “The guns and the bombs, the rockets and the warships, are all symbols of human failure.”

      But that is not the point of this column. I am connecting global trends to diversity management. My point, which may have been too subtle, is that “diversity fatigue” is related to how boring and out of touch most diversity efforts are in corporate America. I’m not going to out you or your federal agency, but your agency is one of the worst offenders I’ve ever seen in this regard. That said, I haven’t seen a single effective diversity program in any federal agency—they’re all once-a-year dog-and-pony-show sops to nonwhite people in an effort to distract them from what “talent” looks like at the top of each agency. It gets boring really quickly. Was that clear enough? Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • “they’re all once-a-year dog-and-pony-show sops to nonwhite people in an effort to distract them from what “talent” looks like at the top of each agency.”

        You could not have been more clear. “Diversity fatigue” is a result of people seeing through the thin veil of affirmative action disguised as Diversity.

        I apologize if this offends anyone, but this is the true perception of the many people I have talked with in this regard.

        Show them the real results of Diversity efforts and you may get some stamina.

        • Luke Visconti

          All the worry that white people put into affirmative action, and guess
          what? You missed the point that the top of the federal agencies are still
          disproportionately white—and, in my opinion, disproportionately (to the
          money they consume) ineffective at what they’re supposed to be doing. Any
          connection? I think there is.

          On the other hand, you and I couldn’t agree more with your last two lines.
          Many people regard diversity as a sham—precisely because most chief
          diversity officers and chief executive officers don’t know how to present
          “real results.” This is not uncommon. There’s a 50 percent turnover on the
          Fortune 500 list every 10 years; bad business includes bad diversity
          practices. The only difference between the private sector and the
          government sector is that the market can’t speak in regards to the
          government sector—so it just keeps rolling along, regardless of actual
          Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

          • Kimberly Erwin

            Luke, I am total agreement with you. I am an educator and an intercultural communications guru (in the making). I have recently been asked to respond and aid several colleges and universities in forming a liaison with their chief diversity officers to bring about a change in process. (As a former employee of several of those institutions, I am certain of a need of efforts in this area to be more forthcoming.) It would be an honor (as I’m a ‘fan’ of your site and your commentary) to begin a dialogue with you privately. Also, I am a future author of a book scheduled to be picked up by McGraw Hill on race and ethnicity. Perhaps, I could ask for a brief interview (as I have a section of how white people are also advantageous in America’s seeking to heal from its racial and destructive slave past.) Please contact me at the listed address. You would be doing an HBCU alum a big favor! Namaste.

  • I would add to seek out best-in-class examples of companies that can demonstrate a positive impact diversity efforts have had on their company; both from a culture and sales/revenue perspective. Having a benchmark helps anyone understand that they have to start somewhere and perhaps a clear roadmap on how to get there.

    • Luke Visconti

      DiversityInc uses DiversityInc Top 50 data to provide benchmarking and consulting to almost 80 companies (under current contract). We have nine people on our consulting team and draw from our 14 years experience in studying data and diversity, engagement and inclusion best practices. You can email lukevisconti@diversityinc dot com. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • I am sick to death of never getting hired because I am extremely white, a little older now, and super talented. I sat in a room full of candidates that did not want to speak English around me as they stared at me. I was the first to be sent home as not qualified, too. Really? Arranging flowers for Valentine’s day rush? What happened HERE?

    • Kimberly Erwin

      Imagine those of us withOUT ‘white’ privilege. Empathy. Empathy.

  • The older generation thinks they have been preached to long enough. The younger generations – those born after the civil rights movement – question the need for it in the first place.

    It is set up to be difficult nut to crack, so it shouldn’t be surprising that when it is done wrong, workers get tired of it.

    To bring a stereotype, in the federal government, EEO offices have the reputation of being a dumping ground – a place that you go to when you can’t do anything else. As long as this remains true, and EEO offices have a hard time attracting talent, the federal sector will continue to suffer.

  • Luke,

    Some good responses to the posts! And I agree with your assertion that top companies who value diversity win when their HR people know how to herald and chart success that is linked to diversity growth.

  • From my experience; the people who view diversity as another thing to check off the list do not get tired of diversity because they have no emotional connection or any other true connection to diversity. Diversity is another checkbox like marking items off a grocery list. The people who really “get it” have some sort of emotional tie in or other connection to diversity that motivates and inspires. Those people try to push diversity forward in thoughtful ways but can get tired of carrying the diversity torch when they constantly have interactions with people who view diversity as a checkbox. It’s often the people who view diversity as a checkbox who are the major influencers regarding diversity policies, culture… and they can be in those positions for a long period of time without ever getting tired of diversity because of no perceived real connection to diversity.

  • I’ve been in the government sector for more than 20 years now… I can speak to what “diversity” means to me. It basically means “oh great, more inexperienced workers being hired to meet a quota that are a lot harder to fire then the white people”. May seem offensive but what I’ve seen taper off in the commercial sector, is alive and thriving in the government sector. The practice of coddling minorities, while expecting the rest to pick up the slack is overwhelmingly frustrating. It’s not that the people of diversity lack the skills or resources to achieve and thrive, but the fact that they don’t have to due to all the red tape. I find it amusing to hear the words “white privilege” being tossed around by people, who have access to business loans I could never get, scholarships I would never be able to apply for because of my skin color, and a host of other “special” government programs that no white person will ever have access to.

    True diversity or equality will never exist until affirmative action and other “equality generating” programs are simply kicked to the curb and color, ethnicity… etc… are simply abandoned and people judged on the merit of their work…

    • Luke Visconti

      Your racism dates you. I haven’t heard that particular line of crapola for a couple of decades. How about providing us all with a link to a factual study to back up your mean-spirited rant? My hunch is the only “government sector” you’re in is when you receive a benefit check. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • And your affirmative action entitlement dates you. We will be moving away from such entitlements as this country further diversifies. Be ready, as it’s already under pressure. Also, no logical person would assume that quota hires are as qualified as people who compete in an open market. If you don’t want people of color to carry that stigma, then lobby to end affirmative action as soon as possible. In this instance, you cannot have your cake and eat it too – no matter how you attempt to spin the morality of the situation. The fact is that no intelligent person will ever buy-in to both realities (best-qualified and quotas). Emotional reasoning isn’t what advances society. In fact, your obvious distaste for logic further marks you as unqualified to comment on or do jobs that require high-level thinking.

        Brett makes a much more logical point in his perspective on racial equality than you do in your tired, shallow ad-hominems. The intellectual dross will eventually lose this argument. The people on the wrong side of it are likely to be penalized for a long time to come.

        • Luke Visconti

          Quotas are illegal, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Neither does Brett. The two of you don’t have a single fact to back up your fears. Ignorance is what’s “penalizing” you. Anyone white who is truly competitive doesn’t talk like you—they’re too busy making money. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

          • The only one ignorant here is you, Luke. You yourself acknowledge that quotas are illegal yet you beg for facts to back up their claims. Where would facts of illegal activities exist? Everyone sees these things happening but there is no way to prove it, especially for the people on the wrong side of the quota. Your ignorance was solidified for me the moment you called Brett a racist when there was absolutely, positively nothing racist at all in his post. Why don’t you provide facts on him being a true racist before you make such a claim, hypocrit?

          • Luke Visconti

            Jerry, that little squiggly red line that appears under the word as you type means that it’s misspelled. Unfortunately, unless you go back and (this time) pay attention in middle school, there’s not much you can do about your grammar. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • I am a white male professional. I recently applied for a promotion at a Fortune 100 company for a position left vacant by a retiring white female. I was qualified, but I knew it was a long shot to obtain the position. My perception is when my employer loses a senior female or minority, they try to replace that position with another female or minority or at least my department does anyway. Indeed the position has been filled by a female minority. Disappointing for me, as the promotion would have meant a raise of about 40% of my salary.

    This development obviously affects my wife and children too. Had I obtained the promotion, she would have pursued an advanced degree next year. She’s Hispanic by the way. Its one of those instances, where, subjectively, diversity practice may have trumped my opportunity and at the same time prevented an opportunity for a minority.

    There is a voice inside my head, who begrudges my employer. There is another voice as well, who is trying to be positive and empathetic to those who feel the adverse impact of their race everyday. It seems that the mere fact that I have to overcome a kneejerk reaction means that I must be at some level, a racist. A harsh label, I think. Candidly I do wonder if my race keeping me from getting ahead at this company? I also wonder what is the appropriate response if I was past over to favor a more diverse workplace. Am I supposed to embrace that freely? Does that help me, or my family? These questions lead me to this site.

    I am the son of Irish immigrants with more freckles than anyone else I have ever seen and bright red hair. Its something that attracts a-lot of unwanted attention… the bad sort. Its something for which I have received harassment at the workplace throughout my career. In the UK, I might fall into a protected class, where crimes against redheads of Irish and Scottish decent are considered hate crimes. In the US, I do not. I find it ironic that I have among the rarest of physical attributes (perhaps the smallest minority) and been treated as such throughout my life, by both whites and blacks. My perception is that black people think of me as the quintessential white man – rarely would anyone find someone as white as me – and so I have felt they think of me as the worst of white men.So I’d argue that I feel their scorn more than your average white guy. And yet, within my own race, I am an outsider. Historically speaking, my ancestors were peasants and ruled by the British for hundreds of years… starved, exploited, and politically and socially marginalized through generations. Yet because I am still white, and male, there will be no sympathy no empathy. To the contrary, I am viewed as the antagonist group in the diversity agenda.

    I find all this extremely confusing. Its hard to sort out how I feel exactly, and what I need to do to find the PC state of mind. As I have read through the columns, I feel more educated, and generally better about the situation. But honestly, given the discussions on white privilege, those on this site tend to assume that by merely being white, one receives white privilege or is at least better off than being black. Painting with such a broad brush seems incompatible with tolerance generally, and in many instances, its incorrect.

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