Are White Men Racist When They Ignore Ethnicity

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. 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.


Question:

I work for a major oil-manufacturing company. I am a Hispanic woman in my mid-40s. My company is very committed to diversity and inclusiveness and we have had a Diversity Council (of which I have been a member for about six years) and we also have various Diversity Networks. We are planning a Diversity Open House later this year to promote our Networks, etc. We are planning on sending out a voluntary survey to all of our 750 employees to gather interesting diverse facts to show that we are a very successful company and that is due to so many diverse backgrounds, etc. Members of our Diversity Council (most of the white ones) want to ask questions like, “What is your favorite ice cream What is your favorite color” What They’re even worried about asking what is your ethnicity They don’t want to ask what other languages do you speak; they will ask do you speak another language. I don’t get it. Do you have a survey that you can recommend that has been used in other large organizations that has shown good results with true diverse questions

Answer:

Not only is your company’s survey useless, it takes your company a giant step backwards by trivializing diversity management. As described, your survey will not materially connect diversity with business success. Therefore, it will be correctly viewed as non-professional claptrap by most people at your company.

You might think that it’s self-apparent to believe that diversity is “good” for business. I don’t think that’s true, nor do I believe it’s proper to have a “belief” guide business–a “belief” is an acceptance of an intangible. I leave “beliefs” for religion. Business runs on facts.

Here’s the fundamental fact about diversity: Diversity by itself has nothing to do with business success. A company must manage the diversity it has to produce business results.

The reason you’re getting silly questions from your majority-culture council members is because they are dismissive of the relative value of other races/cultures. This is normal behavior; we all define culture from our own perception. Uneducated perception often leads to incorrect conclusions. For example, people believed for many centuries that the earth is flat. We’re no more intelligent as a species than we were 1000 years ago–but we’re less ignorant. Think about it.

If the white people on your Diversity Council had diversity training, it wasn’t meaningful. That’s not uncommon: Most diversity training I’ve seen is garbage.

From the majority perception, your ethnicity and even your gender are just as meaningful as the flavor of your favorite ice cream. Questions that value other cultures/genders/orientations/age groups or disabilities equally with the majority culture* are usually an insult by the majority. That’s why you often see rage from creepy Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity when people far more educated and accomplished, like Judge Sotomayor, make statements they don’t have the capacity to understand.

The fact that your “Diversity Committee” is sitting around dreaming this stuff up also tells me your company’s management is sitting on a potential publicity disaster. Keep in mind that it was an oil company executive who came up with the dopey “marbles” comment that destroyed more than $1 billion in Texaco market capitalization.

Not only is a potential liability out there, given your question, I doubt your company is reaping the rewards of proper diversity management.

Correctly implemented, diversity management increases the engagement of ALL employees by building the corporate culture that demands equity in outcome. This is because people who feel they’re being treated fairly will be more engaged. Engaged people are more productive–and more innovative.

Engagement, productivity and innovation are measurable and quantifiable. This is how you prove the business case for diversity at your company.

You will note that there are no oil companies in our DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity. Much like the price of gasoline is apparently coordinated, there seems to be agreement among companies such as Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron not to participate in the DiversityInc Top 50. So, to answer your question, no, I don’t have a survey I care to share with your oil company.

*In this country, the majority culture is white, male, heterosexual and Christian with no ADA-defined disability.

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