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Ask the White Guy: Mourning Diversity

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This column appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of DiversityInc Magazine.

Mourning is a normal emotion that you have when a dearly held vision is disrupted.

I came to understand what that means when I heard a mother describe her mourning period after her son told her he is gay (she used the word “mourning”). I was stunned when she first said it, but then she described her vision of the perfect wife and perfect children and how she mourned that it was never going to happen. And when she then described her new vision of a perfect husband, and maybe adopted children, I could hear the hope and joy in her voice.

How honest and refreshing to hear it that way. Who among us isn’t mourning something A child with an addiction problem. A beloved religious community destroyed by a child-molesting predator. A relative who, in the end, is someone you can’t have your children around.

On the subject of diversity and inclusion, I see the most mourning from good-hearted white, heterosexual men with no disabilities. Good people who don’t intentionally discriminate themselves and have a vision that America is an honest meritocracy and who resist information that would tell them otherwise. I’ve seen it from some of the most powerful CEOs in our nation who, when presented with data about their own organizations, mourn but take direct action to improve the bandwidth of their diversity management and start managing things by outcome, not expectation or desire. Some of those people are on our front cover.

But the push-back organizations face—the “diversity fatigue”—is chiefly driven by those majority middle-managers who don’t want to come to grips with the reality of today’s diverse workplace and marketplace, who would prefer to self-destructively place blame on the victims rather than the systems that benefit them. They’re abetted by a cynical few who stoke the fires of “them and us” by playing into emotions of otherwise good people—this is not to excuse or dismiss truly bad people, but bad actors are a very small percent of any population.

The manipulators include the billionaire Koch brothers who fund “Americans for Progress” commercials, first with real people like Bette, the woman who claimed her health insurance went up because of the Affordable Care Act, but when asked, she said, “I wouldn’t go on that Obama website at all.” After that embarrassment, now they use actors, including a creepy Uncle Sam.

Other manipulators include billionaire Donald Trump, who fanned the final flames of the birther movement by questioning the President’s birth certificate. Why would billionaires do this Political power cultivated by bigotry has been a staple of human history. In our country, we’ve gone through the Know-Nothing Party, religious leaders who used the Bible to justify slavery and the denial of the right of women to vote—plus Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy, which flipped Republican and Democratic politics after Lyndon Johnson’s amazing run of negotiating the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act and Immigration Reform through Congress. We saw this philosophy leveraged when it became apparent that then-Senator Obama was going to beat Senator Clinton in the primary six years ago. More recently, white Americans literally cheered the acquittal of George Zimmerman after being fed a sub-rosa diet of character assassination against Trayvon Martin. The current anti-Obamacare ads are working so well that Congress has already decided to postpone discussion of immigration reform for the rest of this year. In February.

It’s dangerous work. Predators are emboldened and enabled when a hateful environment is cultivated. Society become destabilized. Economies teeter.

The connection between the manipulators and typical majority people is profound and you need to think about it because it impacts the productivity of your workforce. We must all take charge of our reality and educate our well-meaning people that accepting today’s workforce is simply good business, and the reality is that today’s workforce is majority women, nonwhite, LGBT and people with disabilities. There is more opportunity for all when all are participating. There can be no “fatigue” when it comes to profitability and innovation in a well-run company. Take heart: The data show that the good people are winning, but to be successful, it must be intentional. That’s why our Special Awards, featured in this issue, should be celebrated by all of us.

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