ATWG: 'Isn't DiversityInc Part of the Problem'

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:

Lou, when I read your articles I am truly reminded of a great man, someone you are familiar with and who has a wonderful quote to describe you and your organization’s mission. “I’m afraid there is a certain class of race problem solvers who don’t want the patient to get well, because as long as the disease holds out they have not only an easy means of making a living, but also an easy medium through which to make themselves prominent before the public.” Booker T Washington

Answer:

If this is an easy way to make a living, I’d hate to see the hard way.

I’m afraid you do not understand the context of this quote. Mr. Washington had an accommodationist philosophy for most of his life; however, he changed his mind and became more aligned with activists of his time, such as Dr. DuBois, when the racist movie “Birth of a Nation” was released. Your quote is from before Mr. Washington’s philosophical change. You may want to look up accommodationist; it’s a “go along to get along” philosophy that didn’t work then and doesn’t work now.

Regardless, we very much want to see the “patient get well.” In fact, we’re activists in that cause. Our perspective is to document how good diversity management increases corporate profitability, promote best practices as determined by actual accomplishment and, at times, expose business practices that are predatory as an object lesson.

Our primary editorial function is to produce the DiversityInc Top 50 competition. It’s a metrics-driven process and has a firm editorial methodology that does not take into account any business conducted with the company. By looking at the results over the past 10 years, there’s no doubt in my mind that the DiversityInc Top 50 competition has changed the course of corporate diversity efforts. This is because we have structured and standardized diversity-management measurement, and what is measured gets done. Over the past four years alone, the total points earned by participants in the DiversityInc Top 50 competition has gone up five-fold and the points earned by the top companies on our list has gone up three-fold. The number of companies participating in that time period went up more than 70 percent, to 449 companies last year.

Our standardized methodology, whose results are well publicized, causes direct action because there’s no such thing as an “incrementalist” shareholder when it comes to return on equity, and shareholders don’t “accommodate” weak management. When the data’s available, good business people take decisive action.

“Action” in the case of best practices in diversity management includes workforce-building practices, such as mentoring and employee-resource groups. The percentage of employees in these programs has risen three-fold in the past four years, stimulated by our asking the question in our survey, but sustained by the actual benefits to the companies that practice them (in-depth analysis of best practices for diversity management may be found at BestPractices.DiversityInc.com). Economy-building practices such as supplier diversity have risen as well, including the practice of asking diversity questions on RFPs, which is now done by almost all DiversityInc Top 50 companies. We will be asking about spend to businesses owned by people with disabilities, as certified by the new program at USBLN. With us helping as a catalyst, I’m sure that, in a few short years, USBLN will be successful in encouraging corporate America to include these businesses in their supplier-diversity spend.

We also have exceptional policies ourselves—you can look up what we do at www.DiversityInc.com/aboutus and read about our foundation. I am a board member of three schools, including one HBCU and one HSI. I’m also a board member of The PhD Project. In short, we practice what we preach—and like Mr. Washington, I feel education is the path to liberation.

Finally, there may have been a difference of opinion on achieving social justice 100 years ago, but there is no difference of opinion about what worked. In more recent times, Dr. King, who was practically the opposite of an “accommodationist,” was especially effective in actually changing the course of history. His activism gave us the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and led to the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 (and the ADA). I wrote “us” purposefully. Social justice creates wealth for societies. It’s why, despite our problems, this country has created the greatest economy on earth with a small percentage of the total world’s population. Social justice and civil and human rights don’t just help the oppressed; they build all of our wealth. “They win, we win” is how economies work. Unfortunately, people are predisposed to think of life as “they win, we lose.”

I believe the same economic principles that apply to economies also apply to corporations. Organizations that proactively manage equitable recruitment, promotion and retention have workforces that are more engaged, productive and innovative. This is certainly the way for the “patient to get well,” and when the “patient gets well,” we are all better off.

So, Mr. Anonymous, thank you for the opportunity to bring clarity to what we do. And my name is Luke, not Lou.

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