The Future of Diversity Debate: Education & Economic Status

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:

Do you believe that a focus on socioeconomic status and level of education will get greater attention and debate from the diversity community in the future

Answer:

I hope so.

Realistically, race/gender and socioeconomic status in the United States are directly linked because of hundreds of years of legal discrimination. Aside from the inability for Black people to amass wealth during legalized slavery and Jim Crow, legal barriers to voting, education and capital only fell in 1964, 1965 and 1977 (Civil Rights, Voting Rights and Community Reinvestment acts, respectively).

Simply by analyzing wealth, income and education of our constituent communities, we can see that Blacks, for example, have not achieved equity–specifically due to race. However, it is an increasingly complex picture because of the rising middle class of Blacks and their exceptional educational achievements.

The situation for American Indian-, Latino- and women-headed households has also become more complex. For example, our DiversityInc Top 50 statistics show that Asian Americans are still underrepresented in middle and top management, yet it is difficult to paint a stereotypical economic portrait of Asian Americans because of the changing Asian socioeconomic demographics created by the repeal of the Chinese Exclusionary Act (1943) and the end of non-white immigration quotas in the mid-1960s.

This is why I think the focus in the future should be on socioeconomic and education status–with an adjudicating eye toward ensuring equity across race and gender.

If the outcome is equity, then the entire way we look at problems changes. Instead of incremental changes in education, for example, we would make sweeping changes.

By the “diversity community,” I’ll assume you’re referring to corporate America. I think that the practices that prove beneficial to society are also good for corporate America, because the underpinning issues are the same: human and civil rights.

How this plays out in the workplace is direct and clear. For example, your mentoring programs should be for all employees, not just Black and women employees (a common mistake). Your most talented employee might just be a white, heterosexual man, with no ADA-defined disabilities who grew up in a poor neighborhood and had parents who were not corporate. Without mentoring, that man may never reach his potential.

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