Who is Right, When No One is Wrong?

Two different but sometimes intersecting viewpoints about diversity and strategy.

Jonathan Jackson argues that the lack of diversity in organizations is systemic and considers race, gender, and culture a vital factor:

People talk at me when it comes to diversity, not to me, and certainly not for me. People want to solve diversity like it’s a business problem. It’s not. Diversity (read:  the need for Black and Latino creativity, excellence, and ingenuity to be fundamentally embedded into the DNA of billion dollar companies and enterprises) has business implications, and there is a case for how it can improve outcomes, revenue, idea generation, and a host of other metrics. But at its core, the issue of diversity  is a structural one. Systemic inequity has a legacy that is long, varied, and intertwined with a multitude of other issues that ‘Murica is wrestling with. It’s an autopsy in its purest form, and everyone is in the viewing room, peering down through their own vantage point, looking to make sense of the broken bones and exposed organs.

BJ Gallagher counters that race and gender are important but shouldn’t be the only focus:

An addition to all the differences between human beings, however, there are also many similarities between groups and between individuals. All people want quality goods and services — we want durability, reliability, honesty and fairness, good value for our money, opportunity to participate, and to have our opinions and feelings acknowledged, etc. In focusing our diversity discussions only on the visible differences of race and gender, we’re totally ignoring all the things we have in common! Japan and Germany didn’t have to hire a bunch of ethnically diverse people to succeed in the U.S. market — they simply had to understand human beings and what their potential customers really want in goods and services. As Leon Winter summarized in a Wall Street Journal article some years ago: “Ultimately, the only useful definition for Hispanic consumers — and everyone else — is ‘human.'”

My hope for the diversity movement, and for society in general, is that the day will come when we will move beyond the limiting categories of race and gender, and look at each other as human beings. We need to develop the skills of listening, empathizing, flexibility, tolerance, patience, compromise, communication, and genuine caring.

Dr. Ernesto Javier Martinez demonstrates how this might play out in one arena that lacks diversity – higher education:

Too often, Martínez says, institutions champion diversity as a value, but then fail to transform existing practices. One critical example of this is the way in which institutions inadvertently discourage junior faculty of color from taking risks and producing innovative work.

“If you’re really challenging the borders of disciplines, the journals that defend those disciplines won’t want to publish you,” Martínez says. But faculty vying for tenure know that institutions place a premium on articles published in top journals. As a result, young faculty may take fewer risks with their academic work.

In October, Martínez published The Truly Diverse Faculty: New Dialogues in American Higher Education with co-editor Dr. Stephanie A. Fryberg, which tackles problems of diversity through a dialogue between junior faculty of color and senior administrators.

“In the volume, we have the beginnings of a conversation, and a very di­fferent one, I might add, about the ways that universities sometimes over-idealize their commitment to diversity,” Martínez says. “The reality is that, on the ground, the commitment can often be shallow. It positions [junior faculty of color] to be seen as struggling, because when we invest in the institution to make substantive change, the institution says, ‘You’re not paying enough attention to your research.’”