There is no app for it. There is no market “disruption” in play, shaking the foundations of business as we know it. And no one has said to put it first.
I am referring to Diversity—with a purposeful capital D.
This has been top of mind recently. Y&R is involved with a lot of great programs: LaddersforLeaders, #timesupadvertising, and our own Power On. I also attended a UNCF board meeting and the annual ‘A Mind is…’ gala here in New York, which got me thinking about where Y&R is in the big picture. Needless to say, our executive board at the company is also actively concerned with what Diversity means.
I hope that in the future, historians looking back on our time will be baffled and bewildered, wondering how and why the most interconnected world ever before remained as divisive, hateful, and otherwise biased as it is. Perhaps they will see us as unchanged from previous generations, whose separatism often led to violence and death… and assuredly created and perpetuated inequality.
I have written about the growing number of siloed echo chambers we have created before. Bubbles that float unconnected to others are, in fact, limiting diversity of all kinds. Some bubbles are filled with people of good intentions and some with those of bad (really bad intentions), while others are just confused or content to float along.
No matter the motivation, the separatism being created—even by those preaching Diversity in their own bubbles—does not advance society. On the contrary, separatism takes us backwards. Among the many factors affecting our slide are politics and religion, with what I hope is a shrinking dose of the usual ignorance that I imagine will always be a part of the human ethos.
Given that, I believe that we need to look at Diversity again, recheck its meaning, and possibly add some extra weight to its purpose.
Frankly, it’s hard to believe that, all else aside, companies are still discussing Diversity as a business strategy. An article in The Altantic explained:
“The idea and importance of cognitive diversity is nothing new. A 2004 study from researchers at the University of Michigan and Loyola Chicago found that creating groups of individuals who had diverse approaches to problem solving outperformed groups that were made up of only the most talented problem-solvers. And a 2012 study from McKinsey found that increased representational diversity could help a company’s bottom line, supporting the idea that outside of morality or justice, diversity may be helpful simply as a business strategy.”
Simply put, even if you don’t get the “Human Rights Equality” imperative, business is business. Yet Georgia State University Assistant Professor Adia Harvey Wingfield, a race, class, and gender in the workplace specialist, said in the same article:
“We live in a more diverse world in a superficial sense. Diversity becomes defined so broadly that using diversity programs or affirmative action as a way of remedying ongoing historical inequalities can easily become overlooked and dismissed,” she said. “People become focused on having diversity for the sake of diversity and it loses the power to addresses existing inequalities.”
Adding to the issue is the hashtag soup of authentic causes vying for their rightful place in the Diversity discussion and action plan, compounded by confusion around those that aren’t quite as authentic. Companies often get caught between being too general or too specific in addressing their own makeup.
Let’s be clear: We have a long road ahead of us—as a company, as an industry, and dare I say as a world. We may never have a ‘cure’ for human shortcomings. But what we do have, and always will have, are ideas and talent. By highlighting these challenges, we have a chance to change the discourse. Think twice when hiring, because talent comes in many forms, shapes and sizes.
The problem of inclusion is equally important as diversity, maybe even more so. It’s just not enough to look at percentage makeup of groups without understanding… that without assimilating diverse populations into the conversations and processes that define businesses, we will have achieved little other than good looking graphs and charts.
My sense is that we have retreated precisely because we think we have advanced. Of course we believe in Diversity—who doesn’t? Of course we have diverse groups of friends…you’re boring if you don’t! Of course our staff is diverse…here, let me show you the statistics and we are working on it.
And while the McKinsey study should have put an end to the very discussion, as the business case is clear, my fear is that losing our moral imperative jeopardizes our future even more as we reduce it all to pie charts.
To recap: Diversity of race, religion, socioeconomics, region, sexual orientation, intellect and physical ability is the challenge. Inclusion is the goal. A better world is the outcome.
Yet I am still concerned that we are missing the mark. Perhaps there is a way to unite us in a bigger way, before we start counting heads.
As I pondered this, I came across a quote from U Thant, a Burmese diplomat who championed human rights and became the third Secretary General of the United Nations—the first non-European to hold the position. As a teenager, I had the opportunity to meet him.
“The war we have to wage today has only one goal and that is to make the world safe for diversity.”
- U Thant
Maybe we are all thinking too small.
What do you think?