Appreciating Diversity is Not Enough

I’ve heard it before and I’m sure you’ve heard it too. Whether in a panel discussion, a job interview or just everyday conversations at work, we’ve all heard someone say some version of the following statement: “I really appreciate diversity.” 

Now, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a million times more– I really appreciate the ballet, but I an NOT a dancer! How do I operationalize my appreciation for the ballet?

Actually, it’s pretty easy. Those who may “appreciate” the ballet can attend performances, maybe know a bit about the dancers, the choreographers, or the history behind some of the pieces. Perhaps they vote on or donate to initiatives that bring more equity into the arts by hosting workshops, classes or performances in communities that don’t have easy access to the ballet or provide sliding scale prices for performances. Without even needing to Google a thing, I just came up with a plethora of tangible actions that align with an “appreciation” for ballet that can take us beyond acknowledging that a thing called the ballet exists and that it’s cool, I guess. Likewise, there are a plethora of tangible actions that align with an “appreciation” for diversity that can take us beyond acknowledging that a thing called diversity exists and that it’s cool or legally compliant or has a strong business case or that’s the right thing to do, I guess.  

How does your company operationalize its appreciation for diversity and inclusion? What are you actually doing— the actual actions, policies and practices— that align with your stated value for diversity and inclusion? How do your hiring practices, benefit packages, internal communication mechanisms, external communication guidelines and professional development and staff support resources align with this appreciation for diversity and inclusion? If the actions are not visible or measurable, then you don’t really appreciate those things, do you? Either get your practices up to speed or remove this as one of your company values. No #alternativefacts here.

Let’s take it a step further. 

I attended a panel discussion recently where a speaker attempted to answer the question about the firm’s approach to diverse and inclusive hiring practices. The speaker started by saying something that we’ve again all heard some version of before: “This is really coming from the top. Our leaders truly understand that having diverse perspectives at the table make our work product better.” 

There’s a lot that’s great about this. Yes, we want leadership on diversity, inclusion and equity in the workplace practices to come from the top. But again, what ways do we demonstrate this understanding? What are the metrics? Actions? Outputs? Where it also falls flat for me is the lack of acknowledgement that power dynamics come into play here. To believe that more diversity is good for the company and can improve outputs is also admitting that what you are currently doing does not work as best it could. That’s a hard pill for many people to swallow, especially those in power (power given by the company and/or by societal systems of oppression). And to then say that that improvement will come from the contributions of historical marginalized groups can be an even bigger pill to swallow for some. Moreover, this table does not magically expand. A table provides finite space. To really bring more diverse perspectives to this table, to your company, may require some people to push back from the table to make room for others to sit. How do you get people to do that? The systems we have to “win” at our companies aren’t typically built to incentivize these types of behavior. Major organizational change may be needed.

In a nutshell, what I want to encourage us all to explore to moving beyond the typical declarations of what is important and what we value. It’s important to state these things, yes, but values, appreciate and acknowledgement must also be evident in your actions, not just on your websites. 

Just a chups!

This is part of the “Just a Chups” series, a collection of short-form thoughts on a variety of important topics. “Chups” is Jamaican patois for a “kiss on the cheek”. And because I strongly believe that feedback is love, these short pieces aim to not only think and learn publicly, but just give a little love out there for areas where we may struggle. Enjoy and engage!

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