My latest peeve is reading and hearing people refer to individuals as “diverse.” When I typically refer to something as diverse or having diversity, I’m talking about a mix of things; I’m talking about the collective. To me, a group of individuals can be referred to as diverse. An individual person- through the lens of a specific characteristic, i.e. race, sex- cannot be diverse. Even the Merriam-Webster uses definition examples that describe groups, not individuals, defining “diverse” as follows:
- differing from one another; unlike; people with diverse interests
- composed of distinct or unlike elements or qualities; a diverse population
One could argue that my interpretation wrong, that you could totally say that an individual is diverse because the primary characteristic of interest is different than your own. Fine. For arguments sake, let’s say so. That interpretation of “diverse” still requires some reference characteristic for comparison. Meaning that ultimately, you’re still characterizing the group, not an individual. What makes this worse is the weak attempt to define this other person by something they are not. How insulting and dismissive to identify something by what it is not! People of color should not be called “non-white” just as women are not called “non-men.”
Stop calling me diverse.
Companies looking to attract and hire more “diverse” applicants should spend some time to characterize what this means. Being precise in stating your goals actually will help you attain that goal. As a former personal trainer, my program for someone who wants to “be healthy” is going to look very different than someone who wants to lose weight or build muscle.
Companies serious about valuing and improving the diversity are actually looking to shift the dominant culture among their staff. This likely means hiring people whose identities have been marginalized and underrepresented within the company. Specifically, this could look like setting a goal to hire more people of color, women (especially in leadership positions), LGBTQIA folks, folks with disabilities, older adults, etc. Can we name that? Is that something that we could see in job posts and company websites? Is that something we can even talk about openly in our internal meetings on staffing?
But what that would require to is have a real look at the demographic data at your company and ask real questions behind how that came to be. What that requires is a real acknowledgement of and interrogation into power. That’s the thing that’s hard. And that’s the thing that allows companies to more easily embrace “diversity and inclusion” but not equity as a value, goal and call to action. Why is having a conversation about power so challenging for folks? We can talk about diversity and inclusion, we can call it representation and belonging instead, all that is fine, but none of that means anything substantive or transformative if we’re not talking about power. And once you start talking about power, then we can start assessing and addressing the barriers within our companies to attain and sustain true diversity, inclusion and equity.
This is just a chups, so I’ll just end with this:
- Stop calling individuals diverse. Diverse describes the collective, not the singular.
- Name the marginalized/underrepresented groups you’re looking to pool from in order to change the dominant culture at your company. If you need more people of color, name that and plan your actions accordingly.
- Assess your current company demographics and set goals for the why and how that should change.
- Have shared language in your company about power and equity, which can be foundational to meaningful improvements in diversity and inclusion goals and culture.
- Assess and address barriers for attracting, hiring and retaining employees who are underrepresented and/or marginalized in society.
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!