Diversity and Inclusion – does it divide us or unify us?

As a diversity and career development consultant since forming my business in 2010 after retiring from IBM, I have been publishing 2-4 blogs each month, many of them about a wide range of diversity topics.
• I have discussed that racism still does indeed exist in “Facing the Truth – Racism Stills Persists in the USA.”
• I offered some hard-hitting solutions to addressing gender discrimination and sexual harassment in “Five Provocative Recommendations to Address Sexual Harassment in the Workplace.”
• I had assistance from members of diverse communities to assist with blogs addressing negative stereotypes of Muslims and Hispanics in our country. The blog Five Common Misconceptions of Muslims in the USA introduces the Muslim topic and has links to additional blogs. And then also look up Seven Misconceptions or Stereotypes of Hispanic People.
• The LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Community continues to be misunderstood and maligned by a huge number of Americans, including legislators, and I have written extensively on this topic.

And there are many other areas of diversity that grab our attention: Veterans, People with Disabilities, Diversity of Thought, and even straight white men are part of our diversity mix that adds valuable perspectives and variety.

But what concerns me are the negative comments and misunderstandings about diversity and inclusion. Last week, I wrote “Economic Diversity and a Sad Tale of Misused Privilege,” addressing the recent scandal that hit the news about affluent Americans using wealth to cheat and bribe their children’s admissions into top colleges they may not qualify for. I normally promote each blog on my business Facebook page, and invariably, several people will post negative reactions, often decrying diversity.

This blog was no exception. One reader wrote, “We need to dump all this “diversity” horse crap, it’s not working and only creates more strife. Focus on unity instead, what do we have in common? You should also quit whining about “privilege”. Life is what it is, and crying because someone else has it easier won’t change a damn thing. Do what you can with what you’ve got and you will be much more content with your life.”

At least he did not call me names, bully me and use four or five expletives like many people do. But I felt compelled to reply.

Appreciating each person’s diversity shouldn’t divide us … it unifies us and makes us stronger!

Like many, he misunderstands the value and intent of diversity and inclusion. Focusing on diversity is not meant to divide us, but instead to raise the awareness that every single person is unique and different, and brings value to our society. Embracing differing views, ways of thinking, creativity and talents will build a stronger, richer entity; whether it be our country, community, or business. Learning to understand the challenges various people face and assisting everyone in overcoming these challenges will make everyone stronger. I shared with this reader one of IBM’s diversity taglines, “None of us is as a strong as all of us.”

I do hope that everyone can stop, take a breath, and open their hearts and minds to understanding that appreciating and leveraging the diversity of each person will enhance our lives as individuals, as communities, as nations, and indeed as all humanity. The diversity and inclusion discussion is not a “we vs. them” but an “all of us together” discussion.

Peace, Shalom, Namaste!

Economic Diversity and a Sad Tale of Misused Privilege

As a diversity consultant and trainer, I normally start workshops by discussing the various layers of diversity. Most often we focus on the inherent “primary” characteristics of gender, age, race, national origin, sexual orientation, etc. But there are additional layers of diversity that include secondary, organizational and cultural dimensions. Often these characteristics are not easily seen.

One of the secondary diversity characteristics is “socio-economic status.” Certainly people who grow up as and/or live in poverty, middle class, or affluence view the world, work and relationships through very different lenses. Do you often notice how older people who struggled during the great depression of the 1930’s are often very frugal, even if they do have significant disposable income?

One could argue that people growing up in affluence inherit certain privileges which make it easier for them to navigate in the world. For example, owning a car gives someone more flexibility and access than someone who must use public transportation or depend upon others. The concept of affluent privilege is quite similar to the concepts of “male privilege” and “white privilege” where those in the group with the most power or resources have an unearned advantage in many aspects of life.

This week a very sad and disturbing story hit the news. The New York Times story by Jennifer Medina and Katie Brenner was titled “Coaches, Parents and Celebrities Tied to College Bribery Scam.” (Link to the Chicago Tribune version of the story.)

Summary: 33 wealthy parents, including Hollywood celebrities and prominent business leaders funneled millions of dollars (about $25M between 2011 and 2018) through a so-called “college preparatory business” to provide unearned and unfair advantages for their children’s college admissions. There really are many legit college preparatory businesses that help students study and build knowledge to improve test results, but in this case, the business falsified test scores and payed huge bribes to university officials and clubs to get scholastically underqualified kids admitted into top universities.

Shouldn’t these teens growing up in poverty have an equal chance of attending a top university? (Photos: Healthfocus and The Mirror)

This is a classic example of how affluence can be misused to provide unfair advantage to some over the less privileged. This is flat out wrong and disturbing at so many levels:
• Admission slots for truly deserving kids are basically hijacked by these parents that “bought” and “stole” them for their children.
• This kind of issue widens the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” and makes it harder for people to improve their lives through legitimate hard work.
• It actually harms the children benefiting from this corruption since they will learn that using wealth to get unfair advantage and not earning what you get is an acceptable way of life.
• It harms our country … we are failing to build an environment that encourages every citizen to get the best training and education so they can contribute most productively in our society.

Hopefully these parents and the owner of this corrupt business that ran this scam will get what they deserve – jail time. And for community services, I recommend they each contribute $10M into a fund to provide college educations to children growing up in poverty.