Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Call for Diversity

Recent tragic events across the country have raised awareness of the use of violence in the police force. Most recently in Baltimore - and from Ferguson to Madison - local police forces have been debated and defended, accused and inspected - locally, in national news outlets, and around the world.

What are "these" people so mad about? The answers aren't so complicated.

I want to tell you a personal story.
I went to a private K-8 school. Each year, I had a summer reading list, curated by my teacher. We built ships around our desks in fifth grade to study colonial times, and ended the year with a trip to Jamestown and Williamsburg. We put on musical plays, created dossiers in French class, and learned African drumming in "Movement." And then, my parents--who have always been committed to their community-- happily sent my siblings and me to public high school. They believed in all forms of education, and they knew I would be a more well-rounded person if I had a breath of experience. 

Madison Community: How will it move forward?

What kind of community do we want as citizens of Madison?

I think that the kind of community that people in Madison want is one where people are treated fairly. I think that people in Madison want a community where entire communities are not left out of the economic opportunity in our city or face barriers and unequal treatment that cause large negative effects in people's lives.

Diversity Is More Than Black And White

     "We are living in an increasingly multicultural world, and new ethnic groups are quickly gaining consumer power. Our company [nonprofit organizations] needs a demographically more diverse workforce to help us gain access to these differentiated segments" (Thomas & Ely, 2004)

Everyone has heard some version of this golden rule: do not judge someone's life until you have walked a mile in their shoes.

Diversity: Its Benefits and Challenges

I am writing this blog several days after the death of Freddie Gray, a black male of 24, who was confronted by policemen in Baltimore, Maryland, while riding a bicycle.  During the arrest, his neck was broken, and he died several days later.   Riots in Maryland’s black communities followed, policemen were injured, cars and buildings were set afire and the National Guard was called in.  Now, civic leaders, the media and political analysts are offering their perspectives on what went wrong.  Unabated joblessness, racial bias and police brutality are common themes, but I haven’t heard much about cultural differences, including police culture, or communication.
One might ask, if police forces are and have diversified in terms of gender and race integration since the last quarter of the 20th Century, why are there still problems?  One answer is that contemporary constructs of diversity and integration are understood superficially.  For example, segregated racial and ethnic enclaves can mix with a dominant culture’s civic and work environments, but they may not interpret, perceive or respond to things differently than the prevailing culture’s norms and mores.[1]  

American police agencies exemplify what Thomas and Ely describe as discrimination-fairness and access-legitimacy paradigms, based on gender and racial assimilation to achieve a demographically representative workforce.[2]    The problem with these integration models is that the skills, beliefs and values of different cultures are not legitimated, absorbed or translated into the real work that is done on the front lines.  In other words, there is a learning deficit on the part of the dominant culture.
The consequences of this are well documented in the literature of airplane crashes, which claim that their main causes are errors in teamwork and communication predicated on cultural legacy, i.e., the assumptions and perceptions handed down by the history of the communities people come from.” [3]  Researchers found that in a cockpit, cultural deference norms dominated.  Even when subordinates preemptively identified errors, they remained non-assertive towards those perceived as “in charge.”[4]
The disproportionate killing of black males by policemen attest that learning from those of different racial and ethnic backgrounds is missing from police cultures in cities across America.  Even if law enforcement workplaces are representatively diversified, those of different racial backgrounds may feel pressure to fit into the dominant culture, to the extent that they defer to those in higher ranks or to teammates rather than speak out against excessive force used on racially different suspects.
The glaring problem is that of communication awareness within context of cultural differences.  If learning about cultural communication differences occurred in police training curriculums, perhaps Eric Garner would be alive today.  In July 2014, Eric Garner died after an NYPD officer put him in a chokehold.  An irritated Mr. Garner told the police who accosted him on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes individually to passersby that he was “tired of being harassed”.  A group of officers moved in to arrest him, one of whom took Garner’s wrist behind his back, to which he backed up and swatted the officer’s arms away.  In response, the officer put his arm around Garner's neck and pulled him backwards and down onto the ground. After the officer removed his arm from Garner's neck, he pushed Garner's face into the ground while four more officers moved to restrain Garner, who repeated "I can't breathe" eleven times while lying face down on the sidewalk.  After Garner lost consciousness, officers finally turned him onto his side to ease his breathing, but it was too late.
Noticeably absent from this scene were black officers, who might have used their cultural perspectives and communication skills to diffuse Mr. Garner’s defensive animosity.  Perhaps they would have interpreted in a nonthreatening way his angry frustration of being “harassed.”  Perhaps, instead, they would have issued Mr. Garner a warning about NYC sales tax compliance, giving him time to think objectively, without demeaning and further antagonizing him.   
Perhaps, too, the death of Freddie Gray could have been averted if policemen worked in racially-integrated teams, each demonstrating their cultural skills to the other, learning what it means to serve their communities authentically, by reflecting the reality of people’s lives in their reactions and decisions.  In this way they would earn genuine authority. (Wood, M. & Harwood, R., 2005)[5]

[1] Sowell, Thomas. "A world view of cultural diversity." Society 29.1 (1991): 37-44. 
[2] Thomas, David A., and Robin J. Ely. "Making differences matter: A new paradigm for managing diversity." Harvard business review 74.5 (1996): 79.
[3] Gladwell, Malcolm.  Outliers: The Story of Success, Ch. 7, “The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes,”2008. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Wood, M. R. "Standards of Excellence in Civic Engagement: How Public Agencies Can Learn from the Community, Use What They Learn, and Demonstrate that Public Knowledge Matters." The Harwood Institute (2005).

How Can We Make 1+1=3?

In November, the unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown died after being shot by a white officer in Ferguson, and in March, Tony Robinson died after being shot by an officer here in Madison (Buchanan et al., 2014). Until eight months ago, I lived in Sweden, where the increase from one to six deadly officer involved shootings yearly has been challenged. (Hårdh & Stauffer, 2015) I do think that the average U.S. police officer faces a larger number of challenging and stressful situations than the average Swedish one does. Nevertheless, I believe we have a problem when unarmed individuals loose their lives. Furthermore, the response reminds us that structural racism exists and makes me question if this is really the land of opportunity for all. With that said, the focus of this blog is not to provide a description of the problem – but instead to give good arguments for diversity and discuss how you and I, as leaders and individuals, can promote it.

Statistics tell us that hundreds of police departments are not representative of the communities in which they serve - the percentage of whites in the police force is many times more than 30 percentage points higher than in the community. These findings go against convincing evidence that a more representative police force will be more credible and build more trust in the communities in which they serve. (Ashkenas & Park, 2015) Furthermore, we know that, in general, more diverse organizations perform best and make better decisions. However, as pointed out by Page (2007) and Thomas and Ely (1996), if we want to build more productive organization we have to go beyond thinking about diversity as identity-group representation – think instead about the “varied perspectives and approaches to work that different identity groups bring”. Page (2007) gives evidence that a diverse group of individuals can outperform groups with “high ability” individuals because diverse perspectives and heuristics result in superadditivity (1+1=3). This economic logic of diversity is also supported by Robinson and Dechant (2007).

So, what should leaders do? I believe each and every one of us can do a lot – and that we have a responsibility to do so. We can question our own assumptions. We can promote conversation. We can ask ourselves as well as others “Why?”. Implicit biases suggest that we might not only be unwilling to admit attitudes and beliefs, but we might also unknowingly hide something from ourselves as well as others. (Project Implicit, 2011)  A recent report by the Sentencing Project (2014) shows how these biases makes “white Americans overestimate the proportion of crime committed by people of color, and associate people of color with criminality” – up to 20-30 percent for certain crimes.

In light of these findings, we sometimes have to listen to things we might not want to hear. When you hear someone argue that people of color are overrepresented in the criminal statistics – ask why they think that is. As Charles M. Blow points out in his column in The New York Times, it is true that crime rates are higher in minority neighborhoods – but why is that? Is there a correlation between race and concentrated poverty? Do poorer schools and limited job opportunities impact if you manage to leave a high-poverty, high-crime neighborhood? (Blow, 2014)  

Furthermore, we can ask ourselves what we base our perception of the world on. I would like to end by showing this satiric clip illustrating how biased media can be in covering crime involving people of color. It reminds me that we should aim to ensure that tolerance, strong values and solutions survive, grow stronger and finally win – creating a world where there is only us.


Ashkenas, Jeremy & Park, Haeyoun. 2015. The Race Gap in America’s Police Departments, The New York Times. Retrieved from:
Buchanan, L et al.. 2014. What Happened in Ferguson? The New York Times. Retrieved from:
Blow, Charles M. 2014. Crime and Punishment. The New York Times.
Ghandnoosh, Nazgol. 2014. Race and Punishment: Racial Perceptions of Crime and Support for Punitive Policies. The Sentence Project. Retrieved from:
Hårdh, Robert & Stauffer, John. 2015. Debattreplik om polisens dödsskjutningar. Civil Rights Defenders. Retrieved from:
Page, Scott E. 2007. Making the Difference: Applying a Logic of Diversity, Academy of Management, vol. 21 no. 4
Project Implicit. 2011. Education.
 Robinson, Gail and Kathleen Dechant. 2004. Building a Business Case for Diversity. Understanding and Managing Diversity: Readings, Cases, and Exercises 3rd ed. Pearson Prentice Hall. p. 241-253.
 Thomas, David A. & Ely, Robin J. 2004. “Making Differences Matter: A New Paradigm for Managing Diversity.” Understanding and Managing Diversity: Readings, Cases, and Exercises 3rd ed. Pearson Prentice Hall. p. 211-227.

Reactions to Oppression

Let me begin by saying that much like Deray McKesson who recently spoke with Wolf Blitzer on CNN ( I support peaceful protesting, and having trained police officers in crisis intervention I have great respect for law enforcement and the risks they take and also know that there are dedicated, kind, caring, and compassionate people who serve on the police force. At the same time, much like McKesson I refuse to criticize those who have rioted over the police brutality that has resulted in the death of Freddie Gray. The predominant focus of the media over the last few days on destruction of property in regard to the Baltimore riots, and the predominant response of white people in concern over riots that have resulted in property damage ( to be quite frank is unacceptable. Comparisons between movements can be problematic, and I don’t want to draw direct comparisons, rather I want to highlight two other movements here to express why I personally cannot condemn these riots and to hopefully illustrate why focusing on condemnation of riots versus condemnation of the despicable inequities which caused those riots is hypocritical.

Reflecting on the movement of my own marginalized community, the queer community, those of us who identify across the LGBTQ spectrum cannot so easily condemn rioting when riots are exactly what started our modern movement for civil rights equality at Stonewall in 1969 ( We retaliated against police raids and arrests that were destroying our communities and our lives in that moment and began a movement for our rights and for change which I as an openly gay man in my mid 20s have reaped the benefits of and am thankful for. I should also note that our community rose up in riot when the killer of Harvey Milk was convicted of only manslaughter rather than murder in 1979, receiving a sentence of 7 years (which wound up only being 4) rather than a harsher sentence ( Given these events and the impact they had I cannot condemn the rioting that is currently happening because it would be hypocritical to say that my community was allowed to riot against injustice enforced and enacted by the police but communities of color are not permitted to do the same.

While this example of rioting as rejection of oppression is one that feels more salient to me there is another that is applicable to a much larger proportion of the American populous. I think we forget the history of our nation in these moments and that the United States itself was born out of retaliation against oppression. The Boston Massacre of 1770 where 5 men were killed by British soldiers, the passage of the Tea Act of 1773 which symbolized the concept of “taxation without representation” and led to the Boston Tea Party, and other oppressive acts of the British government led to fighting with British soldiers, the declaring of independence in 1776, and fighting a war to escape an oppressive regime ( The colonization of the Americas was an oppressive act in and of itself and, again, it is not my intent to make direct comparisons here between movements or between British soldiers and modern police; however, I think it’s important to realize that when people are oppressed they react.

Black Americans experience economic inequity, educational inequity, and disproportionate rates of incarceration (; just to name a few systemic injustices. I am not saying rioting will inevitably right those injustices, but I am saying what needs to be criticized here are the oppressions, the inequities, the injustices, not the breaking of windows.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Where are we coming from, where are we going to? Diversity and the importance of context.

If you’re reading this right now, you've probably seen images of rioting in Baltimore, or protests in Madison. You've seen cell phone videos of unarmed black men restrained, beaten, and shot. You've seen responses on Twitter, cable news, and blogs demonstrating anger, misunderstanding, confusion, and even indignance. The sheer volume of responses should demonstrate the overwhelming diversity of those involved in what is happening. And each different response suggests something else: no one is really looking at this from the same angle. And they can’t -- the whole basis of diversity is this range of experiences, beliefs, and norms. We can share some basic assumptions: that we are a society at a crossroads, that structural racism exists and that it means institutions do not serve entire groups within our society in the way they deserve. But even these are controversial, depending on your context. So where do we go from here? And is there even a ‘where’ to try to get to?

The way we've been going about this is not working. When each new event occurs – every time a black man is wounded or killed by a police officer – the response from pundits is to talk about it in one of two ways: it’s either an isolated incident with little context, or it’s a statistic. All we seem to want to do is talk about the event in itself. And that’s not the point. The point is, the system is not working for everyone, and we all interpret this differently. There is a world of context out there -- and it comes from all sides -- that no one is talking about.

Strangely enough, when this occurs, I’m struck by something said by someone few would expect to be poignant. When asked during an interview for the film, Bowling for Columbine, what he would say to the two school shooters at Columbine High School, musician Marilyn Manson made what I think is one of the most insightful comments when thinking about the violence and tragedies that our society has and is dealing with. Manson’s reply:

“I wouldn't say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say, and that’s what no one did.”[i]

As community leaders, nonprofit leaders, or even just community members, that’s what we can do. We do not all have the answer. In fact, separately none of us does. This isn't something that can be solved with a policy. You can’t break a centuries-long cycle of structural inequality with a law. But you can sit and listen -- to people telling their stories. To the context they can place it in. To what they face on a daily basis. To how they feel when they leave the house, or when a police car passes, or when a group of kids walks by them. We can try to aggregate this, but in the end, I’m not sure there are any statistics that really matter. There is really listening to people tell their stories. There is understanding that everything that happens has a context, and that context is different for everyone. That’s what it is to live in a diverse community. There is no singular experience. Everything that happens affects us differently because our life experiences have defined us this way or that. And that’s actually a beautiful and complicated thing.

In the end, we cannot possibly understand where everyone is coming from. To try to do so would be fruitless. But as a community leader, you can try to make it clear that the simple act of listening and making an effort to navigate and celebrate this diversity, to translate between groups who seem diametrically opposed, is the first step in a long, long road in the right direction. We’re going to need to know where everyone is coming from in order to try to find a ‘where’ to head towards.

[i] Bowling for Columbine. Dir. Michael Moore. Dog Eat Dog Films, 2002. Film. 

Cultures Are Not Bumper Stickers*: Valuing Diversity and Subverting Discrimination

America has a history of cultural diversity and tension around it. Our cultures are integral to our individual and group identities – usually drawn upon identity-group lines like race, ethnicity, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. Past rhetoric refers with pride to America’s “melting pot” of cultural heritage, but today you are more likely to hear the word “implicit bias” and “disproportionate incarceration” when referring to America’s contemporary diversity policies. Officer shootings of black men have turned public attention to structural racism and how we can direct our own efforts to addressing the need for more authentic action on diversity issues.

Why should you care? Ethics and economics. Many of us react emotionally, even viscerally to these issues. As far back as the U.S. Declaration of Independence we have held the belief that everyone deserves the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and in the twentieth century many cultures around the world internalized the idea of dignity as a human right (McNett 2004). That queasy, uncomfortable feeling is our internalized values telling us discrimination is ethically wrong. But beyond ethics, simple economic logic also supports the idea that society is most productive as a whole when a diverse group is allowed to question the process and drive innovation (Robinson and Dechant 2004). We care because it’s our ethical and societal responsibility to do so and we stand to gain from acting on it. 

What needs to be done? We need to move away from the models that we have used to address diversity issues and shift paradigms to truly value different cultural and individual perspectives. Common models of encouraging diversity in the past have been affirmative action-type and legacy legitimacy-type. The first employs quotas to make groups look more like society and comply with federal programs. Women and people of color are implicitly expected to blend in to the historical organizational culture. Legacy legitimacy programs seek diversity because it’s good business; they assign diverse staff to responsibilities associated with their background to gain market insight into that identity-group. Both of these approaches perpetuate discrimination. The diversity of opinions and life learning that staff members bring to the table are not independently valued; and they are discouraged from challenging how work is done (Thomas and Ely 2004). Men and women who enter companies under such diversity programs are often assigned to unchallenging positions with little opportunity for advancement (Robinson and Dechant 2004). Both styles of diversity management fail to harness the potential of a diverse workforce and perpetuate structural disadvantages.

But what can I do? Be a leader. Recognize and value differences from cultural diversity. Brainstorm ways to foster an organizational culture that makes everyone feel valued and is open to new ideas and change. Start open discussions about how workers' identity-group membership influences their experience in the organization. Above all, work to identify forms of dominance and insubordination which are often not readily visible and actively reform to avoid replicating those structures (Thomas and Ely 2004).

While the debate about structural racism in law enforcement has been the recent focus of public attention, structural discrimination runs through almost all facets of our society. Looking at law enforcement’s role in structural discrimination alone ignores the larger systemic problem and may once again create solutions like those described above where the problem is addressed where it is most visible, but not at its roots. If every organization in America - including police forces - took responsibility for how they engage and include diverse groups in their work, we would be well on our way to a more inclusive and productive society.

*The title of this piece “Cultures are not bumper stickers” is a quote from Sowell 2004


McNett, Jeanne (2004) “Diversity in the Workplace: Ethics, Pragmatism, or Some of Both?” Understanding and Managing Diversity: Readings, Cases, and Exercises 3rd ed. Pearson Prentice Hall. p. 241-253.

Robinson, Gail and Kathleen Dechant (2004) “Building a Business Case for Diversity.” Understanding and Managing Diversity: Readings, Cases, and Exercises 3rd ed. Pearson Prentice Hall. p. 228-240.

Sowell, Thomas (2004) “A World View of Cultural Diversity.” Understanding and Managing Diversity: Readings, Cases, and Exercises 3rd ed. Pearson Prentice Hall. p. 27-38

Thomas, David A. & Robin J. Ely (2004) “Making Differences Matter: A New Paradigm for Managing Diversity.” Understanding and Managing Diversity: Readings, Cases, and Exercises 3rd ed. Pearson Prentice Hall. p. 211-227.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Diversity, Power and Authority.

Understanding and Managing Diversity highlights the organizational advantages to maintaining a diverse culture. Organizations can capture unique capabilities and foster shared learning experiences which will have positive effects on their missions.  This dovetails nicely with collaborative theory.  Atul Gawande theorizes that the world has grown too complex for individuals to manage.  Therefore, incorporating unique perspectives can only provide an edge to an organization navigating a complicated world. 

So, theoretically: all good.  Yet this framework (or how I presented it) assumes that diversity is the intermingling of equal actors.  At this point ample evidence exists that the problems in Baltimore, in Madison, and across the country are the result of long festering disparities among diverse groups.  It should noted that these disparities are in part the result of public policy. 

As of late, I’ve been struck by a thought contained in a Ta-Nehisi Coates blog post. I have excerpted the key graf below:

In the black community, [police officers face] a problem of legitimacy. In his 1953 book The Quest For Community, conservative Robert Nisbet distinguishes between "power" and "authority." Authority, claims Nisbet, is a matter of relationships, allegiances, and association and is "based ultimately upon the consent of those under it." Power, on the other hand, is "external" and "based upon force." Power exists where allegiances have decayed or never existed at all. "Power arises," writes Nesbit, "only when authority breaks down."
African Americans, for most of our history, have lived under the power of the criminal-justice system, not its authority. The dominant feature in the relationship between African Americans and their country is plunder, and plunder has made police authority an impossibility, and police power a necessity.

Coates is referring to police power, however his notion of power can be extrapolated to schools which disproportionately suspend black preschoolers and when parents assert that their children are tracked away from challenging classes.   Meanwhile, hidden power is exercised when bus routes don’t connect job seekers to job centers and municipalities refuse to zone for affordable housing.  The public sector exercises a great deal of power through the policies it implements and doesn't implement. The question is does it have the authority to do so? Recent events suggest no.

Nonprofits have two roles in this construction: they frequently carry out or support public services thought to be valuable and they advocate to make these services better.  Because of these roles and their proximity to the public sector I think the question of authority extends to nonprofits as well.  Nonprofits might be less powerful, but this doesn’t mean that they can carry out programs without authority.  And without authority, the value of diversity explained in Understanding and Managing Diversity cannot be attained in the nonprofit sector.

The question then becomes 'how is authority attained?.'  Katy highlights the importance of listening.  Franny speaks to the role of independently educating ourselves.  We cannot expect others to take on the arduous task of educating us on the occasionally traumatic reality found in communities of color.   I would co-sign both add my own suggestion: be aware of the mechanisms of implicit bias and follow research on implicit bias tests and training.  Implicit bias is frequently cited as a greater threat than explicit racism to equality and is inherently difficult to diagnose and repair.  Therefore, a leader must not only advocate for implicit bias training internally but also turn their gaze inward and analyze themselves. 

These suggestions can help position nonprofit leaders to garner authority.  They will not, on their own, grant authority.  Counter-intuitively, I believe that in order to gain authority, nonprofits must cede some authority and share leadership with organizations currently launching to tackle issues of disparities.  I am finishing up my time in this leadership class and feel that I have gained valuable skills. This very expensive, very respected path I have taken to become a leader (that of higher education) is not the only path out there.  Leaders are launching their own organizations across the country. These organizations are empowering communities and can speak better to the lived reality these communities face.  We need to ensure that we aren’t crowding them out. 

*Also, I blew through the word requirement, but that excerpt and the framing it implies matters, so I kept it in despite the fact that with those words I’m over the limit.  

Officer Involved Shootings and Use of Force: How to Rebuild Trust

    What is happening out in our streets??? After a life has been lost from police use of force, I think we all have questions… Racism? Abuse of power? Was the shot justified to protect the police officer and bystanders? What did the victim do?

    Regardless of how a person answers those questions, I think we all suffer when those sworn to protect and serve our communities take a life. Kareem Abdul Jabbar made an excellent point when he said:

“The problem is that we’re not all on the same page about what we’re outraged over and what changes we want to take place. Police critics will claim this is another example of systemic police racism. Police defenders will claim that this was just one bad apple. We will hear the same calls for more oversight, the same protests that civilians are interfering in matters they couldn’t possibly understand.” (Time Magazine)

As a society we need to change the relationship between the police and the communities they serve. We need to trust each other. We need to get on the same page.

    Community oriented policing may be a strategy for rebuilding trust and changing the relationship. The five key principles of community oriented policing emphasize change in organizational mission and increased stakeholder engagement. They are as follows:

§      Adopt community service as the organization’s philosophy.
§   Make an institutional commitment to community policing that is internalized throughout the organization.
§     Emphasize decentralized models of policing that are tailored to the needs of communities rather than an approach for the entire jurisdiction.
§  Empower citizens to partner with police on issues of crime and more broadly defined social problems.
§ Use problem-solving approaches that involve police personnel working with community members. (NCCP)

    Community oriented policing includes both internal and external strategies for building trust. Some examples of each:


§  Institute culture-changing policies, programs, and training to solidify the department’s core values and ethical principles.
§  Develop a comprehensive recruiting plan; recruit and hire people with a service orientation.  
§  Provide continuous training in ethics, integrity, and discretion to every officer from the time he or she enters the police academy through the time of retirement.  


§  Institute some form of community oriented policing program to better engage the community.  
§  Develop a citizen’s police academy.  
§  Hold workshops on subjects of interest to the community.  
§  Conduct a community survey to gauge and enhance public perception.  
§  Proactively involve the public. (NCCP)

         Rebuilding trust won’t happen overnight. The relationship between the police and the people within communities that have experienced questionable use of force that resulted in the loss of life will take time to heal. But maybe, if the police and the community can commit to work together to build safer communities and implement the strategies of community oriented policing, we can heal together.