Monday, May 4, 2015

Diversity, Inclusion, and Leadership

The United States is known as a melting pot of races, ethnicities, religions, cultures, and traditions, and has always prided itself on that description. We have only grown more diverse as a nation over time; moreover, new media has allowed for a significant increase in racial/ethnic group identity and pride, not to mention an easy and effective way to share information and organize for change (Shivers 2004).
Recent outrage and protests regarding discrimination and police brutality demonstrate that racial tensions and oppression are alive and well in our country. Equity/equality are values that many people hold high and see as reason enough to fight for diversity and against discrimination--they feel it is just plain right (McNett 2004).

Emotional, ethic, or moral arguments may not be singularly convincing to everyone, but there are also economic and business arguments for the importance of diversity. As Robinson and Dechant (2004) point out, organizations benefit from having people from a diverse range of perspectives evaluate processes, make observations, offer solutions, and so on. No single person has all the answers; it is only through listening, engaging, and collaboration that problems can be solved.

As a leader, it is not enough to recognize and support diversity passively. Leaders need to genuinely value the differences that cultural diversity brings, and to utilize those differences in the workplace. Simply hiring people because of their diversity is not sufficient, and can even be detrimental to inclusion (Thomas 2004). People need to be hired for the right roles in order to maximize their skills, and in positions where their voices are heard and there is room for advancement. 

Leaders in nonprofits—who obviously don’t have the power to break down centuries of systematic racism and structural inequality—can do their part by listening to employees, volunteers, and advocates from different backgrounds. Recognize the ways that different groups experience the organization and, more importantly, recognize the value in those different experiences. Avoid taking on a "savior" mentality. Discuss diversity and inclusion openly, and admit when you say or do something wrong. Acknowledge that we all have discriminatory thoughts sometimes, even unintentionally; it has, unfortunately, been internalized in all of us because of the society in which we live. Challenge those thoughts; ask why you had them, where those prejudices came from. By recognizing that discrimination exists and that it is up to us to listen to marginalized groups, we can begin chipping away at prejudiced societal views and institutionalized racism. 


References

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.

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.

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.

Shivers, Kaia (2014). “Race/Ethnicity in Social Media.” Sage Publications. http://www.academia.edu/6122849/Race_Ethnicity_in_Social_Media

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