Thursday, April 27, 2017

Diversity: The Utilitarian Kaleidoscope

Why should we care?
In an increasingly stratified and globalized world, our working definition of diversity shifts alongside sociopolitical trends. While diversity has grown from a race-based term to include a kaleidoscope of identities including sex, gender, religion, nationality, income, educational attainment, and many other labels, it continues to lack definition in many ways. In understanding that the term is sociopolitical and will continue to evolve, leaders must operationalize the term in context to their work.

Jeanne McNett writes that an economic argument for diversity is one that recognizes the shifted and globalized pool of consumers. Businesses, in building relationships with consumers and other business leaders, must engage a diverse workforce because they will speak to a larger consumer base and promote creativity, particularly culturally competent creativity that businesses traditionally did not engage.

The same is true for non-profit organizations. Whether engaging potential employees or potential volunteers, diversity matters. Leadership must work with and hire more diverse individuals whom reflect the diverse communities from which they come from. These communities are often the target of non-profit work.

Further, diversity aligns with the philosophical impetus of non-profit work. If non-profits in the U.S. truly bridge the gap services offered by the government or provide greater services to “deserving” often under-recognized groups, then non-profits are engaging in ethical work. According to McNett, this ethical derivation of diversity that non-profits engage in can be categorized into three areas: deontological (faith-based), teleological (hope-based), and caring (charity) approaches to diversity either applied universally or to a particular application. Regardless of the ethical theory applied, the United States is becoming more global along all of these facets and non-profit leadership must engage the audience and constituents.

What are the implications?
As historically excluded groups begin to stratify and make up sub-groups, thus adding to diverse identities, they bring with them varying skills. This idea is mentioned by Thomas Sowell whom noted that while Japan an Switzerland haven’t been historically prosperous in natural resources, their populations have developed a broad range of human capital that promoted economic prosperity (33).

Robinson and Dechant further this examination of diversity in soft skills in citing Fortune 100s data on why human resource executive foster diversity. While laws exist to denounce discrimination and segregation like the Equal Opportunity Employment Act, these HR executives promoted diversity because it’s presence added value to the company. This included creativity and innovation, higher0quality problem solving, greater leadership, and fostering global relationships (230-35).

What can leaders do about it?

For ethical and production reasons, non-profit leaders should foster diversity within their organizations at various levels. While Robinson and Dechant identify four steps to involving diversity in an organization (236-7), I find that they are no different than any other human capital targeting program, whether it be marketing, volunteerism, etc. The main take away is that to foster diversity, one must focus on and set goals to foster diversity. No organization will just happen upon diversity.

Further, Robert Herman (Renz, 2016) notes that executives must traverse both the internal organization and external forces. This reinforces the idea that context matters. Impressions and intentions matter. Having leadership that reflects the community, stakeholders, or other parties is important, particularly when addressing issues from the four distinct organizational perspectives: structural, human resource, political, and symbolic. This is starkly apparent in the case study involving the Acheen Malay Mosque Village where, despite having their cultural and historical interests in mind, the Muslim community was distrusting of the Penang Heritage Trust because their board was almost exclusively composed of Chinese-descendant Malay persons.