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Addressing the Broadening Gap in Understanding the Essence of Cultural Diversity

By Etheline Desir | Desir Group | LeadershipBrief.com

Research continues to show that higher levels of diversity in leadership roles are associated with enhanced stakeholder trust, increased feelings of safety, social satisfaction, and heightened expectations when people can expect to be treated fairly and have equal opportunities to grow and succeed in an organization. Yet, there is still widespread misunderstanding of the business and social imperatives of cultural diversity not only in the workplace but in everyday life as we live in a shrinking, global society and increasingly charged political climate.

Take for instance the Megan Kelly debacle in October that led to her departure from NBC. According to news articles, immediately following the incident, Megan sent an email to NBC, explaining that she had now learned that “the history of blackface in our culture is abhorrent.” Obviously she was not aware! This might be the case for many. One of my dear friends believes that her privileged daughter was unable to teach at the school of her choice because a black teacher had been given the position. “The pendulum has swung to the other side,” she said. Comments like these are infuriating, but stem from ignorance and speak to the general lack of education and awareness of people whose primary source of societal education is the biased broadcast media.

Corporate American needs to step up… the most effective way to defend against racist and stereotypical imagery is to create work environments where there is both representation and power held by individuals who have been historically oppressed. This goes beyond the tokenized ‘diversity hire.’ This is about reimagining organizational cultures that ask hard questions and engage in critical dialogues that result in outcomes that respect the humanity of all people.

To help counter the untruths being propagated, I propose that schools (elementary, high school and higher educational institutions across the spectrum, as well as Corporate America) assume the responsibility to teach, train, and educate their broad constituencies. An introductory workshop in diversity is not education. According to a recent article by Richard J. Reddick, Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy at The University of Texas at Austin, “Corporate American needs to step up… the most effective way to defend against racist and stereotypical imagery is to create work environments where there is both representation and power held by individuals who have been historically oppressed. This goes beyond the tokenized ‘diversity hire.’ This is about reimagining organizational cultures that ask hard questions and engage in critical dialogues that result in outcomes that respect the humanity of all people.”

While I completely agree with Dr. Reddick, that corporations can set the stage for sustainable change, the pace of change is slow because there are large numbers of people who will never work in Corporate American, but whose children can be influenced from the cultural and historical education they receive at school and in the streets. Ensuring that our textbooks and curriculums frame the history of the African American experience in the context of reality might be a bottoms-up approach to instilling, at an early age, the critical role that diverse people played, and will continue to play, in the growth of this nation. Understanding, embracing and promoting cultural diversity is a wining proposition for all.


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