Why Workplace Diversity Is A Fraud

We have been saturated with the idea of diversity within our organizations and community. We have heard the benefits of diversity and how we are less empowered when we have less diversity than not. A lack of diversity has been equated with racism, bigotry, ethnic purism, discrimination and a host of other negative connotations that are meant to elicit a sense of disdain. While I’m not bagging out the benefits of diversity, nor the problems that a lack of diversity creates, it has become more of a back woods rite of passage…nothing more.

What ruffles my feathers is how diversity has devolved into this tickbox that organizations use to show they are “progressive“. Diversity has become a part of their marketing and recruiting campaigns and diminishes the original need for diversity into nothing more than an HR metric and a really cool definition that’s supposed to make us feel warm, gooey and accepting as if we have reached some imagined state of organizational enlightenment.

Diversity is the what, but without embracing the reason behind the need for diversity, the how and the why of it all go painfully unnoticed. What good is diversity if the things brought to the table by the diverse nature of people has no voice or outlet for expression within your organization? It’s as if there is an assumption that the expression of the diversity we publicly portray as so precious could be in direct opposition to what we want to do and how we want to do it within our organizations. So, we create policies and processes to administrate away the value diversity brings to an organization for the sake of control and perceived safety (read risk management).

What’s the solution? Cultural pluralism. An organization that believes there is absolutely no overlap with the established or desired organizational culture and the personal culture that comes from diversity is quite telling of far out of touch they are with their workforce. Why would you recruit such a large number of people that don’t align with your culture? Oh yeah…that pesky diversity metric so you appear to be an employer of choice in order to recruit and retain top talent. Anyone else seeing a circular argument forming here?

The only perfect culture is one that understands and embraces the positive contributions from all participating cultures. Taking a cultural elitist position doesn’t do anyone any favors. Just as contemporary art exists and thrives while being made up of a number of different expressions side by side, organizations can benefit from this type of cultural pluralism as well.

Of course there can’t be 100% expression from every single cultural contribution from different people in an organization. There CAN be an opportunity to express those cultural differences within the parameters of your organizational values. Our respective cultures are intertwined with our identity. To attack or suppress culture is to do the same to an individual. While you may feel justified, you will NOT have engaged employees.

If your employee engagement surveys don’t address the issue of cultural pluralism and employees having a voice based on who they are, not playing the role of a “company man/woman”, then your engagement will suffer because it has the feel of an autocracy. People have to do more than know culture.  They have to feel it. Engagement begins when things feel personal and they have a vested interest in things. You don’t get too much more personal than culture. Lighten up and let people support your culture by expressing theirs.

17 Comments

  1. Bill – you have made some very compelling points here which I agree with. Diversity that is “programatic” is shallow and self-serving. It’s where companies make sure everyone of every color appears in every piece of marketing collateral – and yet their true culture neither looks or acts that way.

    Celebrating the individuality that all employees bring to a company every day make the fabric of what “diversity” looks like. It’s different for diffrerent companies – and it should be.

    Thanks for stretching us a bit today !!

  2. The title is a bit misleading. Diversity itself isn’t a fraud. However, we need to be careful of how it is implemented, and ensure the spirit of the idea doesn’t get lost in the practice of the idea. Some organizations have indeed embraced and implemented some levels of diversity within their work places. How far you go is also important. You bring up a lot of valid points, that we need to be aware of, as we practice the diversity that HR preaches. It is much more than a check box, and needs to be evaluated, not just to be certain all views are seen, all voices heard. This is just another step along the equality ladder. We need to bring these topics to the same table with the EEOC, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Religious Freedoms (to practice as we wish, without imposing our views on others), and remove all other preferences that appear to separate people into various camps.
    When we finally get color blind, tone deaf, and only see a living, breathing, intelligent person in front, or next to us in the work place, we may be close to the goal we wish to reach. In the interim, there is indeed much more work needed.

  3. Thanks for your thoughts Douglas. Diversity isn’t a fraud, but the common expression of workplace diversity is. I agree with your point that we are on a journey and we need to elevate the value of diversity (cultural pluralism) to Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, etc.

  4. To Douglas’ point, diversity is not a fraud, but there are times when claims of a commitment to honoring a diverse workforce could be considered fraudulent. When diversity programs espousing a commitment to and genuine belief in the value of diversity are implemented purely as a numbers game to me the word fraudulent applies.

    I also think we need to expand our notion of what diversity is beyond the characteristics we see on the surface to include values, experience, and perspectives to name a few. We can have what appears to be a diverse workforce yet still close off diversity of thought and expression. Thant is why I love your focus here Bill on Cultural Pluralism.

  5. William,

    I believe you are correct, the intent of the Diversity programs was to encourage companies to put aside their biases and to create a culture of people that were well aligned with the corporate goals while simultaneously allowing them to understand the dangers of “Adverse Impact.” These were all very important when the programs were pout in place. Like most laws and programs, the time has come for a fresh look to see if the programs are truly working and if not why not. Checking a compliance box does not mean you are conducting the programs to achieve the goals that were originally conceived.

    If I may, I would offer one minor change to your post. You wrote: “The only perfect culture is one that understands and embraces the positive contributions from all participating cultures.” My belief is that “The only perfect culture is one that understands and embraces the positive contributions from all participating individuals.” By focusing on individual contributions without regard for ethnicity, culture, religion, gender, or sexual preferences, we satisfy the original intent of the Diversity programs without having to resort to quotas.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    Gordon

  6. William,

    Wow, my head was nodding with every sentence – I couldn’t agree more. I feel passionately about this and have written a blog series on the subject. I believe that at the root of the problem lies unhealthy leadership egos. They hire in their own image and reward those who look, think, dress, and believe as they do. This is not only antithetical to diversity and inclusion but actually creates ostracism, company wo/men, gamesmanship and the like.

    Thanks for highlighting this vital topic!

    @JeanneMale

  7. While I agree with some points I still feel that the way Diversity is portrayed here is in the same way many still look at diversity as black or white or affirmative action, or about men and women
    Yes Diversity bring diverse thoughts and processes – yes diversity brings innovation and yes diversity need to start at the top if not it will fall on deaf ears and will be just cosmetics for an organization to look politically correct
    That is why I see generalization of diversity like in here has grey shades where I couldn’t understand if the article is for or against diversity
    There need to be a clear distinction yes the the title is controversial hence attract readers – it did attract me – but I also find it a bit misleading
    Diversity is not only the protected classes of age, gender, disabilities, religion etc… Diversity is about every character that makes us human beings unique, including our diversity of thoughts so if we still attribute diversity as compliance or checking boxes then we are still really far from achieving inclusions
    Every diverse group has its culture i.e. its identity and each group has its individual culture- so we can’t divorce one from the other they are rather two faces to one coin
    Great thought provoking article though- Thank you

  8. Seeing beyond the obvious physical characteristics…great point Susan! It is about what people bring to the table based on the influence of their culture that makes such a difference. I appreciate your thoughts.

  9. I stand corrected. I like your focus on the individual much better than what I had originally stated. Very much the heart of this post. Thanks for your contribution!

  10. Great points Sahar. The article is definitely FOR diversity, but from a cultural pluralistic position more than meeting some quota. If you read Gordon’s comment, he sums up the heart of the post quite well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  11. William,
    Interesting take and definitely a topic worth exploring – you know this is an area I am very passionate about. I appreciate you taking this on, because it is so critically important to organizations (and the world at large!).

    I love what Gordon said here: “My belief is that “The only perfect culture is one that understands and embraces the positive contributions from all participating individuals.”

    The word ‘individual’ changes the focus to people – regardless of age, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation and so on. When we get to the point of seeing one another as the people we are and the community we create together, we will definitely have accomplished something much larger than we have to date.

    Great post!

    @HeatherEColeman

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