by Kathie Sandlin, Editor in Chief
Profiles in Diversity Journal
I’ve always been a big fan of Simon Sinek and his groundbreaking book, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. There is so much about this book that speaks directly to our efforts in diversity and inclusion today that it’s uncanny. If you’ve spoken with me at all (and far too many of you can admit to undergoing that torture) you’ve heard me mention it, refer to it, or quote it.
I admit it. I’m a broken record. Especially since it speaks directly to our future. How?
Back in 2007, Profiles in Diversity Journal did an eye-opening feature on the Pioneers of Diversity. In it, we asked two primary questions: Where is diversity now, and where does it need to go? Nearly every single essay put forth by the CEOs and thought leaders in response echoed the same concern…
Diversity needs to get unstuck.
This is not to say that what we’ve accomplished over the past three decades can be ignored, or that all of our organizations are still in the same place they were in 2007. Many are not—just see our Innovation in Diversity winners in our July/August 2014 issue. But our focus, overall, is certainly in need of a facelift, if not a transformation.
Otherwise, “diversity fatigue” will certainly set in.
I was speaking on this very subject with Trevor Wilson, author of The Human Equity Advantage: Beyond Diversity to Talent Optimization. During our discussion, he offered up several reasons our focus needs to evolve. The first of these is that our existing focus, especially in the US, is primarily on gender, race, and sexual orientation—far too limited a discussion for today’s work environment, and one that doesn’t serve us well in the global workplace. Not to mention the problem it creates when you try to measure success. Are changes in demographic representation really what we’re trying to achieve? Or is it more?
Because our current focus is more about groups than individuals, says Wilson, our work gets mired in the relatively superficial differences in people, rather than the unique characteristics they bring to the table. “The fact that I belong to the baby boomer generation may have nothing to do with my ability to use technology,” he said, “just as the
fact that I am black may not mean I am a better dancer or lover. And belonging to this group may mean virtually nothing in the world of work. So why do we consider it acceptable to base our work as professionals on advancing groups of people, rather than elevating individuals?”
For diversity to evolve, he says, we need to continue to evolve our thinking—“continue” being the operative word here. Remember, it wasn’t too long ago that the first legislated equity programs, like equal opportunity, drove our work. We’ve come a long way. But in order to act in ways that will “inspire everyone to take action,” we need to think beyond the old “groups” model and create a new fully human and individualized model that enables us to truly discover and unlock the unique talents of every person in our respective organizations.
So, more than ever, it’s time to get unstuck. We can each do it by taking a step back and thinking about how we “do” diversity and inclusion today, where we want to go next, and what we want to achieve as diversity leaders. The “groups” model brought us a long way, but when we get back to the “why” of it, we open the door to a new paradigm where we can truly elevate individuals and inspire every person to succeed.