Diversity Goes Mainstream
Shakeer Abdullah, PhD
Diversity & Inclusion Through the Years
I have worked in and around diversity and inclusion for the past 20 years. I stumbled into the work accidentally like many people in the field and grew to love it and still be frustrated by the lack of progress being made related to diversity and inclusion. One of the first things I learned after beginning my formal education in diversity and inclusion, is that this work is not for everyone.
Some people came into this work accidentally and should gracefully bow out. Others came to this work purposefully and built their skill sets in order to effectively do this work. All who are doing this work must acknowledge the pioneers of this work. We can trace our field directly from the work of early abolitionists, to the women’s suffrage work, to the Civil Rights movement, to the United Farm Workers movement, to the LGBT movement. We can trace our work back to those origins. If you’re not familiar with that history and its impact- you’ve got some work to do.
As diversity goes mainstream- it is more important than ever to know the history of this work and to immerse yourself in the theory behind the practice. 2020 was a year like no other in the past century. There has been tragedy and triumph all around. There was a worldwide pandemic and an associated worldwide financial recession. The United States elected its first woman as Vice President who is also a woman of color. There was the continuation of the extrajudicial killings of black people in the US. Truth be told- it was the televised deaths of Ahmaud Arbery by armed vigilantes and the literal and metaphorical choking of George Floyd and the national uprisings that followed that finally brought diversity to the mainstream.
Many people could not believe their eyes and they finally took to heart all of the stories of injustice that people of color, especially black people, had been sharing for the better part of the last 150 years. Corporations made, and in some cases renewed pledges to increase the diversity in their workforces. Cities and municipalities declared racism a public health threat. Schools and universities altered their curriculum to become more inclusive of diverse perspectives. Financial institutions pledged money and other resources to help black business and to close the wealth gap that exists between white and black folks in this country. As all of this has happened many organizations have scrambled to hire people to help them with this work.
Many studies have been done that have highlighted the many benefits of a diverse work force. Those benefits include higher returns to investors, more discussion and debate, more innovative ideas, and in many cases a stronger reputation among diverse customer bases. These benefits have long been known, yet many corporations have hesitated to take action to increase their commitment to diversity and inclusion, until now.
I have been in this field a long time and I have never seen so many diversity and inclusion roles advertised and so many people hired. One publication that I follow added an entirely new section to highlight all of the new diversity and inclusion hires that have been taking place over the second half of 2020. You love to see it!
All of the dark clouds of 2020 have come with a silver lining- an increased commitment to representation. But I am reminded of the saying of my graduate school organization- being there is not enough. It is not enough to hire these folks as figure heads. Veteran diversity and inclusion folks will certainly nod their heads in agreement. It is not enough to hire and highlight these folks, much more must be done. Infrastructures must be created to support the increased diversity in your organization. Mission statements and action statements must be amended and created so that organizations can be held accountable for meaningful change.
Here are 5 ways new Diversity Officers can be supported:
- Offer training related to established diversity goals.
- Educate organization leadership on the importance of supporting diversity and inclusion from the top down.
- Provide new Diversity Officers with support staff and employees.
- Provide new Diversity Officers with along with a meaningful budget- 2.5% to 5% of the organizational budget shows that you mean business.
- Offer internal grants to support departmental and individual diversity goals and initiatives.
Professional development training must be conducted to close the gaps in cultural knowledge because much of the history of marginalized people in the US has been excluded from mainstream education. There is much work to do and too few people who can share the blueprint of this work. The challenge of diversity going mainstream is that it has the potential to be watered down and if that happens all of the work that it took to get here could be wasted.
Here are 11 Ways to make Diversity and Inclusion efforts more impactful:
1. Add budgetary support for the work
2. Listen to customers and employees
3. Train employees on how to work with diverse employees and customers
4. Serve the community where you are
5. Sponsor community wide diversity efforts
6. Tell your organization’s diversity story
7. Hire more diverse employees
8. Sponsor pipeline programs to develop future diverse employees
9. Examine and apologize for past indiscretions related to diversity and inclusion
10.Create organization wide diversity committees to assist with diversity and inclusion goals
11. Appreciate the value of engaging with diversity, incentivize diversity and reward employees for doing this work.
Shakeer Abdullah, PhD is a Vice President at a medium sized public university and a Diversity and Inclusion and Leadership Development consultant. He has more than 20 years of professional experience and has worked domestically and internationally.