TEDxIndianapolis Talk: Why Diversity is Upside Down

by Andrés T. Tapia –

Why is diversity upside-down and how do we with what that means for our lives and our companies? Check out my recent TEDx Talk in Indianapolis, IN. I explore just how much our world’s hyper-diversity has affected practically every aspect of our lives – in our personal relationships, in our communities, and in our companies.



Getting Minorities Outside and Into National Parks

by Andrés T. Tapia –



Although I grew up in Lima, Peru, my urban upbringing was tempered by frequent forays into the countryside–hiking in the Andes, traveling to the Amazon rainforest, and visiting my maternal grandparents in a rural area of Washington State. Being outside was a regular part of my childhood. But that’s not true for too many minority youngsters and their families.

According to several studies, including a presentation by the National Park Service (NPS), visiting a national park is overwhelmingly a white family’s experience. About 91% of national park visitors are white. Even when you look at all outdoor recreation, minority participation lags far behind–80% of all outdoor recreationists are white, according to the Outdoor Foundation. That situation hasn’t changed much since the 1960s.

Yosemite Park Ranger Shelton Johnson, who is African American, has said numerous times that he is more likely to meet a visitor from Japan or France than an African American or Latino family in the park. Getting minorities into our national parks has become such a big deal that Oprah devoted a 2-part program to the subject, where she admitted to never having visited one before. Even the Obama family vacation to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon sparked national attention.

Black, Latino, Asian and Native American families just aren’t going outdoors, let alone visiting a national park. The NPS, headed by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, has recognized this gap and, as it approaches its 100th birthday in 2016, is trying to do something about that situation.

Part of that effort was the 2009 partnership with noted historical documentarian Ken Burns and his 6-episode documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Check out a video preview here.


An offshoot of the documentary is the Untold Stories Project, where NPS stories focus on the contributions of African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and American Indians to the park system. The Project seeks to engage under-represented minorities in the nation’s National Parks. Here’s one video about the project.

As with many diversity initiatives, a critical issue behind this push (aside from the NPS’ legal and ethical mandate) is the realization that much of the future support for our national parks will fall to the same ethnic groups that are not visiting the parks today. If today’s minority youth don’t develop a connection to our national lands, it’s likely they won’t support the park system as adults.

Interestingly, some of the research behind this attendance gap delves into what discourages minority families from visiting the parks. Once the studies adjusted for socioeconomic factors, the main difference was…yes…culture. Those of us on the crosscultural front lines understand that what motivates, engages, and appeals to mainstream sensibilities may not hold similar attraction to families coming from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. For instance, where a white families may find the iconic view of the sun setting over the rim of the Grand Canyon appealing and engaging, Latino and African American families may prefer their nature forays to include a gathering of friends and relatives. Increasing diversity in our national parks–in attendance and employment–means more than just making them available and accessible. It means confronting the different experiences and expectations that all guests seek from these national treasures.

A you can see, the Inclusion Paradox, the power of constructively calling out differences, shows up in all aspects of society…even outdoors.

Gaga Over Inclusion: Lady Gaga’s Generational Message

by Andrés T. Tapia —


Lady Gaga is today’s symbol of the modern inclusion movement.

Whether you are into her music and outfits or not, without question she’s tapped into something profound with her message of the beauty and power of the outcast. From the offbeat, unpopular girl that she was to to the supernova she has exploded into being, Stefani Germanotta from New York’s Upper West Side has now over 10 million followers on Twitter — more than any other person on the planet, including more than that other inclusion icon, President Barack Obama.

What makes her message so captivating is that from the very beginning this has been her own story of revenge against the very popular high school girls who punished her for not being cool. Consequently, she has turned the same peculiarity that led to her ostracism into the very base of her artistic power.

With her newly released Born This Way album, Lady Gaga completes the second stage of her artistic and personal metamorphosis. In the early stage of this metamorphosis on her third album, The Fame Monster and the artistic staging that followed, her message was about facing her greatest fears – each of the eight songs is about different primal fear – and doing so by making them larger than life which she did with elaborate stage sets. As she said in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the only way to conquer one’s fear is to face it. But how telling that during this stage, Lady Gaga’s persona could only face these fears behind outrageous masks, glasses, hairdos, and costumes including one made of meat. For awhile all her interviews were done with her face hidden in some way or another from the interviewer. Her ways were bold on the outside, shy inside.

Which, of course, coupled with her kick ass dance music and alliterative, playful, and at times, disturbing lyrics made her highly entertaining and controversial while remaining mysterious and hidden.

But with Born This Way, Lady Gaga has gone through another metamorphosis. This time she’s emerged from behind the disguises, and in the spirit of the anthemic title track, is fully showing her true self. “I am a simple girl from New York, who loves her parents, loves her fans, and loves herself.” This time her message is simple: don’t work hard at being someone you are not. Rather be free by being yourself and fully accepting who that is:

Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Whether you’re broke or evergreen
You’re black, white, beige, chola descent
You’re Lebanese, you’re orient
Whether life’s disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied, or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
’cause baby you were born this way

No matter gay, straight, or bi,
lesbian, transgendered life,
I’m on the right track baby,
I was born to survive.
No matter black, white or beige
Chola or orient made,
I’m on the right track baby,
I was born to be brave.

In her HBO special based on her recent performance at Madison Square Garden I was struck by how stripped down she was. She only briefly covered her eyes with shades or a mask, opting for an open-faced look throughout the night. Most of her performance was done in outfits that revealed rather than hid her body. Nothing to hide.

In this stripped down spirit, her most arresting number was a scaled down piece with just her at the piano. And to underscore the message, the ending credits are done in black and white as she and her gospel backup singers do an acapella version of Born This Way in the dressing room.

In the middle of the concert Lady Gaga tells the story of how her theater and music teachers did not think she could ever make it show business. She did not have the necessary looks, including not being blond and being too ethnic. As a “student of fame,” as Lady Gaga refers to herself, she shows up at Madison Square Garden defiantly as a super blond with mustard colored dyed hair.

In comparing videos of her first metamorphosis to her second, it’s striking how free she is. While some may say her lyrics now are too preachy and literal and others may miss her more esoteric references, she moves without apology to fulfill her mission: to liberate her “little monsters” and encourage them to believe “you can be whoever it is you want to be.”

As a preacher of this modern era, she lets them know no one can tell them what they can and can’t do. She then role models for them how. “I didn’t use to be brave at all. But you … have made me brave. So now I will be brave for you.” And then raising her voice in defiance, “I want  you to forfeit all your insecurities. I want you to reject anyone who has made you feel you don’t belong. Or that tell you that you don’t fit in or are not good enough or pretty enough or thin enough or sing good enough or dance good enough. Just remember you are a g**damn superstar and you were born this way.”

Lady Gaga takes her fans seriously. And watching her fans respond is stunning in the liberation she inspires for them.  Theirs are not screams swooning for the cute boys of bands past, rather these are screams for the affirmation of self. And so the little monsters find full individualistic expression through their original clothing, face paintings, and forms of dancing. They affirm their gayness, their clumsiness, their awkwardness, their shyness.

Which brings us all back to inclusion. In the end, the Inclusion movement is, at its simplest, about the freedom to be us. No pretense. No putdowns. Just full acceptance.

And, in this, we liberate the power of our creative talented selves.

How Pop Culture Helps Normalize the “Other” in Society

by Andrés T. Tapia

times-square-1024x768Pop culture has been on my mind lately as evidenced by my recent blog posts on pop culture icons Archie Comics, Barbie, and Dora the Explorer.

Not only do I love pop culture for it’s own fun sake; but what pop culture does or doesn’t do — and how it does the doing or the not doing — tells us a lot about the state of diversity and inclusion in society. This is because pop culture — the good, the bad, and the ridiculous — is a sign of what has become, is becoming, or could soon become normal in mainstream cultural behavior and beliefs.

Why is this nerdy, unsexy concept of what is considered “normal” in mainstream society so vitally important to the work of diversity and inclusion? It’s because, ultimately, the work of diversity and inclusion entails normalizing what mainstream society considers “other.” Opponents of affirmative action or diversity often attack the work as giving unfair advantage to people due to skin color or some other otherness. In contrast, our message is that we don’t want whatever it is that makes us different to be considered a deficit, an aberration, weird, or not-of-this place. We are not seeking to make difference a super power. We just want to make it normal. Our work is to normalize the difference —to make its presence an accepted part of the social landscape.

And what does normalizing mean? For sure, it does not mean minimizing the differences. Our differences are real, and we must know how to constructively call them out and manage them. Normalizing is about the differences, and the work it requires to make them into just another part of life. They are not impositions that people can choose to ignore. Our work is to make managing diversity as normal as the hard, but important, work of raising children or managing people or having good interpersonal relationships with the people close to us.

So let’s look at my three recent pop culture Inclusion Paradox sightings examples. Not too long ago, gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals were so relegated to the fringes of society as to be invisible. But then in the mid-90s there was Ellen, the first network sitcom with a lesbian main character. The show’s historic 1997 coming out episode, of the character and the actor, moved gay issues into the mainstream, like nothing else before. Pop culture with its glitz, big name advertisers, and in the case of Ellen, great comedic writing, has the power to transform the taboo or marginalized into the “this-is-how-life-is” category.

After the Ellen breakthrough, came other pop culture advances where different shows, artists, and ads rode Ellen’s coattails. So Elton John came out, as did Melissa Etheridge and Ricky Martin. Then Will and Grace arrived with a diversity of gay characters, while Ellen is now a mainstream talk show host. And finally, in the tamest of platforms, the pop culture comic book, Archie, the quintessential purveyor of American mainstream culture, introduces Kevin Keller, Archie Comics’ first openly gay character. This is not just a cute incident. Normalizing events, such as creating a mainstream gay character to hang out with Veronica, Betty, Jughead, and Archie, go a long way to foster a more inclusive environment on the part of the straight community and, as a result, have a positive impact on gay teens, whose current suicide rate is four times higher than that of heterosexuals.

Let’s look at another example: the black Barbie. It used to be that little black girls could only play with white dolls, because there were no black dolls. Now, when I see a little white girl carrying one of the many black or Hispanic or other ethnic dolls available in stores, I know this is progress, even on a doll-house small scale, toward acceptance of the “other” as normal and even desirable. Toy manufacturers are no longer creating such products just for the niche market that can identify with it, but are banking on it being attractive to consumers from other groups.

Finally, there’s Dora the explorer. As we watch the ugly headlines about the shifting winds against the “otherness” of immigrants and, in particular, Latino immigrants, we see Latina Dora enchanting and educating children of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, while Mom sings along. As vicious as the immigration and SB1070 debates are in today’s polarized politics, and as predictable as the backlash toward the outsider becomes in tough economic times, our children will look at the Latinos around them and instead of seeing “aliens,” they will see amigos. That’s the power of Dora. And Barbie and Archie. That’s the power of pop culture.


For the five stages of normalizing otherness, click  here.

Leadership and Diversity Lessons from Obama’s Campaign Trail — Take Five with Betsy Myers

BetsyMyers1Betsy Myers is all about leadership — as a leader herself, most recently as a senior adviser to Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign, as a mentor to many, particularly to women who want to make the world a better place, and as a thinker about effective leadership in the 21st Century.

My team, members of our Women in Leadership governance, and myself recently spent the day with Betsy when she came to Hewitt to speak to us during our Women’s History Month celebration.

As she shared her insights and stories, and she sought out ours, we got to know this extraordinary yet down-to-earth person behind the headlines. As the Obama Campaign’s Chief Operating Officer, she was tasked with the challenge of building a $100M organization, and established the campaign with a business operational model and customer service mentality. Myers also represented the campaign as Chair of Women for Obama. Prior to this she was the Executive Director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and was a senior official in the Clinton Administration. For more background, check out her bio.

Betsy is currently working on a book on leadership that should be out later this year. I could not let her leave us without engaging her in an in-depth conversation that yielded this Take Five.

Take One: What was the most important lesson about diversity and inclusion that you took away from your experience as a leader in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign?

BM: The Obama for America campaign was historic in that the central mission of the campaign was creating opportunities for people to participate and have a voice. Barack Obama took his ideas to the American people and asked for their time, money and vote. He began without a single endorsement from the traditional sources that include members of Congress, governors and constituency groups. He believed that if we created a grassroots organization that allowed “everyone” regardless of age, color, religion, and economics to participate, we would energize the American public. The campaign leveraged a variety of tools, from social media to traditional political door knocking, to reach out to people and invite their participation. What is noteworthy is that this strategy of inclusion encouraged people to have a voice that in turn increased Obama’s voice and allowed him to win the presidency.

Take Two: What do you see as President Obama’s greatest challenge in terms of diversity and inclusion?

Making sure that he stays connected to the American people and continues to hear many voices. Surrounded by staff, press and security, the president lives in a bubble and it is easy to get disconnected from the public. President Obama must allow for time in his schedule where he can actually talk with regular people. The other challenge is to make sure he has a diverse staff around him with new perspectives and ideas, not just the people with whom he is most comfortable.

Take Three: Equipping women for leadership is your passion. How have gender dynamics in business and government changed since the ascent of women such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Gov. Sarah Palin and Xerox CEO Ursula Burns?

Every time a women breaks through the glass ceiling into a traditionally male-dominated field or position, it paves the way for other women as well as bringing new attitudes and comfort levels. President Clinton appointed Madeline Albright as the Secretary of State in early 1997. Since then, only women and people of color have held the prestigious post. Soon, the American public will hardly remember a white male Secretary of State. The key is that these groundbreaking women change the gender dynamics not by their gender alone but by their competency in their positions.

Take Four: When you spoke to us at Hewitt, you emphasized the importance of the new leadership model that is developing in the 21st century. What are the key elements of this new leadership model?

The new model is what we historically considered a more female version of leadership. It emphasizes inclusion, collaboration, listening, and authenticity. What worked in past eras — command and control — no longer works in this new century with a multigenerational workforce. People no longer stay at one company their entire career, so leaders must be more aware of what makes people feel engaged and connected. Today, people want to feel that their work is meaningful and that they have a voice. Technology has changed the way people have a voice and no longer need to ask for permission. Real leaders don’t act like they have all the answers. Instead, they are willing to include their staff and constituents by asking questions.

Take Five:  How ready are corporations and government organizations to nurture a new generation of leaders—and what is at stake for those who do and those who don’t rise to this challenge?

Obviously, some corporations and some government agencies are better equipped than others for this challenge. But historically government has done a better job overall of nurturing diversity and a new generation of leaders than corporate business  has.  Real progress is made when there is commitment from the top by a leader who not only speaks the right words but also supports a program with measurable goals. Diversity of perspectives is the winning edge in this new century for both the public and private sector. Organizations that insist on staffing up with white males only are going will find themselves lagging behind in both profits and ideas.

Seven Inclusion Leadership Lessons in Historic Healthcare Reform

by Andres T. Tapia —

This of course is a tricky blog post to write given the contentious and polarized debate that has ensued in the past year around healthcare reform. It’s tricky because while the politics and policy debates at the heart of what has transpired have dominated the airwaves and blogosphere, as a corporate and modern society anthropologist (which is a large part of what Chief Diversity Officers really are), what interests me is the cultural impact that greater diversity is having on the outcomes that emerge from the current mix of players. And this mix is particularly interesting because in its unprecedented diversity it’s changing the culture in profound ways, hence the subtitle of my book, The Inclusion Paradox: The Obama Era and the Transformation of Global Diversity.leadershipin the 21st Century we can draw from President Barack Obama’s historic achievement after 100 fruitless years of leaders attempting health care reform of this magnitude. And while there are many definitions of leadership, here I am using C. Maxwell’s definition of leadership. Maxwell, a business leader is the author of various books on leadership including The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership where he sums up his definition of leadership as “leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” And for the sake of what? I would add: “to get things done.”

So here I want to explore the lessons for

Make no mistake, regardless of whether one enthusiastically agrees or vehemently disagrees with the healthcare bill and whether it will achieve it’s stated objectives, as much as this is about healthcare, this also about leadership. What follows is an analysis of effective leadership, the ability to influence in order to get things done even in the midst of much division–but  it is not intended to be about debating the particulars of the healthcare vote.  Another caveat is that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also played a vital role in winning the vote, but it is more difficult to draw broadbased leadership principles from her role to share here given the significantly more partisan role she plays.

What does it require to succeed at leading? Here are seven lessons I glean from President Obama’s approach. To make my points, I sometimes use excerpts from his words the night before the vote to those in the House of Representatives who are members of the party he leads:

  1. Be values driven.Candidate and President Obama consistently operated from the following values:- a nation like the US needs to ensure it’s most vulnerable — in this case the sick — are protected not only healthwise but from economic ruin. (And the sick are not  only those with  ailments today, but it could be any one of us at any moment.)- out-of-control rising healthcare costs have to be managed to a sustainable level. And in his final push, President Obama kept coming back to these values as to the why of the effort. 

    “Maybe you’re thinking, Why did I ever get involved in politics in the first place? And maybe things can’t change after all. And when you do something courageous, it turns out sometimes you may be attacked. And sometimes the very people you thought you were trying to help may be angry at you and shout at you. And you say to yourself, maybe that thing that I started with has been lost. But you know what? Every once in a while, every once in a while a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had …And this is one of those moments. This is one of those times where you can honestly say to yourself, doggone it, this is exactly why I came here. This is why I got into politics. This is why I got into public service. This is why I’ve made those sacrifices…. and [why] I’m willing to stand up even when it’s hard, even when it’s tough.”

    Application for us: As a leader, what are those moments for you? In the diversity and inclusion work in your organization, when the slog makes it feel all but impossible, what are the values you can go back to in order to remind you why you got into this work in the first place that can then give you the fortitude to stay the course?

  2. Be in a long-term, sustainable mindset. Thinkers across the political spectrum agree that this was a politically high-risk goal to try to achieve. In the end President Obama explained why he did by quoting Lincoln: “I am not bound to win, but I’m bound to be true. I’m not bound to succeed, but I’m bound to live up to what light I have.” Then more specifically,

    “Without serious reform efforts like this one people’s premiums are going to double over the next five or 10 years…folks are going to keep on getting letters from their insurance companies saying that their premium just went up 40 or 50 percent.”

    Other long-term consequences that have been well documented: in the next 10-15 years another 15-20 million Americans could lose their health insurance because they won’t be able to afford it.

    While some advisors and, of course, opponents were advising that he drop the effort or make the changes incrementally, leader Obama was driven by his belief that the current system was not sustainable and, while the short-term risks were very high politically, the long-term risks for the American economy and Americans were way too high. Politically, if he is right, then the long-term impact will also be beneficial to those with his point of view and beliefs.

    Application for us: As diversity and inclusion leaders we know that the results we want to see are not within reach overnight. And it’s tempting to get the quick win with some visible hire at a senior level. And in the many times it works out, great. But how well are we managing the pipeline of talent, the entry and mid-level positions where it’s going to take 3 to 7 years to see the results of, but if done right, will create the most sustainable strategy for diversity in leadership rather than the current senior talent roulette we all play where we compete for the same talent as we rob Peter to pay Paul.      

  3. Have a heightened focus on results.This requires a great deal of pragmatism and ability to operationalize. Many a leader can extol great sounding strategies, but are they able to give up certain elements for the sake of influencing others to come along. President Obama has taken quite a bit of criticism from members of his own party for perhaps not being true to the totality of his convictions or not being a strong enough leader when he didn’t fall on the sword for certain cherished policy preferences by core members in his own party. His actions reveal a deep seated pragmatic approach of being willing to give up certain aspects of the plan (such as the public option) in order to gain support from enough and for enough to still have a piece of legislation that would bring about change. In this excerpt he implies, that often perfect adherence to theory, ideology, or philosophical stance can undermine any change from taking place.

    “Now, is this bill perfect? Of course not. Will this solve every single problem in our healthcare system right away? No. There are all kinds of ideas that many of you have that aren’t included in this legislation. I know that there has been discussion, for example, of how we’re going to deal with regional disparities and I know that there was a meeting with Secretary Sebelius to assure that we can continue to try to make sure that we’ve got a system that gives people the best bang for their buck. So this is not — there are all kinds of things that many of you would like to see that isn’t in this legislation. There are some things I’d like to see that’s not in this legislation. But is this the single most important step that we have taken on health care since Medicare? Absolutely. Is this the most important piece of domestic legislation in terms of giving a break to hardworking middle class families out there since Medicare? Absolutely. Is this a vast improvement over the status quo? Absolutely.”

    Application for us: In the diversity and inclusion space, where does our idealism get in the way of good enough? Where is it that we can — given budget constraints, leaders that still don’t get it, middle managers that are hard to move on this issue — create pragmatic and tangible enough results that when all added up begin to turn the tide? What are the list of things we are are already doing, that are the successes we are already achieving, that despite how far we may feel we may be from the desired state,  still add up to a significantly better environment and set of opportunities than if nothing had been done at all?
  4. Tap into the transformative force of inclusion. After today 32 million who have not had coverage will be included in the giant pool of the insured and they too can benefit from the entire system pooling the risk so the healthy and the sick can help protect one another. And among the un-insured who will now be covered we have had a crosssection of the US  — white and people of color, low income and middle class. It also includes young people, a generation that has been the most affected by job losses, with their unemployement  rate at over double the national average who now through age 26 will be covered by their parents’ insurance. This is a major inclusion play.

    “But even before this crisis, each and every one of us knew that there were millions of people across America who were living their own quiet crises. Maybe because they had a child who had a preexisting condition and no matter how desperate they were, no matter what insurance company they called, they couldn’t get coverage for that child. Maybe it was somebody who had been forced into early retirement, in their 50s not yet eligible for Medicare, and they couldn’t find a job and they couldn’t find health insurance, despite the fact that they had some sort of chronic condition that had to be tended because somewhere deep in your heart you said to yourself, I believe in an America in which we don’t just look out for ourselves, that we don’t just tell people you’re on your own, that we are proud of our individualism, we are proud of our liberty, but we also have a sense of neighborliness and a sense of community and we are willing to look out for one another and help people who are vulnerable and help people who are down on their luck and give them a pathway to success and give them a ladder into the middle class. That’s why you decided to run.”

    Application for us: the greater the diversity that comes into your organization’s doors, and the more benefits policies or advancement processes continue to exclude them, the more the pressure will build to challenge a system that perpetuates marginalization. The message is simple and compelling. When we don’t include all in the benefits of being part of the overall society or organizations, the cost is not just to the marginalized but the dislocations caused by keeping so many out start to spill out into the entire organization.

  5. The bottom up is as important as the top down. Like he did in his campaign not only did Barack Obama work top down through the House and Senate leadership including attempting to do so with the Republicans, he also directly reached out to normal citizens through dozens of healthcare town halls, several healthcare rallies in the final weeks before the bill’s passage, through Tweets and through email. He led the effort to mobilize hundreds of thousands to express their support. To be sure, so did the opposition– and the grassroots, bottom-up energy on both sides has been a significant part of the debate as difficult and painful as the debate got.  Leadership, both sides of the debate realized, require tending to and giving voice to the bottom up. And it does make a difference on results. Application for us: As a diversity and inclusion leader, how much are you tapping your affinity groups to not just have them be social gatherings but to be forces for change? How are you giving voice to their marginal voices so that their experience in the organization can be heard and their unique insights  into what would create greater inclusion can be translated into policies and culture change? How much does their unique perspective into diverse ways of thinking is being captured in terms of enhancing their company’s products and services in order to grow their markets as they pursue tapping the growing diverse marketplace? 
  6. Be relentless. From his critics on the left to the right there is one thing they agree on and that is that President Obama showed resilience in living up to what he said were his agenda priorities. In a short-term focused society this is quite remarkable.  A year of painful, and protracted debates in congressional chambers and on the streets, even after a big political setback like the result of the Massachusetts election to replace the deceased Senator Edward Kennedy that broke the Democrat’s filibuster proof majority, when most commentators were saying healthcare reform was DOA, the president continued soldiering on. Part of being relentless is not just  to persevere but also to keep adapting one’s approach as one discovers what is not working and trying something new again and again until it works. And given the withering criticism, the sagging poll numbers, President Obama’s relentlessness driven by his convictions (and some say his will to survive politically) kept pressing on and calling those on his political side to stand fast.

    Application for us: As a D&I leader where it that you continue to show relentlessness? where is it that you feel your stamina is flagging? What do you need to not give up on? How do you draw from your values, from the results achieved so far by others before you and due to your own work to persevere? 
  7. Be inspirational. It’s not about being inspirational for inspiration’s sake, but the truer, more profound way to inspire is to effectively perform the other six principles here. Nothing is more inspiring that hearing a leader have a vision and then be successful at bringing about change. It’s easy to pinpoint what is wrong, ten thousand times more difficult to implement a solution. But to be able to bring about change where in 100 years other presidents have not able to, is in the end, what counts when it comes to leadership.

    Application for us: What is the historical organizational moment you are in terms of diversity? What will you do to seize that moment to bring about change.  


Ten Ways the World Has Been Turned Upside Down: Part 1

by Andrés T. Tapia —

Though the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman argues that the world is flat, I say the world is not flat–it’s upside down.  Daily, even hourly, we feel the aftershocks at work.  Changes of historic proportions are transforming the economic, political and social landscapes in which we do business. Here are five of the Top Ten transformations:
#1 In many parts of the US, to be a minority is to be a majority. Texas, California, New Mexico, Hawaii and the District of Columbia are all now what census experts call  “minority-majority,” a term used to describe an area whose  composition is less than 50% Caucasian. In addition, the percentage of non-Hispanic white residents has fallen below 60% in Maryland, Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, New York and Mississippi.

#2 To be an economic superpower is to be a declining power. The US is still the world’s only economic superpower–but it is a superpower in decline. In World War for Wealth: The Global Grab for Power and Prosperity, Gabor Steingart discusses how the rise of developing countries, especially in Asia, has led to a decline of the US national economy that many blue- and white-collar workers experience as absolute. They possess less money, they are shown less respect in society and their chances for climbing up the social ladder have deteriorated dramatically.

#3 To be a developing country is to be an ascending country. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, the fastest growing economies in the world are located in developing countries–mainly  in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

#4 To be young is to be experienced. As I discuss in The Inclusion Paradox, for Millennials the upside-down world is right-side-up because it’s what they grew up with. Experience and knowledge are no longer correlated with age; they show up to work  iPoded, cell-phoned, globally traveled, socially networked and ready to multi-task–often more technically equipped for today’s workplace than people twice their age.

#5 The US has an African American president. The election of Barack Obama was a defining moment that captured both metaphorically and literally the zeitgeist of the times. That’s why my book, subtitled The Obama Era and the Transformation of Global Diversity, uses Obama’s statements and election as a canvas for exploring our current cultural change.

Later this week I’ll be offering five more ways businesses are finding that the world is upside down. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter, where this countdown first appeared in abbreviated form.

Diversity Justice: Hope for When Despair Is Deep

This Monday, January 18th, 2009, in commemoration of his birthday and holiday, millions will hear excerpts from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” — the most well-known of his many memorable and civilization changing utterances. In the spirit of broadening our exposure to his other messages, I have chosen to highlight a different speech, one that is less about an inspiring vision of the future, which is what his Dream Speech is about, with one about perseverance and hope when that vision feels so far out of reach. Timely in 1964, timely in 2010.

This extended excerpt is from Martin Luther King’s Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech , awarded in 1964.  (Full speech at the link.)

Early in his speech, he states, very much like President Barack Obama would state a generation later about the same prize he received in 2009, “I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle; to a movement which has not won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize.” See here for his answer to his own question and his message for us today.

I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when twenty-two million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice. I accept this award in behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice.

I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs and even death. I am mindful that only yesterday in Philadelphia, Mississippi, young people seeing to secure the right to vote were brutalized and murdered. And only yesterday more than 40 houses of worship in the State of Mississippi alone were bombed or burned because they offered a sanctuary to those who would not accept segregation.

Therefore, I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle; to a movement which has not won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize.

After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time — the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.

Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.

If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love. The tortuous road which has led from Montgomery, Alabama, to Oslo bears witness to this truth. This is a road over which millions of Negroes are traveling to find a new sense of dignity.

This same road has opened for all Americans a new ear of progress and hope. It has led to a new Civil Rights bill, and it will, I am convinced, be widened and lengthened into a superhighway of justice as Negro and white men in increasing numbers create alliances to overcome their common problems therefore I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him.

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsom in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.

I believe that even amid today’s motor bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land.

“And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.”

I still believe that we shall overcome.

In honor of Dr. King’s message and work, form whihc we have all benefited frm, may we, commit to still beleive that we shall overcome.

And don’t wait for the govnerment, or the not-for-profit, or religious institations to make the change. What can you do, right now, to make this a better world?

Is a Post-racial Society Possible? Lessons from South Africa

by Andrés T. Tapia –

As Invinctus, the inspiring movie about racial reconciliation in South Africa draws in millions of viewers, fifteen years after that country elected Nelson Mandela as its first Black president in a transcendental election with a historical backdrop primarily shaped by racial conflict, what has changed? what hasn’t? What lessons may this hold for the US which had its own transcendental racial moment with the election of Barack Obama in 2008?

Let’s look at some South African poll results first:

Note the bifurcated response.  The 50% is exceptionally good news. Given the horror of apartheid and that most adults today lived through its polarizing effects – either as those dehumanized or as those who benefited from the system – it is remarkable that half the respondents feel race relations have improved.

However, there is still the other half who either does not believe they have improved or in fact believe they have gotten worse.

“Income inequality remains among the worst in the world,” reports the New York Times. 29% of black are unemployed, compared with 5% of whites.

Another marker to add to the case by the half who believe race relations have not improved or have gotten worse, is that a divisive commemoration remains alive and well. It is the Day of the Vow on December 16th, when the Afrikaners, the descendants of the Dutch settlers in South Africa who instituted apartheid, marked a covenant said to be made between their ancestors in God in 1838  that led to the slaughter of 3,000 Zulus.  It is the same day that Blacks had used to commemorate the start of the armed struggle against the apartheid regime.

Given this history, when Mandela was president his government proclaimed December 16th as the Day of Reconciliation, a time for all races to come in together. Despite this,  the Day of the Vow still is celebrated by thousands.

Nevertheless, as a counterpoint, millions now celebrate the Day of Reconciliation throughout South Africa.

Lessons applicable to the US in the Obama Era?

Social change moves like a bell curve along a spectrum of attitudes. The  transformation of racial attitudes does not happen all at once and even as it moves along toward more positive attitudes over time, not all attitudes change. In fact some will harden, But, and this is key, the middle of the bell curve – the mainstream – does move toward greater acceptance and reconciliation. Still, a significant percentage remains entrenched in the legacy racial paradigm.

In addition, turns out that the work of reconciliation is so hard, particularly in the midst of economic challenges, that the transcendental ballot box moment that seemed to hold so much promise for change cannot address structural issues quickly.  As society experiences the differences between transcendence and magic, the disillusionment likely sets in.

It’s what’s happened in South Africa.

The end of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela did spur a wave of optimism in the country among a majority of South Africans but over the past 15 years the trend lines of optimism about the future of the country across all racial groups has trended downward as economy growth stagnates and intractable issues of poverty remain. A vast majority, when looking back, still prefer the new new democracy over a nation governed by racial oppression. And a significant percentage of Blacks now are in power positions in government and business they never would have been in under apartheid. But despite the progress and the dismantling of an unsustainable and immoral governing model, the frustration exists that the new has not been more transformative in the lives of ordinary citizens.

Be on the lookout for South Africa and its racial history to be in the news quite a bit as the soccer 2010 World Cup takes place for the first time ever in an African country. It promises to be a boost to South African optimism, but a rolling ball a nation does not transform.

What other lessons do you think South Africa’s racial history has for diversity and inclusion management? How can we embed these concepts into diversity training and strategy?

Race and Society: The Science of How We See Obama’s Skin Color

There is no question that in the Obama Era, new conversations around and about race are taking place. But as many attitudes change, others may be more unchanged than we would like to admit. See what you think about this study as reported in Newsweek (“The Science of How We See Obama’s Skin Color“) on the intersection of political views, perceptions of President Obama’s policies, and skin color. In this black and white issue, many shades of gray.

What the Obama and Palin Phenomena Say about American Culture

by Andrés T. Tapia –

goingrougeWith cultural and political phenomenon Sarah Palin’s current multi-city bus tour publicising her recently published memoir, Going Rogue: An American Life, it’s a good time to relook at what the Obama and Palin phenomena say about current American culture and the state of diversity. Palin’s large crowds in Borders bookstores in medium and small towns highlight that competing worldviews are pressing against each other in the diversity era that made President Obama possible which Barack Obama captured in his own memoir, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.

Dreams from my fatherAs the blogosphere and talk radio on the left and right keep the volume turned up, and as the media obsesses on the horse-race of who’s winning and losing in opinion polls and elections, there’s a deeper story underneath the made-for-YouTube accusations that get Twitted by the minute by both sides. Whether the debate be healthcare, the economy, Afghanistan, and on, what’s at play are competing worldview visions of what it means to be an American.

The answer to this debate is not only essential for life in the USA but also for the US’s role in an increasingly global economy. 

Some reflections on the U.S.’s current cultural paradox.

The Obama and Palin visions offer very different mythologies about American identity in the face of an upside down world (for a global context, see excerpt from chapter 1 of The Inclusion Paradox,An Upside-Down World“). The archetypes facing off are urban, diverse, communal, and global on the one hand and rural, homogeneous, individualistic, and parochial on the other.

In  order to find a way through to inclusion, as a diversity expert I seek to understand what drives the conflicting perspectives of different sides. The cyber shouting during the election and which has continued unabated since then question the very humanness of the other side. The heated debate reveals a fear that one vision of America will prevail over the other. Partisans on both sides claim to speak for the “real America.”

To try to understand what’s going on, I’ve been tracing my own journey through these competing views of America. Even though I grew up in Lima, Peru, my biographical trajectories have had me crisscross the United States. My American mom gave me family roots in a tiny white rural town called Harrington, 50 miles west of Spokane in the western frontier state of Washington. My German-American wife hails from the evangelical heart of Kansas. And I now live in multicultural, urbane Chicago.

Rugged Frontier and Vibrant City
Visiting my American grandparents Freida and Brownie Graham as a kid entailed traveling through a cultural worm hole that took me from the chaotic streets of Third World Lima to the tranquil wheat fields of Harrington. As I stepped into this Norman Rockwell America with my darker skin and the heavy accent of my youth, I experienced the America of the rugged individual, master of one’s own domain. Paradoxically, it was also a tightly-knit community of 500 that jointly experienced the yearly rituals of the town’s Turkey Gobble Pancake Breakfast, the Lilac Parade, and wheat harvest.

I marveled at 13-year-olds getting to drive trucks along massive John Deere harvesters and then careen into the town’s wheat grain exchange, with harvested grain brimming over the truck bed. Then after harvest, hanging out on hot lazy afternoons at Mini Falls chewing on tall sun-baked prairie grass.

But something terrible has happened. My nostalgic memories of Main Street in Harrington and stocking up on a week’s supply of candy at the local drugstore, grabbing spare parts for my grandpa’s weed control pick-up truck at the hardware store, and going to the Challenger Cafe with him for chili can’t be confirmed by a visit anymore. Today the drug and hardware store as well as the Challenger Cafe are gone. Agribusiness has bought out several of the family-owned farms and people have moved to the cities. Towns 30 miles away need to combine their school sports programs in order to field enough kids for a basketball squad. Even the friends I made during those childhood visits, Linda and Ron, who are third-generation farmers, have a brooding sense that family farming is coming to an end and are encouraging their two college-aged daughters to seek livelihoods elsewhere.

As attractive as this lifestyle is for millions of Americans, the American mythology as represented by Palin is facing the rising waters of change that are turning land mass into islands. It is no coincidence that the Palin mythology has come forth from America’s final frontier, Alaska.

But American cities are facing their own days of reckoning. The glitz and rapid pace of New York and Los Angeles, their mythologies of America glorified by Hollywood blockbusters and embraced by “I Love New York” bumper stickers, have taken devastating blows. New York’s mystique and invulnerability took its first hit with the crumbling of the Twin Towers and suffered another crippling blow with the humiliation of Wall Street. American financial hegemony is over. In the same way that family farms ceded economic ownership to big business, economic ownership has shifted en masse to Middle Eastern, Indian, and Chinese hands. Hollywood is losing ground to Bollywood. Residents in New Orleans and Galveston are still picking up the pieces of their lives obliterated by storms that have names but no mercy.

Both American mythologies –- Rugged Frontier and Vibrant City — have been tarnished. Yet the 2008 presidential election breathed new life into both of them. The battles lines were such that one got the sense that only one could survive. In the blogosphere, “arugula-eating” and “moose-hunting” became the shorthands for mutual disdain.

The Real Americans
So who then are the real Americans?

As I think of this nation I have crisscrossed from sea to shining sea, here’s what I believe. It’s my 92-year-old grandmother in a nursing home in Washington. It’s the Wall Street whiz kid who lost her job at Lehman. It’s the Alaska boy who loves ice fishing. It’s the hip-hop breakdancer on Chicago’s South Side. The tiara-decked girl at her quinceañera. The Torah-reciting boy at his bar mitzvah. It’s the AmeriCorps teacher in El Paso. It’s moms and dads making peanut butter sandwiches, my Peruvian high-school mate Luis who on 9/11 said, “Today I became an American.” It’s my wife Lori’s Oklahoma cattle ranching relatives who emailed us their deepest fears about the man with a Muslim name. It’s me. It’s Palin and it’s Obama. And the people they represent.

What does it mean to be an American?

Essayist Richard Rodriguez has written that the idea of America is that it is a place where one can re-invent him or herself. Where our destiny is not fixed. Right now I believe the task is not an individual reinvention but a collective one.

Tumultuously, adolescent America is coming into adulthood. As we often remind our 18-year-old about her own life, Americans must now make good, mature choices. Much is at stake. And in society, and in our workplaces, we can continue to pursue divisiveness or we can choose to do the very, very, hard — but healing work — of inclusiveness.


– Andrés Tapia is the author of The Inclusion Paradox: The Obama Era and the Transformation of Global Diversity and chief diversity officer at Hewitt Associates.

A version of this article written by the author first appeared in the New America Media.

Inclusion Paradox Sighting: One Year Anniversary of Obama’s Election — A Tale to Counter a Polarized Environment

Today, on the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama’s election, the blogs, print media, and cable TV will explore ad infinitum the myriad implications of that watershed historical event. While the political ramifications on all sides of the ideological spectrum are fascinating, in this blog and in The Inclusion Paradox my interest is in exploring the cultural implications of his historic election.

And so my reflection on today’s one-year marking is on one of the eight cultural  implications of the Obama Era I write about in the book: inclusion is a transformative force.

While politics by nature is contentious, and when done constructively, the debate is healthy, it’s easy for the honest disagreements to devolve into demonization of the other. In these moments of judgmentalism it’s good to have a vision of what inclusion can look like when, despite our many differences, we find a way to connect with one another. Here’s a story told by candidate Obama as part of his definitive speech on race in the U.S. that captures that spirit.

A Story of Why
by Senator Barack Obama
an excerpt from “A More Perfect Union” speech
Constitution Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
March 18, 2008

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war.

He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.” ■

Home page introduction

The Inclusion Paradox: The Obama Era
and the Transformation of Global Diversity
a new book by Andrés Tapia, points the
way to the next generation of diversity work. 

The Inclusion Paradox breaks ground in challenging the notion that the melting pot leads to inclusion and that current best practices will be enough to achieve breakthrough. It explores what the next generation of global diversity work demands today in the context of an upside down world where the economic, cultural, political, and workforce order is undergoing fundamental changes.  Read more about the book.


What is the Inclusion Paradox?

“In order to have true inclusion, rather than assuming similarity, we need to know how to constructively call out our differences.”