Diversity of One

by Andrés T. Tapia –DiversityBusPeople.dreamstime_xs_54345011

(The following article was originally published in the Korn Ferry Briefings on Talent & Leadership.)

As minorities become majorities, organizations must rethink the conventional dimensions of identity and inclusiveness.

Deep in the pristine laboratories of pharma giant Roche in Basel, Switzerland, molecular scientists are experimenting with and achieving breakthroughs on a new understanding of diversity. Not that they would characterize their quest for blockbuster designer drugs in terms of understanding diversity. But their work is now guided by a scientifically evolved understanding that human beings are so genetically diverse that the future of curative and palliative care lies in moving away from the manufacture of mass-application drugs, in favor of drugs that are personalized to each individual patient’s chromosomal profile. In their parlance, this is “precision medicine”—in essence, it is individualized medicine.

What the scientists are witnessing at the genetic level is also taking place in society. Demographic changes have been so massive in the past generation—in nearly every country in the world—that while diversity is more relevant than ever, the way we think about it is obsolete. The stalwart paradigms of group identity based only on race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or disability no longer cover the scope of our multidimensional identities. No one is just black. Or Latino. Or female. Or gay. Or blind. We are much more complex than that. We have entered the age of ultradiversity.

This ultradiversity leads to intersected identities such as GayVeteranXer. Or an ElderlyPersonwithaDisability. Or a MillennialIntrovertedFemaleManager. Or a BoomerAfricanAmericanGeneralManagerMalewithAdultKids. Or a LesbianSingleMother.

Or …

In this era, we need to invent “precision talent” strategies applying principles analogous to what pharmacologists are doing with drugs. We must be ready to address the “Diversity of One.”

But there is a counter-force that seeks to minimize differences. The intentions may be benevolent or sinister, but either way they have a damaging effect on societal wellness as well as talent strategies. If we ignore the reality that these differences exist and are only getting more complex, and that they must therefore be addressed, we will contribute to mounting social and work force pressures. Think #Ferguson#BlackLivesMatter. #ArabSpring. #GlassCeiling. #HigherTurnover.

As we grapple with Diversity of One, we must rethink basic assumptions about diversity. What does “minority” mean when “minorities” are majorities? What does it mean that those who are young have more experience with the supernova-hot trends of digitization, social media, and globalization than 25-year careerists do? What does it mean that it’s still a “man’s world” when two-thirds of undergraduates in the U.S. are women and by 2025 in the U.K., for example, women are expected to possess 60 percent of all personal wealth? What does “disability” mean when there are plentiful examples of people with disabilities outperforming those who are supposedly able-bodied? What does it mean to be “closeted” in sexual orientation when Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, the biggest, most valuable and arguably most influential company in our daily lives, comes out as a gay man? Or that the president of the United States is biracial?

The answers to these questions also challenge many current talent strategies that are failing to address the implications of ultradiversity. Let’s look at some of these new aspects of diversity within three well-established dimensions (race/ethnicity, gender, and disability) and what new and innovative human capital strategies are needed to address them. These then can serve as templates for exploring the implications for a much broader set of diversity issues such as globalism, nationality, faith, generational thinking styles and personality, to name just a few.


Coming Out Is About More Than Being LGBT

by Andrés T. Tapia –

In recognition of National Coming Out Day, my thoughts about diversity and inclusion and those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender were published by the Huffington Post.

To be out or not to be out: a difficult, often agonizing decision that those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) must grapple with continually.

Recent events would lead us to believe it’s safer to be out today than it was in the past. Last year’s implementation of the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military and the increasing number of states recognizing marriage equality are just a couple of landmark societal shifts. Nevertheless, despite this progress, bigotry and discrimination endure, and fear of judgment or rejection still prompts many to keep their LGBT identities hidden.

In fact, a 2011 survey by the Center for Work-Life Policy revealed that 48 percent of LGBT workers do not feel free to be out at work. This comes at great personal cost, and it robs organizations of getting the best contributions from their LGBT talent, because closeted employees must divert a substantial amount of their creative and emotional energy toward obscuring and deflecting a fundamental aspect of their identity. Pronoun minefields must be navigated, weekend-plan conversations must be repositioned, and preferred ways of expression must be curtailed. So energy-draining is this closeted existence that LGBT employees who are not out report significantly greater feelings of being stalled in their careers and greater dissatisfaction with their rates of promotion and advancement. They are 40-percent less likely than those who are out to trust their employers and 73-percent more likely to leave their companies within the next three years.

In my work as a diversity practitioner and as president of Diversity Best Practices, I’ve seen companies pay a heavy productivity cost due to this disengagement. Closeted behaviors — and the noninclusive work environments that induce them — not only drag down workers’ spirits, but they hinder companies’ productivity. This is one of the big messages of National Coming Out Day, which is on Oct. 11.

On this day, thanks to the LGBT community, we have the opportunity to raise a banner on behalf of everyone who feels that they must hide who they are. While not presuming any equivalency in the ways people address their hidden differences, people with hidden disabilities, for example, often weigh whether they should reveal what makes them different from their colleagues. The same goes for caregivers of people with disabilities; parents who have created families through adoption, surrogacy, or other nontraditional methods; introverts who have to fake it to succeed in a world that values extroversion; etc. As we can see, there are many people limiting their potential because they don’t feel free to be who they truly are at work.

The LGBT community has led the way in illustrating both the impact of not being out and the power of being out. It’s our differences that make us stronger and the world we live in better. The way forward is to recognize that coming out isn’t just about the individual. The environment we create affects the coming-out experience and, for many, the decision of whether to come out at all. This is particularly true in the workplace. Unless there is an inclusive work environment (for example, one where LGBT employees feel free to put pictures of their partners on their desks, disabled employees feel free to discuss the help they need in addressing their disabilities, and introverted employees feel free to reveal their preferred introverted ways of sharing key insights), employees will continue to check an essential part of themselves at the door each day when they show up for work.

On this Coming Out Day, ask yourself: Where is it that you are complicit — in your language or silence, behaviors or inaction — in keeping people, including yourself, in the closet? It’s time to stop being bystanders and start pressing more forcefully for nurturing, welcoming environments that draw people out of their closets. And for those who are feeling trapped, as these environments begin to change, it’s time for the courage to push the door open from the inside and step out of the shadows.

Alzheimer’s and the Basketball Coach

by Andrés T. Tapia –Alzheimers Concept

She has won more basketball games than any other Division I coach – male or female. And with plenty of more wins still in her sights, the legendary University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt was recently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She is 59 years old.

How much our lives and careers can change suddenly and without warning. In the turn of a moment, anyone can become disabled. Yet many are able and willing to remain productive. Coach Summitt is one of those.

But Summitt is up against formidable odds. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million people in the United States have the disease — including 200,000 younger than 65 — and it is the sixth-leading cause of death in the country. Every 69 seconds, another American is diagnosed with this disease. There is no cure and treatment involves managing the disease’s symptoms

Here is Coach Summitt’s video statement about her condition.

According to a Washington Post article, Summitt’s coaching assistants will take on more of the day-to-day and game-day coaching responsibilities, as her role will transition into more of function of leading and teaching.

As sad as this news may seem, Summitt said, “There’s not going to be any pity party, and I’ll make sure of that. I feel better just knowing what I’m dealing with. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s not going to keep me from living my life, not going to keep me from coaching.” She made these remarks in an interview with The Knoxville News Sentinel.

Living her life is important for Summitt and for the 16 million Americans who are projected to get the disease by 2050. Societies across the globe will have to adjust to the increasing numbers of seniors with Alzheimer’s as its toll hits family and governmental budgets. For instance, the cost of caring for people with Alzheimer’s will be $183 billion in 2011, an $11 billion increase over 2010. These figures don’t include the $203 billion in value of the unpaid care provided by family members and friends.

Employers will have to figure out how to deal with the increasing number of employees who are diagnosed with the disease or those who are also caregivers for affected seniors. Some victims, like Pat Summitt, will be able to continue working for a while. Others may have to resort to various public or private programs for their care. That’s the financial side of the ledger, but all of us are more than our ability to make a living.

In the Lisa Genova novel, Still Alice, readers follow the decline of Alice, a Harvard professor with early onset Alzheimer’s. Told from Alice’s perspective, the novel illustrates how everyone around the person with the disease has to adjust to the disease — her family, friends, and employer.

Alzheimer’s disease, like many other disabilities, is an illness that no one really likes to think about. It’s scary and much too real of a possibility. It attacks the very concept of who we are and ultimately robs its victims of their identities and sense of purpose. This fact was brought home by a group of homeowners in Minnesota who vehemently opposed an assisted living center that specialized in caring for people with Alzheimer’s. More than the angry opponents realized, their fury did not hide their fears. Yet facing the possibility of Alzheimer’s enables us to face the eventuality of the disability, should it come to that, and to be better prepared to adapt and adjust.

Neither Summitt, nor her doctors or colleagues can predict how the disease will play out in her life. However, Summitt has committed to play it out to the final buzzer.

The Senses of It All: New Insights on Disability Diversity (Sidebar)

accessibilityMy visit to Serasa Experian  that prompted the blog post, “The Senses of It All: The Blind Proofreader and Other Remarkable Stories of Normalcy,” led me to some new insights on disability diversity:

  • The Best Advocates for those with Disabilities Are those with Disabilities
  • Until There Is a Compliance Mandate, Nothing Moves
  • Everyone Needs Accommodation

The Best Advocates for those with Disabilities Are those with Disabilities
It’s so easy for sensitive and inclusive diversity practitioners to not forget to include “disability” in the laundry list of diversity issues that must be addressed. But how well do we, plus business and HR leaders and managers, truly know how to best meet their needs? My sensory disorientation during my lunch time conversation with Felipe, Diego, and João was indicative of my being blind to the subtle needs of those who couldn’t see and unable to truly listen for the needs of those who couldn’t hear.

For the organizational gyroscope on disability inclusion to be properly calibrated it’s vital to have a leader or change agent involved who also has a disability to ensure the readings of the visible and invisible oscillations are true and helpful to navigate through them. It’s no surprise then that under a diversity leader with a disability such as João, that Serasa Experian’s has become a benchmark for best practices for creating inclusion for salaried professionals with a disability.

The Environment Has to Be Deliberately Nurtured So All Can Collaborate in Creating Inclusion for those with Disabilities
To break bread over a meal is always a choreography as we sit, serve, chew, talk, listen, gesture, sip, swallow. Food is cut, drink is poured. Plates, cups, silverware, napkins come and go throughout the various courses. Our hands and arms poke, slice, bob, weave, undulate as we intermingle conversation with consumption. The choreography then becomes much more complex as a deaf, blind, quad, and clueless guy sit down to for white bean soup, sole, and filet mignon.

And here’s where waiters in the Serasa Experian dining room sprung into action. Without missing a beat, they joined the dance in anticipatory ways as they put placemats, salt and pepper shakers, glasses within the reach of the one who has blind, at times guiding his hands toward the desired object, ensuring line of sight with the one who was deaf so he could read their lips, cutting the meat into bite size pieces for easy access. Conversely, as tuned in as the waiters were to the special needs they needed to tend to as part of their job, the executives at the neighboring table carried on with their business, not in a oblivious or neglectful way, but rather in a casual way that indicated that the extraordinary choreography nearby was an ordinary part of life at the company.

This scene did not happen by happenstance. It is the result of an explicit, deliberate strategy that has been well communicated and where all employees have been properly oriented to best create an inclusive environment for those with disabilities.

Until There Is a Compliance Mandate, Nothing Moves
As much as Serasa Experian is a values-driven organization that believes in diversity, inclusion, and the financial power of having an engaged workforce, the catalyst for their extraordinary story around disability diversity was the law that set a quota for the percentage of people with a disability that should make up Brazilian companies’ workforces. It was in response to this that they brought in João who then had the powerful combination of a compliance mandate plus a leadership team that wanted to go beyond doing just enough.

And here’s a telling contrast between disability-related laws passed in Brazil and in the US, not only how compliance brings about change, but also on how the law is framed impacts the outcomes. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) focused on accessibility and accommodation. But unlike Brazilian law, it did not address representation. At its core it was about mandating that companies be appropriately proactive in creating architectural accessibility to anyone who may show up on public sidewalks, lobbies, hallways, and restrooms so that those with disabilities could get around. It also mandated that reactively accommodations be made to enable someone with a disability to do their job.

So with this compliance framing, the US ends up with wheelchair accessible buildings and handicapped parking sprouting up systematically throughout the country yet not with very many people with disabilities in the workplace.

Conversely, through compliance Brazil chose to emphasize representation but not so much accommodation in public spaces. And guess what? Brazil ends up with a much better workplace representation story but poor accessibility of public spaces.

Everyone Needs Accommodation
As I heard the stories of Nancy, Diego, Felipe, Lais, João and observed their working environment it reinforced for me that in this upside down world we need to redefine what we need disabled and accommodation and instead talk about being differently abled.

Before I elaborate, let me insert this caveat: In making the point that follows, I do not intend to equate all limitations as being equality difficult or easy or equally costly or painful. Rather I suggest that instead of looking at this as being an either/or of being able bodied or having a disability that we instead look at the issue as a continuum.

So back to my point. I see organizations and society resisting proactive and reactive accommodation because of cost and inconvenience, But let’s get some perspective about what accommodation really is. Because don’t we all, in one way or another require some form of accommodation? And are there are myriad ways in which society, the workplace, those around us accommodate our needs without question? So why should we suddenly question request or needs that may be less common but are just a serious and important as those we address without question.

Walk with me through this thought process. We can’t be in two places at once so we need telephones. We are limited in how much we can handwrite so we have devices with keyboards.. We are limited in how many tasks we can tend to so we need administrative assistants. We don’t work very well when its too hot or too cold so we need heating and air conditioning. We can get physically I’ll so we need healthcare coverage. Most of us aren’t inheritors of wealth so we need retirement savings benefits. We can’t work without resting so we need breaks during the work day and weekends every 5 days, and vacations at least once a year. We need to find babysitters so we get childcare referrals on the web. We have bodies that get fatigued and need the proper support so we have ergonomically sound chairs.

So how is this any different from the reality of a having some form of disability? In essence all things above have to do with an element of limitation of the human body and mind. We are always providing accommodation to all types. Those with disability at some level have the same need to address some physical or mental limitation that may be less prevalent than, say. our susceptibility to hot or cold. Addressing disability is simply providing what workers need to be as efficient and effective as possible and with their talents have the best chance to come out flush for the sake of the organization and the individuals.

The Senses of It All: The Blind Proofreader and Other Remarkable Stories of Normalcy

by Andrés T. Tapia

The author surrounded by remarkable stories of career normalcy. (Left to right) Engineer Felipe Trigueros, Journalist Nancy Galvão, Marketing Assistant Diego de Castro, Proofreader Laís Kari, Psychologist Priscila Neves, (seated) Anthropologist and Diversity Leader João Ribas.

The author surrounded by remarkable stories of career normalcy. (Left to right) Engineer Felipe Trigueros, Journalist Nancy Galvão, Marketing Assistant Diego de Castro, Andrés Tapia, Proofreader Laís Kari, Psychologist Priscila Neves, (seated) Anthropologist and Diversity Leader João Ribas.

SÃO PAOLO — My synapses were crossed. In the executive dining room, engineer Felipe Trigueros could not hear me because he is deaf, so I turned to face marketing assistant Diego de Castro who could. But it was Felipe who needed me to look at him so he could read my lips while Diego couldn’t even tell which way I was facing. Then Diego turns to Felipe to say in Portuguese what I had just said in a combination of English and Spanish. But why was Diego soundlessly mouthing the words rather than speaking aloud? Oh, yeah, duh, Felipe is deaf!

A little later a sign language interpreter comes in to further facilitate the conversation for Felipe’s benefit, particularly as I am asking questions of my new acquaintances. But after a few communication gestures he stops and Diego picks up again with the silent mouthing. I don’t get it. Oh, yeah, duh, the interpreter is a Brazilian Sign Language interpreter and we are all mostly talking in English!

So let me back up. I’m at Serasa Experian, a leading Brazilian global information services company, at the invitation of their diversity leader, João Baptista Ribas. I had met João and his boss, Tomás Carmona, the head of Sustainable Development, on a previous visit. On that trip I learned how Serasa Experian’s holistic diversity and inclusion strategy had the its start in disability due to the need to respond to a law passed in 2003 that required companies in Brazil to have, depending on their employee size, anywhere from 2-5% of workers with disability.  How different to the genesis of holistic diversity in the US which has had its start in race and gender.  João, who has paraplegia due to a congenital malformation and is in a wheelchair, was hired to lead that effort. Once he had implemented what is a truly groundbreaking approach with salaried professionals with disabilities he has been building out the more comprehensive diversity and inclusion efforts.

The first time around João and Tomás had shared their holistic diversity strategies with me and sought my reactions. On this visit we were going to dive specifically into their disability diversity work by, most importantly, meeting and having in-depth discussions with the talent with disabilities Serasa Experian had hired. Joining João, Felipe, and Diego in the conversation were Nancy Galvão who is a journalist and whose right hand withered when she contracted polio, and Laís Kari, who is a proofreader and blind — yes she is, and is among Serasa Experian’s best doing that kind of work.

These individuals were not the token representatives of disability diversity. As I walked the hallways later I met and saw dozens of employees in wheelchairs, dozens who were blind, dozens who were deaf, carrying about the business of accounting, programming, writing, marketing, etc. It was extraordinary in its ordinariness.

What unfolded during the conversation was a narrative about the intersection of disability with identity, prejudice, humanity, career, autonomy, freedom, and ambition. Some highlights, first about their own experiences and beliefs and then some new thoughts they triggered for me:


Autonomy and Independence Is the Greatest Desire; Freedom the Greatest Outcome
Whether in words or in their stories, Felipe, Diego, Nancy, Laís, and João said the same thing: for those with disabilities, autonomy and independence which lead to freedom to pursue their goals are their greatest desire and what they pursue relentlessly.

Of course, they avail themselves to technology such as the cochlear implant, the screen reader that magnifies text on computer screens, the TDD telephone, as well as other support mechanisms such as the sight dog, the translators, ramps, and doors that always open outwardly. Explains João, “People say ‘poor you, confined to a wheelchair.’ But they don’t understand. I’m not confined. Rather, my wheelchair means freedom.”

“When my hand withered due to polio,” says Nancy, the writer, “my mom wanted to kill me and herself. But I wanted to be a journalist. People said that I couldn’t, because I was the one with the disability, the poor little one. Today I earn more money than any two-armed person in my family and I think I can say I am one of the happiest.”

Laís picks up on this narrative, “The attitude on the part of society is ‘No walk. No study. No work.’”  But each of these professionals has ambitions as big and mundane as any able bodied person’s. Felipe has sought career advancement and gotten it, having been promoted three times in 2009 and 2010.

“One of my dreams has always been to go to university,” says Diego who started to go blind just five years ago. “I wanted to have a house and a family and I was not going to let my going blind stop that.” He can now scratch these three items off his to-do list and he’s ready to add a couple of new ones: go to business school and become a leader within the company.

Work Is Empowering and Humanizing
“When you don’t have a job you don’t feel like a human being,” says Laís. “And it’s not just about the money. It’s also about making friends, and discovering things about yourself you did not know you could do. And it’s also about our families changing their view of what we are capable of.”

And it’s in this last statement that the key to disability diversity lies. Family members and co-workers stop seeing the disability and start seeing the person. “The best moment,” says Felipe, “is when my co-workers don’t see me as deaf but rather as a very good engineer.”

Work also allows each of these individuals to pursue their inner passions and to now make a living off of them. When I ask Laís how she ended up being a proofreader she tells me enthusiastically, “I have always loved to read. I love the Portuguese language.” And with the help of a digital replayer which is software that reads aloud what is on the screen, Laís and Priscila Neves, another blind employee I met who is a psychologist, crank up the replayers to read back to them at 10 times normal speed — so fast that it sounds like gibberish to my untrained ear. Laís zips through the document she is proofreading and, like finding a needle in haystack, plucks out the typos and misspellings.

Their stories make clear how affirming and dignifying it is to have a job, not just for those who have a disability but, when seen through their eyes, really for all of us. Think about the power of the following statement by Laís: “Now I can buy a new refrigerator for my Mom.”

As I wrap up, let me give the final word to one of my newfound friends at Serasa Experian: “Disability is not a problem,” says the blind proofreader. “What’s a problem is convincing others that it’s not a problem.”

In the battle of the senses, this makes a lot of sense.

Sidebar: New Insights on Disability Diversity
My visit to Serasa Experian led me to some new insights on disability diversity:

  • The Best Advocates for those with Disabilities Are those with Disabilities
  • Until There Is a Compliance Mandate, Nothing Moves
  • Everyone Needs Accommodation

Click here for sidebar.

As Economy Booms, China Faces Growing Diversity Challenges

by Andrés T. Tapia and Susan Welch,  Diversity Best Practices —

Truly homogenous populations exist perhaps in only a few tiny regions in the world–in ancient, relatively untouched cultures. Everywhere else, cultures, ethnicities, and genders clash. Here is a look at one country’s, China’s, diversity issues.

China appears, on the surface, to have relatively few cultural issues. After all, its dominant Han population accounts for 91% of all people in China. Mandarin is the official language and is widely spoken. Improvements in health have increased longevity.

Despite this somewhat rosy picture, challenges persist:

Myriad Ethnically and Language Diverse Groups
According to this Wall Street Journal analysis, China faces challenges fully integrating its Han culture, within which there are distinctions between Cantonese, Hakka, Fujianese, and others. Eight different languages make up the Han culture, and while Mandarin is officially spoken, it isn’t necessarily the language spoken at home. The other 9% of the non-Han population is made up of another 55 cultures.  And in a population of 1.3 billion, 9% is equal to 117 million people.

Brewing Ethnic Conflicts
As China seeks to expand its economic growth beyond its Tier 1 cities, minority cultures feel the crunch. In 2009, ethnic tension resulted in bloody conflicts between China’s Hans and Turkish-speaking, Muslim Uighurs. China has invested $100 billion in the remote Xinjiang region where the violence occurred, so addressing ongoing tension will be critical. Unfortunately, as the region grows in importance, so, too, grows the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Gender Imbalance
A more obvious challenge for the Chinese is its ongoing gender imbalance, which threatens to get worse in coming decades. Centuries-old cultural tradition places greater value on male children in China. Under the one-child policy, parents have abandoned or aborted girls. Today in China, 119 boys exist for every 100 girls; in some regions the ratio is 130 boys to 100 girls. It is anticipated that by 2024, some 24 million men in China will have difficulty finding wives. Exacerbating the problem, girls and young women in China are moving to urban areas for work, and often finding husbands there. Thus, the poor, rural men in China are those who will be left behind. As noted here, men in China do not “marry up.” A slew of single rural males will be a population to contend with in the future.

Caring for the Aging
As observed, health–and thus, longevity–have improved in recent years in China. This is a good news/bad news scenario, because, as fertility rates remain low, the elderly population in China is rapidly increasing. Ironically, as noted by the Population Reference Bureau, only 25 years ago China thought it faced the opposite problem: too many children. Today, in fact, China’s youth face a future described as “1-2-4: one child caring for two parents and four grandparents.” Although they fly in the face of Chinese cultural tradition, nursing homes are proliferating. Elderly citizens increasingly will need care for their chronic conditions and diseases. Today, 9 working-age adults exist for every senior citizen in China, but by 2050 that ratio will decrease to 2.5 to 1.

Normalizing Disability
For China, disability is a mixed bag. Even today, disabled people are referred to in discriminatory language: The disabled most frequently are called canji, which literally translates to “deficient/deformed and diseased.” But, according to this BBC article, China is changing, albeit slowly. According to the Disaboom disability website, 83 million people in China are disabled. A 2003 assessment, reported here, found that 84% of China’s disabled population was working. But it was only this past January that China enacted laws to ensure wheelchair access. Other laws, some addressing specific disabilities such as paralyzed or missing limbs, are in the works.

Wrestling with Granting LGBT Rights
Gay rights represent another mixed bag for China. For centuries, relative tolerance existed, but from the 1950s onward homosexuality was forbidden. In 2004, an estimated 5 to 10 million Chinese men between ages 15 and 49 reported being gay. And yet, this analysis projects that 90% of LGBT people in China will marry a member of the opposite sex, due to familial and societal pressure. More than 60% of gay Chinese men had not “come out.” As described in The Guardian, it was only in 2001 that homosexuality was removed from China’s list of state-approved mental illnesses.

Being Equipped to Manage Global Diversity
As Chinese companies go multinational, they’re falling into the same ethnocentric traps other economically expansive countries such as Britain, the US, and Spain have experienced throughout the centuries. Anthropologist Chan Wan, who is also assistant professor in the Department of Chinese at Lingnan University in Hong Kong says that China not tending to encourage or even acknowledge diversity hinders its business growth. “I think it is a barrier to actually operating in the world,” says Chan. “The Chinese find it difficult to expand overseas because they don’t understand foreign cultures. … I think the advantage of [engaging] diversity is when an economy starts to expand outwards and do business with overseas countries.”

From this quick audit of diversity issues in China, it’s evident that despite China’s booming economic strength, and now more because of it, it too must seek to effectively manage the inclusion paradox in order to optimize its ability to create a sustainable  society and sustainable economic growth.

Hear This: The Deaf Have Much to Say, But We’re Not Listening

by Andrés T. Tapia –

Sign LanguageIt was a first-time experience for me: the lecturer at a breakout session during the Indiana Conference on Cultural Competency for Behavioral Healthcare was presenting in American Sign Language (ASL) on deaf culture to a roomful of mostly hearing people like myself. Two translators were taking turns translating from ASL to English.

As I focused on watching the lecturer and listening to the translators, it dawned on me that anytime I had seen ASL being used in a public setting, it was to translate spoken English, Portuguese, or Spanish into ASL for the handful of deaf attendees. This time roles were reversed. And it was about time.

In one of my keynotes speeches, I talk about our current upside-down world, and I make the point that to be disabled is instead to be differently abled. But that afternoon, in Indianapolis, I understood this at an even more profound level than I had ever before.

As I paid attention to Ann Riefel, the ASL chair at Vincennes University, I heard about the differences between hearing and deaf cultures and I began to enter a learning space where I awoke to a new paradigm.

Deafness is one of the most overlooked and misunderstood dimensions of diversity not just outside the diversity and inclusion field, but actually within it. As you continue to read think about how we may be inadvertently reinforcing audism—the discrimination of those who are deaf—even as we advocate on behalf of the deaf.

What the Deaf Want

Here is the clincher: the deaf don’t want to be seen as people with a disability, but rather as a linguistic minority with its own language and culture. This stance has vital implications for the work of diversity and how we approach the deaf.

Riefel’s lecture laid out ways in which ASL is not a manual way of turning English words into hand signs, but rather how ASL is a separate language altogether. Like differences between various spoken languages, the syntax, word order, and even the words used in a sentence can be quite different between ASL and English. Also, ASL is not a universal language. For example, there is Portuguese Sign Language and French Sign Language just to name a couple of the hundreds of different sign languages that exist.

Riefel also explained how the deaf form a different culture compared to that of the hearing. As I listened to her explanations, the descriptions matched the framework used by interculturalists such as Fons Trompenaars.

In deaf culture, communication is much more direct. Body language is more expressive (featuring the highly animated use of all facial muscles, especially the eyes) and demonstrative (hugging is quite common). When in comes to social events and time, the deaf tend to be more event oriented than clock oriented and they are more group oriented than individualistic when it comes to their sense of identity. And more likely than not, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, age, and sexual orientation, the deaf tend to first identify with the deaf culture before they identify with their other multidimensional identities.

Riefel referred her listeners to a couple of books by Harlan Lane, which I downloaded into my iPhone’s Kindle app as she was wrapping up her lecture. When the Mind Hears: A History of the Deaf, compellingly describes how, for centuries, the deaf have been an oppressed language minority group. In his second book, The Mask of Benevolence: Disabling the Deaf Community, Lane makes the case that the deaf continue to be marginalized as he draws parallels between how ASL and spoken languages such as Tamil in India, Turkish in Denmark, Basque in Spain, Spanish in certain parts of the United States have been suppressed in societies where there is a different dominant language. For the deaf, this is always the case.

This point of view is not without controversy, even among those who advocate for the deaf. A New York Times article explores some of this controversy that is getting renewed attention because of state budget woes. But here I want us to lean into their case to really understand its premises. As Lane explains it:

“Language [can] be expressed . . . by movements of the hands and face just as well as by the small, sound-generating movements of the throat and mouth. Then the first criterion for language that I had learned as a student—it is spoken and heard—was wrong; and, more important, language did not depend on our ability to speak and hear but must be a more abstract capacity of the brain. It was the brain that had language, and if that capacity was blocked in one channel, it would emerge through another.”

This reality is suppressed by a “disability” label that, used in the spirit of inclusion, actually creates exclusion:

“With the cultural frame changed [to the infirmity model] the deaf pupil was now an outsider. Spoken language in the classroom and speech therapy failed to make him an insider, while it drove out all education, confirmation the child was defective. Unsuccessful education of deaf children reinforced the need for special education, for experts in counseling of the deaf and in rehabilitation of the deaf. Finally and most devastatingly, deaf children in America, starting in the late 1970s, were increasingly placed in local hearing schools. Having cut off the deaf child from his deaf world, having blocked his communication with parents, peers, and teachers, the experts have disabled the deaf child as never before in American history. The typical deaf child, born deaf or deafened before learning English, is utterly at a loss as he sits on the deaf bench in the hearing classroom.”

Lane also points out how in the name of helping the deaf (defined as those born deaf versus those who have become hearing impaired through illness, accident, or age), the interests of the deaf have not been met, as the hearing are the ones who decide what is best for them. It’s the hearing who own the schools for the deaf, have advocated for mainstreaming the deaf into classrooms for the hearing, and are most likely their teachers. This puts the deaf at a significant disadvantage by forcing them to operate with their second, and not their primary, language. Plus, they are instructed by a hearing teacher who often does not know ASL and, therefore, cannot fully communicate with them.

And what happens when individuals cannot communicate in their native language or the world around them does not know their native language? Yes, of course, they are seen as less smart, less capable. Asking them to learn English and not teaching them in ASL is to impose the values and approaches of the hearing onto the deaf.

Riefel, Lane, and others, take this even further in contending that deafness is not a disability. In fact, labeling deafness as a disability has done significant harm to deaf self determination and identity. This travesty was further reinforced when deafness was thrown into the Americans with Disability Act. By framing it within a deficiency model, the deaf then must be helped paternalistically.

On the other hand, when deafness is seen as a culture it takes on a different mode. It must be respected and understood as being as equally valid as other cultures, including such as the Asian-American, African-American, and hearing cultures. Therefore, to engage with those who are deaf we all need to demonstrate greater crosscultural skills in order to be inclusive of one another.

Do We Really Understand?

This mind-bending understanding of deaf culture raises questions not only of ways in which we may have been advocating—if we have at all—for deaf employees, but also where we may be having significant blind spots around other groups whose abilities are different from the majority’s.

Do we really understand what the blind need, what those with Down’s Syndrome need, what the quadriplegic need? Do we understand when something is a disability and when something is not? When making decisions that affect these communities, how much of a voice do they have in the decision-making process?

Just because the deaf can’t hear, the blind can’t see, and those in wheelchairs cannot walk, their voices about their needs and their identities must be heard as the first and primary order of business. If not, those of us who are hearing, have vision, and can walk will not hear the message, see the possibilities, or walk the talk.

I hope you will carry this message with you as you strive to advance diversity and inclusion within your organizations.

Adelante (onward) in the work!

Talent Has No Boundaries: Workforce Diversity Includes People with Disabilities

by Andrés T. Tapia —


October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) – a month-long event that takes aim at the barriers to employment that workers with disabilities still face and the workplace discrimination that continues to exist. Each year, NDEAM develops a theme and a poster that promotes awareness of the topic and emphasizes the many talents, skills, and viewpoints that employees with disabilities bring to work.

This year’s theme, Talent has no boundaries: Workforce diversity includes people with disabilities, and poster highlight the work of the well-respected artist, writer, and activist Laura Hershey. In addition to writing, performing, and creating imaginative computer generated compositions, Ms. Hershey has spinal muscular atrophy. As a registered artist with the VSA – The International Organization on Arts and Disability, her work is available to a broad audience. For the 2010 NDEAM poster, the VSA website explains that Ms. Hershey “addresses themes of disability and discrimination; illness, health, and healing; love and intimacy; the life of the body; personal power; and mythology,” and often incorporates poetry in her art pieces.

In her poem, Ms. Hershey asks, basically, what people see when meeting her for the first time, and what fear do they “unlearn” by getting to know her. The Inclusion Paradox’s chapter, Disability: The Diversity Issue We Fear the Most, suggests that what we really see is our own vulnerability.

Her words bring me to the central question at the heart of her poem, “What do we see when we look at each other?”  We seldom “see” or “think” of artist, performer, or writer when meeting someone with a disability. In her vocational choice, Ms. Hershey defies that misguided conventional wisdom.

In Diversity, India Seeks to Rise Above Caste, Color

by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research


If, as defined in The Inclusion Paradox, “diversity is the mix, inclusion is making the mix work”™, then India has much to both celebrate and wrestle with as it determines its mix and focuses on how to make it work.

India represents a large swath of people. Roughly three-quarters of its roughly 1.17 billion people are Indo-Aryan, and Dravidians make up another large chunk. But the remaining 3% is divided among 2,000 ethnic groups. Hindi and English are two of the 18 recognized Indian languages. India hosts 15% of the world’s population, and of those, 70% are agrarian, living in villages and farms. India’s median age is a youthful 25. According to Department of State data, India is only one-third the size of the United States. So by being three times as populated, but one one-third as big, its population density is 9 times that of the US.

In India, discussing race relations involves inherent difficulty, particularly because there is no word for “race” in Hindi. The word “jaati” refers to a person’s caste. Or, “varn ka rang” means color of one’s skin. Thus, one can get close to a discussion of race, but it takes a bit of finesse to get all the way there.

Here’s a quick view of other parts of the mix and how it’s working.


Overcoming the ancient caste system in India is one of the country’s difficult challenges: How can a country uproot a system that predates the Bhagavad Gita? The varnas, or classes, consist of Brahmans (priests/teachers), Kshatriyas (rulers/soldiers), Vaisyas (merchants), Sudras (laborers) and a group not named but known as achuta, or untouchable.

This system today is outlawed, but still embedded, particularly in some regions. Today, untouchables are known as Dalits, and represent 200 million Indian citizens. Crimes against them, sometimes including rape and murder, but more frequently less violent crimes, can go unpunished. India has refused to consider caste as an international human rights issue.

Through Indian eyes, an understanding of the caste system goes far deeper than what is described in most Western literature. It was, for centuries, a useful mechanism for absorbing nomadic populations from Central Asia providing peaceful, stratified socio-economic order. While India recognizes that the system no longer applies, the societal movement away from it has been moving slowly.

The good news? When India has risen above caste, the results have meant an economic boon. In southern India, lower castes have been struggling toward equality since the early part of the 20th Century, focusing particularly on education and business success, as noted in the New York Times. According to the article, a key factor in India’s economic success–particularly in the south–was its ability to neutralize issues of caste.

Whiter Shades of Tan

More recently, skin color has become a basis for subtle discrimination in India and other Asian countries. Skin whitening products in India generate $500 million annually, with most of the popular Bollywood stars endorsing one or another whitening product. Earlier this year, Hindustan Unilever, which markets a Vaseline-brand whitening product, created an uproar when it launched a Facebook app that digitally lightens photos to be posted in social networking sites. As NPR describes, even men are feeling compelled to whiten their skin in India.


Women in India struggle not only for equality, but in some places for a chance to be born. Sex-selection abortions are on the rise in some parts of India, with some women choosing to abort female fetuses. Although it is illegal, some estimate that up to one million unborn girls are aborted every year in India. The real culprit isn’t necessarily a belief that girls are inferior. Rather, tradition requires expensive dowries from the families of brides, making girls an economic burden. On top of this, wives typically live with their husband’s families, and so can’t even be accountable for caring for their own aging parents.

But with the growing numbers of women attending college and with that finding their economic and social power rising, at least in modern India the lot of women is improving. But even here, women face a very visible and strong glass ceiling for management and leadership positions.


Unlike many of its Asian counterparts, a rapidly aging population is not a critical concern for India. Although the population is aging, India remains youthful. For example, among developed countries, Ireland has the oldest mothers, at an average age of 31. By contrast, neighboring Bangladesh has the youngest mothers among developing countries, at an average age of 25, per The Times of India. In fact, India’s working age population will grow by 240 million in 20 years, compared to China’s working age population, which will grow only 10 million in that same stretch.


India’s disability act, originally instituted in 1995, provides for children and adults with disabilities. Disabled children, for example, have a right to free education in integrated or “special” schools. In India, 3% of all government jobs are held for people with disabilities. Affirmative action prescribes land allotment such that appropriate facilities for disabled people can be developed.

That said, inadequacies exist, and attempts to broaden disability law as recently as February 2010 have failed. Civil rights, in particular, are minimal. Basic guarantees, such as protection from cruel and inhuman treatment, the right to marry, and the right to own property, currently are not addressed.


Gay rights in India took a giant leap forward last July, when India’s high court decriminalized gay sex. Ironically, the original law against homosexuality was implemented under British rule in India, but in recent years was defended as a way to preserve “traditional Indian sensibilities.” The Indian high court’s ruling specifically noted that the law against homosexuality conflicted with India’s “political principle of inclusiveness,” clearly establishing an optimist path–not only for gay rights, but for all diversity and inclusion issues in India.

The explicit issue of diversity in workplace is starting to pop up more in corporate India with some organizations even appointing diversity leaders. There is also a growing interest in the media on diversity topics. But as this quick survey piece shows, plenty of diversity topics are stirring in Indian society but its all prologue right now.

Redefining Ability: We’ve All Got a Lot to Re-learn about Learning Disabilities

By Andrés T. Tapia

You’ve likely heard reference to the dramatic rise in ADHD diagnoses, autism,  and learning disabilities. In light of these trends, you may be wondering what is happening with today’s children. But another question, more pertinent for this blog: What is happening to tomorrow’s (and today’s) workforce?

Roughly 15% of Americans have some form of learning disability—ranging from mild to severe. These include dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia, (difficulties in reading, math, and writing respectively), auditory and visual processing disorders, and spatial disorders. Another 2 to 3% of children in the United States have ADHD. Another 1% of children have autism.

Very few of these conditions will be outgrown. All of them present challenges—for children in school, and, as they grow, for adults in the workplace. Some of these disabilities require accommodations, albeit not traditional disability accommodations. For example, people with dyslexia benefit from recorded reading materials. People with ADHD benefit from frequent breaks that help them refresh and refocus.

How much should employers be expected to accommodate? Added to traditional disabilities, the list of “conditions” to accommodate grows ever longer and more daunting. How can employers address them all? In fact, when many of these conditions are not easy to distinguish (and when workers often hide them), what can an employer realistically do?

Perhaps the starting point is to reframe the challenge. In reality, every worker is unique. Employers are wise to remember that people with learning disabilities are not less intelligent—in fact, evidence suggests their disadvantages often are balanced by advantages in other areas, such as creativity and inventiveness. Consider that both Walt Disney and Thomas Edison suffered from learning disabilities. So, letting workers access job- and training-related resources and materials in a variety of ways benefits all workers, not just those with learning disorders.

Several employers already know this.

— Denmark’s Specialisterne, a software quality check company, deliberately seeks autistic workers, based on often unique capabilities such as photographic memory recall and intense attention to detail.

–In the United States, Sodexho has been honored for hiring and training autistic workers.

–IBM fosters positive, safe, and honest communication, letting workers ask for accommodations without fear. According to business consultant Debra Brooks, the company recognizes and values the creativity that learning disabled workers can bring to the table.

Does the emphasis on uniqueness and creativity sound familiar? Once again, the principles of inclusion surface as a business imperative. How can your business tap the creativity embedded within disability?

Avis Rents Cars Equipped for People with Disabilities

So Avis does try harder.

Nadine Vogel, Founder and President of Springboard Consulting LLC, reports in her blog that Avis has taken the lead in expanding their market to those with disabilities. One customer writes,

“Following an accident eight years ago, I became a paraplegic. I have always traveled for my job which required renting cars quite often. After the accident I found this to be quite difficult — that is, until I learned about Avis’s program to rent specially equipped cars for people with disabilities. A big thumbs up for Avis!”

As I discuss in The Inclusion Paradox, in the chapter titled, “Disability, the Diversity Issue We Fear the Most,” people with disabilities represent a significant and growing market segment and we must get beyond being uncomfortable with disability and instead normalize or mainstream it.  Disability is the one diversity dimension that even if we are not in it now, we could be at any moment.  And with people living longer, inevitably we will encounter disability as we age.

Avis is taking steps to make addressing the needs of those with disability just another way in which they meet their diverse clients’ needs.

What is your company doing to do the same?

Visible–and Invisible–Disability Lurks in Many Cubicles; Why We Must Normalize Disability

by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research —


For some of us, a variety of conditions—concealed or not—make work a difficult proposition.

To get a true grasp on disability in America, look around you. In my case, for example, three of my adult friends have more than 70% hearing loss in one ear. Two have dyslexia; one has been with diagnosed ADHD. A handful struggle with obesity. One has an autoimmune disorder. None of these people have openly discussed the resulting workplace challenges with their employers.

Chances are you know people in similar circumstances. Possibly you are in such circumstances.

Disabilities, beyond “traditional” ones, abound. And yet, disability remains the diversity issue we fear most, as described in The Inclusion Paradox.

Unfortunately, fear will be an increasingly unproductive response to addressing disability in the workplace.

Roughly 13% of adults between the ages of 21 and 64 have a disability—and the number climbs to 41% of adults age 65 and over, according to the 2009 Disability Compendium. This includes individuals with sensory disabilities, physical disabilities, and mental disabilities. But these numbers are a starting point at best.

Aging alone increases the risk of disability (the numbers above show disability rates tripling for those 65 and older). The “equipment” gets older, and vision and hearing start to fade, as does mobility. As America turns gray, age-related disabilities increase. Illnesses such as strokes, heart attacks, or cancer contribute to disabilities. More insidious, Alzheimer’s and dementia are on the rise—and no workplace is immune to discovering aging staffers who increasingly forget and misplace things, as they slowly lose their edge. One in eight people over age 65 have Alzheimer’s, and some 200,000 people younger than 65 currently have the disease, per this report. One in five women and 14% of men who reach the age 55 are at risk for developing Alzheimer’s. How does one sensitively—and within legal bounds—address a coworker or employee suspected of having Alzheimer’s? What accommodations can be given, and for how long? How can employers help those workers keep their dignity and remain working for as long as is practical?

But the elderly do not hold exclusive domain over disabilities. Obesity is another red flag. One third of Americans are obese, per the American Medical Association. Consequently, they could more easily develop diabetes, arthritis, or other disabling conditions. Sensitivity is needed, and, as with Alzheimer’s, dignity must be preserved. Employers walk a difficult tightrope.

Not confined to the elderly or obese, arthritis is another disabler—in fact, it is the number one cause of disability in the United States. People with rheumatoid arthritis, for example, are more likely to use sick days, have a greater rate of work-related physical limitations, and have a higher unemployment rate due to their disability, according to this Health Central report. And that’s just one of the many forms of arthritis. In offering workplace advice to arthritis sufferers, About.com stresses the need for an employer-employee relationship that is “strong, communicative, respectful, and honest.” Without these conditions, arthritic employees may feel threatened and exposed when asking for workplace accommodations.

Younger, seemingly healthy workers bring along issues as well, although theirs are sometimes more hidden. Learning disabilities, for example, are on the rise. The same is true for autism and ADHD. Hearing loss in young adults is a growing concern.

Straightforward disabilities are difficult enough for employers. When facing declining mental stability or obesity, to name a few possibilities, the bar is raised. Pointing fingers, quietly cringing, or even simply trying to look the other way are counterproductive tactics. Seeking to understand is the best first step an employer can take.

Disability Advocacy Organization Is Catalyst for Architectural Innovation

In 2007 disability advocacy organization Access Living opened the doors to one of the first buildings in the U.S. to incorporate both universal and green design, and stands as a testament to the independence and empowerment for all people embedded within Access Living’s mission.

Everything about the new building, from its automatic front door, wide hallways, stadium style restroom access, light sensitivity controls, and video relay systems, to its significant use of post-consumer and post-industrial recycled materials, makes it stand apart as a model of accessibility and sustainability on the Chicago skyline. The building has made a significant impact. Many local organizations use it to host public forums, hearings, symposiums and other events, helping raise the visibility of disability culture. In addition to local visitors, hundreds of people have toured Access Living, from across the country to as far away as India, Ireland, and Norway.

Situated in a visible, central location near converging lines of accessible public transit, Access Living can reach deeper into the Chicago community than ever before. Every day, scores of people, both long-time members and new visitors, flow in and out of the building to use the mainline or video telephone service, extensive reference library, visit the history exhibit, or meet with staff to advocate for housing, transportation, job, and bias issues critical to people with disabilities.

Brick by brick, the people within the building are working to tear down the shameful wall of exclusion that for so long has separated people with disabilities from equality, and replacing that wall with pride, dignity, and empowerment. Access Living continues its efforts to create one Chicago — an integrated, accessible community where everyone has equal access to the cultural, educational, and employment opportunities the city has to offer.

Artist Transforms “Disabled” Hands into Source of Beauty

by Andrés T. Tapia —

Chun-Shan (Sandie) Yi was born in Taiwan with only two fingers on each hand and two toes on each foot–and grew up being told by family members to “forget any future of love or success.” She refused to take their advice.

Instead, she left Taiwan to go to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for her BA & MA. During her time there she learned about disability culture and began to think of her difference as a valuable attribute instead of a disability. Sandie has now returned to Taiwan as an art therapy teacher, assisting others with disabilities and in need.

I  hear two stories being told through her art. The first story is one of cultural oppression, of people with physical disabilities being treated as invisible in Taiwanese culture as in so most cultures around the world. The second is about the value and beauty that the difference of disability can hold. Sandie puts it this way:

“My hands and feet are my assets, my special traits. Art is a way for me to understand the beauty of the challenges in my life, and also a way to adorn myself. I wish to be identified as ‘born with two fingers and two toes on each limb.’”

Two pieces of art Sandie displays on Access Living–crocheted and reconstructed gloves–emphasize the decorative nature of her striking hands.

Sandie also creates baby “onesies” with doodle-like representations of hands with varying numbers of fingers. It’s never too early to teach children that disability is part of life. In fact, is life.

Nine Linchpin Strategies for Advancing Diversity in 2010

by Andrés T. Tapia

First, a few words on strategy and then to my specific recommendations.

Powerful strategy should always sound simple when it’s articulated.

That’s because strategy is about identifying the one or two things that are going to be pursued and, by inference, the 100 other things that could but will not be. In war it could be  “overwhelming force” or “secret infiltration.” In politics it could be, “say no to everything no matter what” or “find a way to find common ground no matter what.” In soccer, “shut down Ronaldo” or “shut down everyone else but him.”

What is hard is being able to pinpoint that linchpin issue — the one thing around which everything else gravitates. It’s that one thing that, if either enabled or thwarted, will determine the enterprise’s best chance of comprehensive success. This is difficult to accomplish, not just because it requires knowledge of the big picture, but also because it requires discernment to identify interrelationships between myriad issues.  It’s also difficult because saying “yes” to a handful of key actions or philosophies sidelines all the other good ideas — each of which has proponents, cheerleaders, experts, tools, techniques, and processes. Vested interests make it difficult for the many players to embrace a strategic direction that may not include something they hold most dear.

Diversity & inclusion strategy is no different, even though it may seem hypocritical to declare what approaches to achieving inclusion are in and which ones are out.

But strategize — and therefore prioritize — we must, if we are to move the work forward.

So in this spirit, here’s my stab at what I believe are the linchpin strategies for 9 different current diversity issues. Keep in mind the qualifier “top priority.” This does not mean that there are not other things to do, but in strategy work the goal is to put our finger on the key issue around which the many others revolve. If we pursue it successfully, we will not just change whatever it was we were going after, but also lay the groundwork for resolving many other related issues.

  1. For the LGBT community, the top priority should be to seek full equality through the courts and legislation–not at the referendum ballot box. The ballot box strategy requires convincing majorities to change (or at the very least follow through on) their beliefs in the face of controversy. That is a tall order! And it is also a very polarizing one, as we saw with 2008’s Prop 8 in California. By contrast, focusing on the courts requires influencing a handful of decision makers on how to interpret the law of the land. And when it comes to civil rights — a belief deeply codified in the US legal system — the law provides a lever with multiple precedents that is ultimately difficult to refute. Not that there won’t be intense debate and struggle. But consider how women’s and Blacks’ rights were won; what would have happened if those issues had been put to a popular vote?
  2. For Latinos, particularly on the issue of immigration reform, the top priority should be to seek full equality through the ballot box–not through the courts. Here, in contrast to the LGBT community, Latinos have the numbers to effectively influence the popular vote. The problem is that many Latinos are not registered to vote or do not show up on election day. Strategically, then, getting Latinos to vote is a great place to focus energy. From a civil rights/legislative perspective it’s difficult to influence with power when making a legal argument on behalf of undocumented people. Better to make the representative democracy argument on behalf of millions of immigrants who have built their lives, homes, and families in the US and contributed significantly to society.
  3. For African-Americans, the top priority should be enforcing compliance with already existing laws. The laws are already there to fight discrimination. The problem has been lax enforcement. Clearly Blacks are still far from being represented adequately at all levels of leadership and management, but with an African American president in the most powerful leadership position in the world, it’s now more difficult to engage mainstream society on the subjective issue of Black talent being overlooked. Instead, we need to go down the compliance route that looks at the gap between available labor force and representation within the organization. This will pave the way for recognizing African American talent on its own merits.
  4. For Asian Americans, the top priority should be to press for equity in promotions to management. While Asian Americans have their own share of being on the receiving end of civil rights violations, those in the corporate world suffer especially from a stereotype that they are good for technical individual contributor roles rather than for leveraged, people management roles. Asian Americans need to bulk up on how to make a compelling case to their organizations that the management skills they already possess are being overlooked.
  5. For white women, the top priority should be to stop waiting for men in power to make changes. As a group, women already have the power to make necessary changes. In the 2008 primary elections, Hillary Clinton referred to 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, reflecting the number of votes she had received. While the glass ceiling is still in place, these cracks have weakened it significantly. It’s now time for women in management and senior leadership to press against it assertively and bring down barriers that men have left in place.
  6. For Native Americans, the top priority should be to demand more avenues for linking up with existing economic and educational development opportunities–and to ask for more of them. Native Americans are one of the most marginalized groups in the US; the reservation system literally casts them outside of mainstream avenues of inclusion. While they have unique historical dynamics to work through with the federal government, Native Americans would be able to increase their clout if they could find common cause with other marginalized groups — particularly in the area of education, which has proven to be the greatest predictor of economic advancement.
  7. For Boomers, the top priority should be to learn from Generations X and Y. They know how to thrive in an upside-down world. Thus, instead of spending too much time figuring out how to shape them into a Boomer worldview (pay your dues, do things in order, don’t show your work until it’s completely polished), Boomers should tap their energy to help lead with alternative approaches to today’s most complex and vexing problems.
  8. For Generations X and Y, the top priority should be to learn from Boomers’ life experience. Boomers may be technologically challenged, but they have the battle scars of life — work and personal — for which there is no Twitter shortcut. Wisdom and insights come with those scars. Generations X and Y need that!
  9. For the disabled, the top priority should be enforcing compliance with the law and normalizing disability. The goal should be to get people to realize that we all are or will be part of this community. Right now disability is too feared by those without disabilities for society to be able to approach it as part of life, rather than as other.

Inherent in declaring strategy is the debate about whether the declared path is the best. Strategy without ongoing testing and challenge is useless. What would you debate here?

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