Ya! The Time Has Come for Latinos to Claim Our Place in American Society

by Andrés T. Tapia

(This article was originally published on LatinPost.com http://www.latinpost.com/articles/21389/20140915/ya-time-come-latinos-claim-place-american-society.htm)

U.S. Capitol Dome

U.S. Capitol Dome

It’s up to us to have our power match our numbers

Power-cito, my Spanglish word for power-with-a-lowercase-p, is the Achilles heel of the surging Latino narrative. Despite our supersized growth, we have too much evidence that our power in many areas of society does not match our numbers.

As we joyfully celebrate and share our Latino roots during this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s also challenge ourselves to step it up and make our presence known and felt. Because when it comes to executive and senior leadership positions, political representation, and a marketplace that knows and meets our needs, we are not yet fully accounted for.

In leadership, according to the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, among the 1,200 executive and director positions available in its 2009 Corporate Inclusion Index, Hispanics held only 61 of those positions. That’s 7.9 percent. In 2013, it went down to 7.3 percent. Additionally, only 18 percent of Latinos work in management, professional, or similarly related positions.

Politically, we Latinos do not vote in numbers that the size of our population would suggest. In Arizona, for example, Latinos make up about 31 percent of the state’s population. Two-thirds (67 percent) of this population is native born, with a median age of 25 and a 57 percent home-ownership rate. These are the indicators of a potentially influential, voting-eligible population. Yet, many Latinos believe recent Arizona immigration legislation is detrimental to their community.

In the marketplace, there are still too few choices for products and services that cater to the needs, wants, and aspirations of the broad diversity within the Latino community — from the Spanish-dominant first generation Latino immigrant to the fourth generation Spanglish professional to the affluent MBA on the executive track.

The headwinds are both external as well as within ourselves. We must be vigilant about any discrimination and rally our allies in squelching it. A 2013 Harris Interactive poll found that over 75 percent of Latinos feel people with their background are discriminated against in the form of not being hired or promoted for a job and being called names or insulted.

But we ourselves also get in our own way as we seek to rise to the top. For example, many of the highly energized Latino advocacy organizations have a reputation for not being collaborative, and instead being highly competitive with one another. National origins and territoriality get in the way. A zero-sum game mindset feeds this.

We therefore have a splintering of advocacy groups — many doing insightful, passionate, committed work, but not in a coordinated, scalable way. But this splintering is what contributes to Latinos not displaying strength commensurate with our numbers.

It’s Up To Us

But it’s time we stop looking to others to hand us the power. We need to, and can, rise up to meet it. For us as individuals, it depends on our own ability and willingness to speak up for ourselves and being able to take the more calculated risks required of leaders. And collectively it’s about finding ways to minimize the differences within our own Latino ranks and being able to leverage the many things we have in common to advocate more effectively for what we need and want.

Here’s what we can stand on. Fifty-five million Latinos, and growing, are out there shopping, traveling, banking, studying, and raising families. The Latino purchasing power of $1.4 trillion in 2014, the fastest growing in the United States, is greater than the economies of 11 nations, including Mexico, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, and Indonesia.

And as companies struggle with growth, Latinos offer a marketer’s dream target audience — young, growing, and underserved. With one-third under the age of 18 and 25 percent in their 20s and 30s, the majority of Latinos are near the peak of their spending years.

As we become homeowners, we are driving growth in the household goods industry at a time when other groups are cutting back on these purchases. The familia focus leads to purchasing for the here and now. Latinos over-index compared to other groups in the purchase of toys, BBQ grills, furniture, and eating out. This is consumerism driven by a worldview of many Latinos that what matters most is hoy (today), for who knows what mañana (tomorrow) will bring.

Even with the high unemployment tied to the Great Recession, Latinos account for 13 percent of the workforce and have a participation rate of roughly 68 percent. This is a higher workforce participation rate than among whites, African-Americans or Asians. From a numbers perspective, companies unsuccessful at sourcing, attracting, and engaging this talent pool will see their talent pipeline shrivel up.

Hispanics are tasting the fruits of entrepreneurship as well. According to a 2013 Geoscape study, Hispanic-owned business have grown to over 3 million, a 40 percent increase between 2007 and 2013, outpacing the growth rate for any other demographic group. They generated over $468 billion in revenues.

In addition, Latinos made a key difference in how the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections went. And with now both major parties deeply disappointing Latinos in one way or another, we are in a position to be more demanding about what it will take to win our votes.

So here we are. According to Pew Hispanic Research, Latinos are twenty-one percent of the millennial population. This is the precursor to all Latinos expected to be one-third of the U.S. by 2050. Latino is not a niche market; it is the market. Twenty-five million eligible voters nationwide, and over 6 million in places like California is not a side constituency, it is the margin of victory. Sixty-nine percent of Latinos going to college, the largest percentage of any ethnic group including whites, is not just a student body ratio, it is the future workforce.

We have the numbers behind us, as well as our optimism, our energy, and our ambitions. But we have to stop waiting for others to make the way for us. Se hace el camino al andar, you make your path as you walk it. Let’s stop playing it safe and instead take the necessary steps to be seen as the future power brokers of how things are going to be.

We have a the rest of this month to reflect on this. From there, time to take action.

World Cup Hangover: Brazil Coming of Age Through Heartbreak

by Andrés T. Tapia – 2124370_large-lnd

As the World Cup crowned Germany champion while host Brazil was left out of its own party, this South American nation was left to contemplate if something good can come through heartache in the wake of its World Cup devastation.

It’s been a hard fall for Brazil’s seductive romance — fueled by capirinhas, shaken by samba, and heated up on the beach. Soccer, that got its moniker as “The Beautiful Game” in large part due to the legacy of Brazil’s elegant and flowing style of play that led to their Seleção becoming the all-time greatest winner of World Cup titles, has also been an integral part of the Brazilian mystique. Then ten years ago the tropical paradise of leisure also buffed up into an economic superpower.

So when FIFA awarded the 2014 World Cup to the land of eternal beaches, Brazil’s seeming ability to have it all – economic prowess and joie de vivre – it captured the world’s imagination. Soccer fans couldn’t think of a better setting for the greatest sports event on the planet. “The World Cup in Brazil has a whole other different ring to it than the World Cup will have in [2018 host] Russia,” says Chris Quinn, a Canadian expat who is owner of an English language instruction academy in Natal whom I met in Salvador over a moqueca fish stew hours before the Costa Rica – Holland quarterfinal.

And to boot, what a marvelous opportunity this was to be to finally exorcise the ghost of the Maracanazo, Brazil’s debacle in 1950 when it lost the lead minutes before it was about to win the title the last time it hosted the World Cup.

But it was not to be. The moment of the announcement that Brazil had been awarded the 2014 tournament ended up being the peak of the Brazilian on-top-of-the-world mood. The rest of the story is now the well-known tale of the rising discontent expressed through many loud and visible protests and strikes on the eve of the games. Too many in what Brazilians identify as socioeconomic Class D began to resent the feeling they were being left behind as FIFA and the Brazilian government spent $18 billion on infrastructure and the staging of the games during a time when too many Brazilians still don’t have enough health care, education, and housing.

The protests went on pause during the global festa. It was futebol after all and Brazil had Neymar, Jr. And then came his injury and even worse, The Great Humiliation of the 7-1 loss to the German squad in the semifinal.

But as distraught as Brazilians looked on TV and splashed across newspapers around the world, this heartbreak could be the catalyst for a coming of age as an economic superpower.

Rather than assuming that they could just sashay their way to easy economic prosperity as the rest of the world boomed and raw materials exports surged, the current economic slowdown preceding the tournament was already forcing Brazilians to face the high cost of their inefficiencies and lack of adequate infrastructure.

The protests have also been forcing the government and many of those very Brazilians who have indeed benefitted from Brazil’s emergence as an economic superpower to take more seriously the destabilizing consequences of growing inequality.

Sure, a World Cup fairy tale ending crowning Brazil a sexta-champion at the very Maracana stadium of their ignoble defeat a generation ago would have spilled over into a mass endorphin and testosterone induced euphoria that would have invited breathless commentary about how Brazil was capable of anything.

But in the gloom of defeat, a more sanguine assessment can be made that even a glorious World Cup championship is no substitute for the unsexy work it takes to address deep social inequities or being able to build the right infrastructure to support a burgeoning economy.

And there is plenty of evidence that Brazilians are doing just that. For all the stereotyped fear mongering by the foreign press that the Brazilians were not going to be ready to host, they pulled off staging 54 games in twelve different cities not only through the stadium venues but also through the FIFA Fan Fests that catered to tens of thousands of soccer partiers on famed beaches and open areas with 100-foot-HD screens and where games were bracketed by first class live musical acts.

And what in the past has been Brazil’s notorious dysfunctional domestic travel in whose Kafkaesque ways I myself had gotten myself lost in, it successfully got millions of foreign and domestic fans crisscrossing the country efficiently and effectively to follow their favorite teams. Transportation to and from the stadiums was also well organized and the stadiums and the fields were top shape.

As for the still serious issue with violence in certain areas there has been significant progress. In the Rio favela Vidigal where I stayed, the pacificão, as the army incursion and occupation of the neighborhood has been called, has yielded results. “Drug gangs used to walk up and down this street in front of my house brandishing huge weapons,” says long-time resident Sonia Gallo whose B&B I stayed. “But now they are completely cleared out and have been pushed to the very top of the favela” which sits on elevation of one of many mountains surrounding Rio. “There’s a code here now in this part of the favela where we don’t hurt each other.”

This hard-earned progress with still much more to go may provide some hope of why Brazil’s 2014 World Cup humiliation may not endure as much as the pain of the Maracanazo. As an example of how things may be evolving, the New York Times quoted Celso Lacerda an employee from the national oil company Petrobras, as saying, “The game was kind of shocking, but I don’t think there’s much else to say. If this had happened in previous eras, there would be a bigger impact on Brazil.”

So yes, the shame, the embarrassment. But this time the realism. Brazil could actually come out stronger through its heartache.

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.



The Melting Pot’s Contradictory Legacy

by Andrés T. Tapia – Newspaper And Tablet PC

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Diversity and inclusion among biggest headlines right now:

  • Supreme Court Rules Against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)
  • Supreme Court Ruling Reaffirms the Striking Down of California’s Proposition 8
  • Supreme Court Significantly Weakens the Voting Rights Act
  • Supreme Court Punts on Affirmative Action in University of Texas Case
  • George Zimmerman Not Guilty in Trayvon Martin Shooting; Verdict Sparks Cries of Injustice

Triggered by these headlines, as people take to the streets to extol progress on LGBT issues and rail against injustice on racial ones, and as the pundits release their torrent of words that range from the inspired to the insipid, what are diversity and inclusion (D&I) leaders’ unique contributions to what is unfolding? I would love to know what you see as the compelling answer to this question. Write to me here.

To whatever it is you have to offer and what many others have already brought up insightfully in terms of equality, profiling, justice, and opportunity, I’d like to offer this: crosscultural dexterity (or crosscultural competence). The absence or mastery of it makes a pivotal difference in how these issues are being decided and interpreted not only in the courts, but also as related issues show up in corporations.

Before elaborating, I need to get a little technical, but I assure you the pay off will be worth it. Here’s a sound bite primer on one way in which crosscultural dexterity is measured. Based on the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), where the model was developed by Milton Bennett and measured by Mitch Hammer, people can fall anywhere along a spectrum when it comes to cultural differences:

  • Denial that any differences exist
  • Polarization around differences where they are viewed as right or wrong, better or worse, superior or inferior
  • Minimization where the focus is more on what we have in common and where the differences are not seen as making a difference
  • Acceptance that despite our many similarities we still have some fundamental differences
  • Adaptation, which is where we have the skill to adapt to others’ differences and in a reciprocal way are able to help them adapt to ours

Where does all this fit in having a deeper understanding of the various actions on the part of the Supreme Court and the jury in the Zimmerman trial? It’s the consistent thread of a minimization worldview in full manifestation.

In some of the legal decisions, minimization is leading to good, healthy, constructive outcomes, yet in some other situations it’s leading to very unjust outcomes. Understanding why this is requires the kind of cultural dexterity that is in short supply in society in general.

Let’s explore this further.

Where Minimization Heals

The American ethos of the Melting Pot comes from the place of minimization. In many, many ways it has yielded powerful outcomes including one of the most pluralistic societies in the world. And in some of the recent Supreme Court decisions on DOMA and Prop 8, this minimization worldview has yielded good and just results.

Consider how we are in the midst of an inflection point where many of those who might be unsupportive of gay rights are yielding to a countervailing force that is the bedrock American concept of equality embedded in the U.S. Constitution. This is why the Supreme Court justices, out of their minimization worldview that difference should not make a difference, declared that there’s no basis to say that certain groups of people have more or less rights just because of the person they choose to love. In the end, their decision minimized difference and said that it should not make a difference.

This is an example of the way minimization can play out in a very effective way. In fact, minimization played a positive role in launching the Civil Rights Era as a way of countering the societal polarization going on. At the time, people were highlighting differences in destructive ways to discriminate against and segregate people due to their color or gender. Instead, this minimization worldview helped construct legislation and the attitude that difference should not make a difference when it came to access to services, education, jobs, housing, etc. That’s powerful. That’s minimization in a good way.

Where Minimization Can Destroy

Where can minimization be destructive and even justify discriminatory activity? When it’s used to minimize and deny that differences can make a difference where they really do. As discussed, minimization seeks to be colorblind (“When I see you I don’t see the color of your skin”) and gender blind. And how we wish this were true in terms of equal outcomes, but it’s a self-perception fallacy that we can truly not notice race, gender, and by the way, age—the three things psychologists tell us are the first three things we take into account when we meet someone.

In the public arena, the reality is that society is far from achieving this. It is through unconscious and conscious biases that we end up with unequal outcomes. I recently co-wrote a paper with Kathy Phillips, a professor at Columbia University Business School, where we show conclusively that in so many arenas of society—health care, income, racial profiling, arrests and incarceration, career advancement—there are deep and systemic disparities. For all our desire for a minimization worldview to be true, it’s not. Because if it were true, difference would not make a difference and therefore there would be no disparities.

Which takes us to the recent rulings on race. The Supreme Court has used a minimization worldview to justify weakening the Voters Rights Act that was put in place because Blacks were being disproportionately prejudiced against in terms of their ability to exercise their right to vote. Therefore nine states required special supervision in order to ensure any voter registration law changes did not lead to vote suppression. The Supreme Court justified weakening these provisions rooted in the minimization worldview that, Hey, it’s the 21st century. We have a Black president. That was back then, this is now. We are colorblind. [1]

This is the same line of argument being used to continue weakening affirmative action. Even though the Supreme Court punted on the University of Texas case and they put it back to the lower courts, there were clear indications on the part of those who don’t agree with affirmative action that its time is over.

The latest, most egregious, outrageous, and hurtful evidence of the minimization worldview playing a destructive and unhelpful role is in the recent Zimmerman verdict regarding the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Here is an African-American teen walking from his house to the store to get some Skittles and an iced tea and walking back, which should have been the safest set of circumstances that one could be in. He’s trailed by a stranger in a car with a gun. There’s a confrontation. The boy ends up dead and the shooter ends up being let go and declared not guilty.

Did race play a role? Even though the defense said no, and the judge said no, and even the boy’s family and the prosecution said no, minimization was at play big time. Read this New York Times article, “Zimmerman Prosecutors Duck the Race Issue,”  through the minimization worldview and you will see how it unfolds.

The truth is that had he not been Black he would not have been followed, triggered by racial profiling. That’s why he was confronted. Whatever altercation took place, it was the logical outcome of an environment where difference did make a difference in why Trayvon was being followed. In this case it was a racial difference, and it ended up tragically. But the law, and in this case all the key players including the prosecution, assumed minimization.

The minimization worldview is so pervasive and entrenched that even the prosecution did not want to demonstrate greater crosscultural dexterity by helping the jury move toward acceptance and adaptation and in that realize that there are still too many times where difference does make a difference.

And hence the outrageous verdict, because clearly race played a role—and the firestorm of public reaction that is pivoting around race proves this. Sure, there’s a law at play in terms of the burden of beyond reasonable doubt and the hugely problematic Stand Your Ground laws and in a court of law a jury must operate within the constraints of the law.

It’s understandable why the defense would want to take race out of the equation, and they were doing their job. But for the prosecution to strategically also say “this was never about race” stripped it of one its most potent prosecutorial lines that could have confronted the jury’s minimization worldview and challenged them to move toward acceptance and even adaptation in seeing how difference—in this case race—was at the heart of what happened and why. Of course, their verdict may have ended up the same but we will never know what would have happened if the jury had not been left off the hook of answering the question: why was a stranger with a gun following a young Black teen walking home?

Does race make a difference? Yes.

Does gender or sexual orientation make a difference? Of course.

In a society that wants to hold on to its minimization worldview we, as diversity practitioners, need to be skilled at surfacing these differences in a way that is post Civil Rights Era, but not post racial. This is not easy, as evidenced not only just through our own experiences, but also in watching the first Black president of the United States navigate the issue exceptionally carefully. While picking his spots of when he will weigh in (often to the chagrin of people of color wanting him to speak quickly and forcefully every time), when he has spoken he has indeed demonstrated a facile use of cultural dexterity that serves as a template for how we can do the same. (View President Obama’s comments on the George Zimmerman verdict.)

As D&I practitioners we must be skilled in a way that the prosecution in the Trayvon Martin case was not skilled, in a way that the Supreme Court is not skilled, in a way that Congress is not skilled, and neither is the media. And neither are most executive leaders in our corporations.

We must be skilled at constructively surfacing differences and discerning when difference doesn’t make a difference and when it does. If we don’t know how to do that and we don’t teach our corporations and our society to do that, organizations, institutions, and courts are going to continue to make ill-informed decisions that lead to unfairness and injustice to those who continue to be disenfranchised or discriminated against in one way or another.

Conversely, as we step into the breech not just as advocates and seekers of justice, but as skilled facilitators for the necessary conversations and understanding that need to happen, then our crosscultural dexterity can be one of the most helpful things we can offer in this paradigm-shifting time.

How to ensure this headline?: Extra! Extra! Read all about it! D&I leaders lead the way to understanding, healing, and opportunity.

Globalization Boomerang: Making the U.S. a Destination for Offshored Jobs – and What It Could Mean for Diversity

by Andrés T. Tapia –


Sending American jobs overseas has lost its cachet. Not only for sociopolitical reasons but also for economic ones.

The case for offshoring and outsourcing jobs overseas has weakened as an increasing number of U.S. manufacturers are choosing to look stateside for labor, a move that creates jobs and helps boosts the U.S. economy. So says Time in “The Economy’s New Rules: Go Glocal” (August 20, 2012). In fact, the Boston Consulting Group estimates that within five years, as many as 3 million high-skilled, high-demand manufacturing jobs could come back to the United States.

But the ability of American government and business to tend to the diverse talent pipeline – particularly of Latinos and Blacks – will be critical in the U.S. economy being able to seize the full benefits of the convergence of forces that could bring more jobs back to the USA. But before taking up this gauntlet, a look at what’s driving American companies to bring jobs back home:

  • Labor costs rising in China, India, Mexico, and other countries. The Chinese to U.S. wage ratio, for example, is projected to jump from 3 percent in 2000 to 17 percent by 2015. This is due both to accelerating wage increases in the emerging markets and slowing wage raises in the U.S. Also higher rates of corruption in the emerging markets compared to the U.S. drive up costs and risks. According to Transparency International, the BRIC countries are two to three times more corrupt in the business world.
  • Increasing number of manufacturing and construction jobs require a higher level of education. High tech manufacturing is requiring higher education from workers to run the robots on the assembly line. Even welders must now have in-house training or a community-college certification, not just a high school education to meet job requirements. By 2018, 63 percent of U.S. jobs will require post secondary training. U.S. workers in some blue-collar sectors have a technological edge that companies are rediscovering.
  • Rising energy costs means distance for shipping goods to the largest market, the United States, matters. Do the math. How many barrels of oil (not to mention carbon footprint units) does it take to ship that car from the Far East to the North American continent? GE has punched in the numbers and the result has led to GE shifting production of appliances from Mexico and China to Louisville, Ky. Many other companies of all sizes are reviewing the cost of transportation. Along with GE, firms like Seesmart (a small manufacturer of lighting products), Master Lock, and Caterpillar are finding the balance sheet weighing more heavily towards domestic production.
  • Automation means factories with fewer people – which then lowers the labor cost equation that has been leading companies to offshore. “Labor is a relatively small component” of costs, said GE’s Chief Executive Jeff Immelt, in a recent Reuters.com article. “That’s different today than it was 10 years ago.” GE just opened a new plant in Schenectady, N.Y. because of labor’s decreasing share of manufacturers’ costs. This, of course, cuts both ways in that it reduces the total number of jobs overall, but it nevertheless slows down the number that get shipped overseas because it’s more cost effective to simply keep them in the United States.
  • Companies want to bring jobs and operations closer to where their customers are. That emerging “locally grown” movement that has found its way to supermarket carts and restaurant tabletops is seeping into manufacturing. Mitch Free, who runs MFG.com, one of the world’s largest online marketplaces for the manufacturing industry, said in the previously mentioned Time article, “It’s all about regionalization and localization rather than globalization.” He noted that consumers are now demanding that things be newer, faster, and better so shortening the life cycle helps accomplish this. Citizens’ desire to slow down global warming also plays a part.

These trends are not just influencing American companies to bring jobs back home; they also are cajoling European and Asian companies to open up more plants in the United States. Airbus, the airplane manufacturer that is a symbol of European manufacturing pride, is opening up a plant in Montgomery, Ala. In making the announcement, its CEO, Fabric Brégier, cited “a more competitive labor and growth climate in the U.S.” Companies like Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen have been pumping up the local economies of cities around the nation by opening or expanding plants.

Back to the U.S.-based companies. There also seems to be an awakening on the part of some CEOs about how they are, in effect, eating their own young by having aggressively moved so many jobs overseas. When American businesses shift millions of jobs from home to outside, the domestic consumer market gets decimated. The result? Stifled business growth that causes economic blowback for these very companies.

Diversity and Inclusion’s Role

Now is the time to include American workers in any globalization strategies and efforts. In the past five years, we had moved from a U.S.-and-“rest of the world” paradigm to an emerging-“rest of the world”-and-declining-U.S. paradigm. Now it’s time to reframe it all to a “the world”-where-the-U.S.-is-a-region paradigm.

I engage this topic fully aware that as diversity and inclusion practitioners we are also tasked with ensuring a truly global approach to the work where we are caring for the inclusion and engagement of traditionally marginalized groups wherever our companies operate in the world. Zeus knows, we are still in diapers when it comes to truly being global in our mindset and knowledge about current social, cultural, economic, and political dynamics across the world’s timezones.

Nevertheless, in using this global mindset where the United States is not the center but one of various global regions, one of the marginalization issues we must address in the U.S. region is persistent high unemployment and the income disparities it deepens. In addition, the global economy’s vitality that is raising millions out of poverty still requires a vibrant U.S. economy with a positive outlook.

Now to respond to the gauntlet. As the offshoring tide begins to turn, diversity and inclusion must play a key role in capitalizing on ensuring these jobs fully come back.

On the diversity front, one dizzying risk is the uncertainty that there will be enough skilled workers for these positions. If we are not graduating half of our demographically booming Latino and Black kids from high school then it could kill the re-shoring of many of these jobs.

Business must urgently collaborate with government and not-for-profits to do everything possible much earlier in the education pipeline so that our students are getting and completing the education they need for contemporary jobs that are in demand.

We face a wrenching irony that at the moment of getting a shifting tide of jobs back that the skilled talent needed will not be there in a moment of still high unemployment.

On the inclusion front, what an opportunity to capitalize on a key competitive differentiator of American culture – creativity and innovation. Not only is this a hallmark of the American character, it’s the very thing we diversity and inclusion practitioners insist is the most compelling argument for inclusion – and this is that greater diversity leads to greater variety and richness of perspectives, that when energized and unleashed through an inclusive culture, leads to even greater creativity and innovation.

Diversity and inclusion practitioners have an important role to play in getting this word out – and in bringing U.S. jobs back in.

Race Still Matters

by Andrés T. Tapia –blkbusinessman_iStock.000011150050l

It’s a period that Charles Dickens could have written about if he were still alive today: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was an age of wisdom; it was an age of foolishness.” Or, as Rev. Jesse Jackson describes in a recent Newsweek article, “As we celebrate events that recognize Dr. King’s impact and legacy, we’re filled with both hope and hopelessness.”

Best and worst, wisdom and foolishness, hope and hopelessness are the competing dynamics of our current political, economic, and social landscape. So when the conversation predictably turns to the supposed post-racial period we live in, as some say evidenced by the election of President Barack Obama or the unveiling of a memorial to Dr. King on the National Mall, or even the wealth of media moguls Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey, I simply want to shout, Race Still Matters!

Without a doubt, there has been remarkable racial progress from 30, 40, or 50 years ago. Many African Americans who were in their 60s, 70s and beyond spoke with great emotion and often with tear-filled eyes at being alive to see the nation elect our first African American president, Barack Obama. Yet Roslyn Brock, in her first speech before the NAACP as its chairman, aptly described the dichotomy facing our nation while debunking the myth of a post-racial society as she described a nation rocked both by racial progress and racial stagnation.

“Today’s civil and human rights challenges are far different from those faced by our predecessors. Yes, we can … drink at the public water fountain, but the drinking water in our homes may not be safe because of lead toxins. Yes, we can … move into sprawling multi-million dollar homes in the suburbs, but the terms of our mortgages differ from our neighbors. Yes, we can … send our children to public schools, but in some states the textbooks … are 20 years old and school boards have decided to rewrite history by removing all references to slavery and its devastating impact on our society.”

Race still matters when the current economic crisis hits the black middle class much harder than whites and other racial groups. Today’s economic mess has been described as a full-blown depression for the black middle class. In a New York Times article, author Ellis Cose said, “Instead of a middle class, we now have a median class–people who are at or above the median income level, but who, for the most part, are only a few missed paychecks away from disaster.”

And the statistics bear this out. On almost every economic indicator, African Americans fare worse than any other racial/ethnic group, with Latinos running a close second. For example, while the national unemployment rate hovers around 9.5%, since April, the black unemployment rate fluctuates between 15.4 and 16.2%, which is about twice the rate for whites. Black teen unemployment is around 35-40%, while the national teen unemployment rate is around 20%.

The crisis goes beyond employment. When we look at the saving rates of various groups, race still matters. Nearly 80% of middle class Americans did not have enough savings to meet three-quarters of their regular household expenses for three months (the minimal amount needed to get through unexpected situations like a layoff or sudden hospital stay). According to research by Demos and the Institute on Assets and Social Policy of Brandeis University, for blacks, the figure was 95% (almost all) and for Latinos, it was 87%. Race still matters.

When wealth is examined, the disparity between groups is even more startling. According to the Pew Research Center, the median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black household and 18 times greater than Latino households. Let’s look at those statistics in another way. The typical black family has $5,677 in wealth, compared to $6,325 for a typical Latino family and $113,149 for a white family. Nearly $6,000 compared to $113,000. The study goes on to show that nearly a third of black and Hispanic families had zero or negative net worth, while only 16% of white families had similar levels of “non-wealth.” The report says, “These lopsided wealth ratios are the largest since the government began publishing such data a quarter century ago and roughly twice the size of the ratios that had prevailed between these three groups for the two decades prior to the Great Recession that ended in 2009.” Race still matters.

Even with wealth, African Americans experienced discrimination and segregation in far greater numbers than other racial/ethnic groups. A joint undertaking by Brown University and the Russell Sage Foundation reported that ethnic/racial identity trumps income as to where people live. Black and Hispanic families with relatively high incomes tend to live in communities where their neighbors are of the same racial/ethnic background and with many more poor people. The study’s authors wrote, “Residential segregation is an insidious and persistent fact of American life. Discrimination on the basis of race, while on the decline according to some estimates, continues to pervade nearly every aspect of the housing market in the United States.” Race still matters.

Even in our schools, according to the Center for American Progress, spending on black and Latino students is about 90% of what is spent on white students. And when it comes to punishments, black youngsters are disciplined more severely and more often than whites or Hispanics. A study by the Council of State Governments of Justice Center found a significant disparity between out-of-school suspensions and other punishments handed out to African American students compared to students from other backgrounds. For instance, 83% of black males in Texas schools had an out-of-school suspension for an offense that the school could exercise discretion on whether to suspend or not. Roughly 74% of Hispanic males had one of these discretionary suspensions; but only 59% of white males had similar suspensions.

Even with a college degree, black grads are finding that what is a tough job market for most recent grads is an exceedingly harsh one for them. Politicians denigrate government and public sector employees and unionized workers, which were the stepping-stones to the middle class for millions of African American and other minority families, making these conduits for social mobility less available.

In practically all aspects of society–from education to expectations, from politics to prison–race still matters. It’s as if W.E.B. Dubois’ prescient statement in the early 1900s, “for the problem of the 20th Century is the problem of the color line,” continues to resonate well into the 21st Century.

Researchers and pundits can debate the causes and effects of this fact of American life, but until we can have frank and honest conversations about the issues that divide us, until we can talk about the paradox of inclusion as suggested in the Inclusion Paradox, we will continue to experience the many ways that race still matters. This discussion must be a national and corporate conversation that addresses race, class, wealth, and culture.

And no one is better equipped to facilitate this discussion than diversity practitioners. Are you leading the way or sitting on the sidelines?

Much depends on your answer. Because how you choose matters.

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!

Brazil’s Economic Future Depends on Education and Diversity

by Andrés T. Tapia —

Brazil_kids-recifeSAO PAOLO – As the focus goes to the implications of  Dilma Rousseff’s election on Sunday, as I left Brazil a few days ago I thought about how much of its promising future depends not only on macro and microeconomics and globalization, but also on the education of its children.

With a growing economy, increasing political stability, and a renewed national sense of hope, Brazil now faces one of its most pressing challenges – educating its youth. A World Bank report concluded that unless the country addresses its current state of education, Brazil will likely fall behind other developing countries, threatening its plans to be a dominant player on the world’s economic stage.

The numbers are, indeed, troubling. Brazilian students score among the lowest on international tests for basic skills in reading, mathematics, and science. They trail other Latin American countries like Chile, Mexico, and Uruguay. Brazilian 15-year-olds tied for 49th out of 56 countries on the reading portion of the Program for International Student Assessment. And more than 50% scored in the bottom reading level of the test, performing even worse in math and science. And according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, Brazil has one of the highest high school drop out rates for students in its region.

Underneath these stats exists a yawning gap between more-affluent Brazilians and the country’s poor citizens. The educational achievement of students who are descendents of Indigenous people, Africans, or youngsters from poor rural areas is even worse than the national stats indicate.

To its credit, the Brazilian government has taken aggressive steps to address this situation, most notably the Bolsa Família initiative, a subsidy program that, among other things, requires school attendance. More poor students are in school and staying longer, as a result. And according to a New York Times article, education has become a burning issue for departing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who sees the issue as an important part of his legacy. But is it enough?

Let’s overlay the education statistics onto a peek at Brazil’s economic situation. The Brazilian GDP is more than $2 trillion and, according to Forbes Magazine, continues to grow thanks to new oil discoveries and its exportation of minerals and raw materials. The government is investing heavily in its IT sector and the national infrastructure. And yet, companies are facing the challenge of finding workers with enough basic skills to fill even manual labor jobs, exacerbating the country’s extreme gap between wealthy citizens and those in dire poverty.

All together – the need for skilled workers at all levels, a growing economy, and a struggling educational system – this situation represents a formula for future troubles. There simply won’t be enough adequately educated youth prepared to take their rightful places in the Brazilian workforce to sustain its national goals. And that’s the real threat all the crianças ( kids) I see on the streets of San Paulo represent.

This scenario cries for a diversity intervention – one that enables the entire Brazilian society, particularly its elite, to put as much effort in educating its marginalized and poorer citizens, not simply because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s an economic necessity. As I suggest in the Inclusion Paradox, it will take Brazilians understanding the differences within their country’s various ethnic and marginalized social groups, building on common cultural touchstones, and then, finding the Brazilian way to navigate those differences. A tall order, but one, I believe that Brazil which has shown the energy and political and social will to address its earlier challenges, can certainly accomplish.

Schoolchildren More Segregated Today than at Time of MLK’s Death

A national tragedy: African-American and Latino schoolchildren are more segregated today than they were at the time of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s  death in 1968 says the UCLA’s Civil Rights Project in their January 2010 report.

As a shifting demographics continue to transform many sectors of U.S. society, the country is falling far behind in building faculties that reflect the diversity of its students–44% of whom are now nonwhite–and failing to prepare teachers who can communicate effectively with the 20% of homes where another language is spoken. Millions of nonwhite students are locked into “dropout factory” high schools, where huge percentages do not graduate and have little prospect of contributing to the economy. Often failing US schools are shared by two or more highly disadvantaged minority groups; most schools are not working on creating positive relationships between them and their teachers, who are often white and untrained in techniques that might lower tension and increase school success, the report says.

In states such as California and Texas where nonwhite students are already the majority, these failures are straining local economies and social systems. On an even larger scale, this reversion to segregation threatens the U.S.’s economic and social position in the world. In a global economy where success is dependent on knowledge, average U.S. educational levels decline as the proportion of children attending inferior segregated schools continues to rise.

The findings are the results of a decades-long systematic neglect of civil rights policy and related educational and community reforms. Its findings echo a damning statement made in 1983 in a report commissioned by the Reagan Administration that looked at the state of education back then. In the “A Nation at Risk” report there was this phrase: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

And for students of color the results are worse than mediocre.

They are devastating.

Will Corporations Tap Millennials’ Unique Strengths?

Unless business schools start diversifying their approaches to education, they may fail to tap Generation Y’s strengths–which would mean huge losses for the corporations they’re being trained to lead. So argues Matt Symonds “Business Schools Beware: Gen Y is at the Door.” in the January 21, 2010 issue of  BusinessWeek. How is this age group different? According to Symonds,

“They differ in one crucial respect. They don’t just use the new technology that has revolutionized business over the past decade—they eat, sleep and breathe it. That means the lessons they will want to learn and the way they will expect those lessons to be delivered could be radically different.”

Technology, he goes on to argue, has bred a generation whose style of thinking and working is intensively interactive. This difference could be put to great advantage in corporations dealing with the realities of globalization:

“Managing and directing international teams means the traditional “face-to-face” model of leadership is no longer possible and, for younger employees in particular, not even relevant. In this context, leaders need to be collaborative, consensual, and inclusive.”

The stakes of whether business schools will rise to the challenge of responding to new differences in the workforce could be high. Symonds believes that the new emphasis on real-time interactivity could “eradicate much of the herd mentality and stifled thinking that have led us into so many economic crises, from the South Sea Bubble to subprime mortgages. The question is: Who is going to have the vision and the courage to implement it?” The article goes on to offer fascinating glimpses of what some of the most forward-thinking business schools in the United States and Europe are doing.

Finally, corporations must confront the exact same question. As I wrote in The Inclusion Paradox, the Millennial Generation is going to challenge the workplace like no other.  Businesses are no more ready for them than business schools are.