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nearly every country in the world—that while diversity is more relevant than ever, the way we think about it is obsolete.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.


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.

Surviving and Thriving in a Season of Great Uncertainty and Great Opportunity

by Andrés T. Tapia – Business people standing on stairs

As I have been travelling around the U.S. and the world and engaging with many of you over dinners, conference interactions, consulting engagements, or wind downs over coffee, martinis, or pisco sours, it’s clear that we are all in a moment of great anticipation as well as angst in the diversity and inclusion field.

Many of our conversations have focused on how, for the last few years, in a celebrated way, the field has been undergoing transformative changes. A generation of pioneering leaders is retiring and moving on. A new generation with new voices is rising. What diversity and inclusion means is morphing real time. More and more companies, not-for-profits, and governmental agencies are pursuing diversity and inclusion as never before.

It’s indeed a time of great vitality and verve for the D&I field. But with these changes, diversity is encountering a paradoxical dynamic that can be best summed up in this royal way: “Diversity is dead. Long live diversity!”

Here’s how this is playing out. As more and more companies are declaring how important it is to address diversity, at the same time, like in other parts of business, diversity budgets aren’t growing or are being cut. This puts diversity and inclusion in a conundrum of having greater visibility, greater expectations, greater accountability—and fewer resources. As a result, diversity leaders are betwixt and between. There’s pride, and at times even euphoria, about the fact that the message is getting across that diversity is vital to the business. But that sugar high irrevocably preordains the sudden emotional crash that follows of “how are we going to get the work done?” How can we create a sustainable path?

Unprecedented complexity reigns in today’s diversity work. Thanks to our success in making the case that it’s not all just about race and gender but so many other diversity dimensions, we’re now headed down the path of diversity of one. We have, in addition, made the sale that it’s about a marketplace that is vastly diverse and global, clamoring for new types of products, services and ways of marketing and supporting them and that D&I has answers to those challenges and opportunities. And now we are even engaging in deeper work about how the success of operational strategies such as mergers and acquisitions, offshoring, regionalization, and globalization are also highly dependent on the internalization and application of D&I strategies and crosscultural dexterity and competence.

Our increasing success in making the case has taken us to a more complex field of uncertainty, in some ways of our own doing, about how to deliver the best strategies and solutions. In this our own competence gets tested because we now have been given the responsibility of handling the very things we had clamored for but really haven’t had to do before. It’s too late to heed the warning of be careful what you ask for. It’s now in our hands and we can’t give it back.

So, what’s the way forward? Here are six things you can do right now:

1. Collectively acknowledge the pain and uncertainty and then imagine the possibilities. One of the advantages of Diversity Best Practices’ conferences and networking opportunities is the chance to talk about this—about what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling. It’s therapeutic to lean on the community to share how you’re feeling and why. And then dream together.

2. Learn how to develop the key competencies of Next Generation Diversity. At DBP, we’ve been trumpeting the eight competencies that we believe are more important than ever for diversity practitioners to be able to lead in this new era. In particular, I encourage you to pay attention to the competency of influence. As quickly as you can, learn the skills and behaviors you need to develop to be influential.

We used to equate power and authority with the size of our budget and whether our teams were growing. Now, power comes through the ability to influence others to do what they would not have otherwise done were it not for our ability to see what’s in it for them in supporting D&I. This kind of influence increases the challenge of protecting your budget from crazy cuts as well as to more creatively to tap into other departments’ budgets to remain strong and healthy.

3. Develop an alliance mentality inside your organization. This is a specific way to be more influential. Determine how you can be of value to other departments, such as HR, research and development, and marketing. And I don’t mean just telling them what they need to do. Look at what they’ve already committed to doing and identify how diversity and inclusion can help them achieve these goals. By doing this, you can get the kind of executive support from the lines of business and support functions that will allow you to partner with them to tap into their resources to do the work that is beneficial to them.

4. Hone your position as a thought leader. In this really dynamic field of diversity and inclusion, where the best practices are getting calcified and there’s an urgent push to shape the next practices, new thinking is what is getting noticed in a corporate world that is rushing at a break-neck, Mach-speed pace. And this new thinking doesn’t necessarily have to be complex and deep. People clamor for clarity. They are looking for insight and wisdom that will lead to high-impact, simple, and actionable solutions. You need to provide this.

5. Sharpen your story-telling ability. Even as measurable accountabilities rise, don’t get so bogged down by the detailed PowerPoint that you miss the human aspect of this work. Float above it and discover the compelling story. In fact, data-grounded stories are the most powerful. Scan those rows and columns of numbers and see what storyline floats up connecting seemingly unrelated findings. Tell the story of what your organization can be if you really invest in diversity.

6. Become a Diversity Best Practices member and make the most of your membership. Our member conferences have become true, interdisciplinary learning communities of knowledge sharing and knowledge creation. Hold discussion groups around our thought-provoking white papers. Turn tough questions asked of you by executives and leaders into research topics our team can look into for you as part of your 30 hours of research.

DBP’s membership is geared toward helping you survive and thrive in these turbulent times. Membership is also not just for you, but also for a range of people across your organization. Forward-thinking member companies are already doing this and extending their impact within their organizations. It’s a simple and compelling value proposition: someone else is designing, developing, and delivering high-impact, world-class events and publications for you. You just need to show up and/or send those you want to influence.

The challenges we’re currently facing are not insurmountable. In fact, they present unprecedented opportunities. Together, as a community of diversity practitioners, we can learn and grow along the six ways outlined here—and as we do take our organizations into next generation diversity and inclusion.

The Not-So-Empty Nest

by Andrés T. Tapia – Portrait of senior couple with adult son

It’s the subject of much Boomer handwringing and comedy routines: the boomerang adult. That’s the kid who on finishing post-high school schooling (or after a brief foray on their own) returns home to live with Mom and Dad.

Boomer parents are not imaging things. Their sons really are coming home to roost. And yes, it’s primarily a guy thing. That’s according to the U.S. Census, which found that from 2005 to 2011 the percentage of men age 25 to 34 living with their parents rose from 14% to 19%, but only increased from 8% to 10% for women of the same age.

If it’s any consolation to American parents, this trend is global. Young people in Europe, Japan, Canada, and other areas are taking longer to transition to adulthood. In Italy, 37% of men 30-years old and up have never left home. There are men in Japan pushing 40 still living at home. And reports from the UK show 25% of young adult males are still at home, compared to 13% of women the same age.

In a Salon.com piece that looks at this phenomenon, author, sociologist and a Johns Hopkins University dean Katherine Newman talks about her interviews with people in six countries in southern Europe, the Nordic states, Japan and the U.S. She explains some of the reasons behind this global trend.

Globalization and the recession are making it harder for new workers to enter the labor force, and the cost of housing is climbing. But other social and psychological factors are at play too. The result is a sometimes rocky, sometimes serendipitous experience for these families as they struggle to redefine adulthood and familial roles in the face of overwhelming global economic forces.

I’m glad that Newman realized that it’s more than economics keeping young people at home. There’s something else going on here and some of it’s cultural. Typically, young people in North American, Japan, UK, and the Nordic countries moved toward independence sooner than in other countries, like Spain or Italy. Newman talks of the cultural differences between countries. How a particular society describes this trend reflects cultural and social attitudes as well as political and governmental policies.

More than just an interesting demographic trend, this development is also an expression of multi-faceted cultural divisions – among countries, among generations, and between genders.

What Boomers believe is the normal transition to adulthood will soon be upended by the experiences of Millennials and Generations X and Y. Depending on where they live, parents from differing regions and countries will welcome, decry, or simply accept the return of their “adultsters.”

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.

Where are D&I Advocates in the Social Media Movement?

by Andrés T. Tapia —


I was about two months in as president of Diversity Best Practices and talking with several colleagues about expanding the company’s reach and its social media presence: the page on Facebook and the new Twitter strategy.  

That’s when it hit me.

The most powerful technology ever that can enable inclusion is in the palm of our hands, yet too many of us who understand the power of inclusion–particularly D&I practitioners–are MIA in its use.

Social media has become a ubiquitous part of everyday life. Last year, 3 of 10 Internet sessions included a visit to Facebook, according to ComScore. What’s more, visitors to Twitter increased 89% in 2010—and that’s not including those who accessed the site through third-party mobile apps. LinkedIn is blossoming as well, experiencing a 30% boost in visitors between December 2009 and December 2010.

Given the myriad means of accessing social media, it is indeed the most inclusive technology in history. The implications of this are huge. As a child growing up under an oppressive dictatorship in Peru, I lived in a country where the government controlled the flow of information. Those in power determined what messages were disseminated and who had the right to do so. Today, social media provides anyone—regardless of race, gender, religion, physical or mental ability, sexual orientation or socio-economic status—with a virtually uncensored forum to reach the masses.

Recent world events have illustrated the global impact of this all-access technology. Following the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan, people were able to find out the status of loved ones through updates on sites like Facebook and YouTube. Fundraising efforts launched almost immediately, allowing people around the globe to donate money for relief aid. Messages posted on social media outlets prompted young adults in Egypt to gather in protest—a monumental effort that culminated in President Hosni Mubarak abdicating power after a 30-year reign. And, in the United States, we may not have had our first African-American president if it weren’t for the grassroots campaigns that germinated online. 

Carlos Dominquez, a self-described nowist and a Senior Vice President in Cisco System’s Office of the Chairman of the Board and CEO, has described the rise of social media as “one of the greatest transformations in the history of mankind.” He contends that companies that leverage these tools will gain a significant competitive advantage, while those that don’t will not be long for the business world.

A good number of companies have recognized this and are harnessing the power that lies within social media. In 2010, 60% of Fortune 500 companies had a corporate Twitter account—a jump from just 35% the previous year, according to a study by the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts. Of these companies, 56% were on Facebook and 23% had a public-facing corporate blog. 

So far, companies seem to be focused on social media as a means of supporting their marketing and customer service efforts. Diversity practitioners have yet to join the revolution and are missing out on a true inclusion opportunity.

 From widening a company’s diversity recruiting net to tapping into trends in globalization to spreading the word about a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, opportunities abound for diversity professionals to engage an inclusive medium that reaches people from all walks of life inside and outside the organization. The growth and impact of this technology show no signs of stopping. In fact, it is going to continue to accelerate exponentially.

 Like the companies for which they work, diversity professionals who don’t friend social media now will find themselves wondering what happened. So link up and link in, book some face time, Twitter, YouTube, Digg, Flickr or whatever is just over the horizon. We can’t afford to be missing in action in social media.

Brazil: Nudging Machismo Aside?

by Andrés T. Tapia —

Brazilian presidential candidates Dilma Rousseff and Jose Serra gesture after voting at their polling stations on October 3, 2010. REUTERS/Edison Vara and Nacho Doce

(Brazilian presidential candidates Dilma Rousseff and Jose Serra gesture after voting at their polling stations on October 3, 2010. REUTERS/Edison Vara and Nacho Doce)

Brazil’s upcoming runoff election the day after I leave after a series of diversity-related events, will result in a new president—and maybe the end of the country’s machismo culture. The background: Brazil held elections early in October, with the presidential vote yielding no clear majority winner. The runoff election, to be held October 31, pits centrist candidate Jose Serra against Dilma Rousseff, the hand-picked choice of charismatic outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and… a woman.

Rousseff holds a lead in polling, and some polls show her pulling further ahead of Serra as the election nears. If she wins, Rousseff will join Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez and Costa Rica’s Laura Chinchilla as current sitting female presidents in Latin American countries, bringing the total to 6 women presidents in Latin American history.  Many believe that a Rousseff victory will diminish the machismo influence in Brazil. Indeed, outgoing President Silva said he chose a woman to follow in his footsteps because, “we’ve won this stage of discrimination against women. If [machismo] exists, it’s the minority in the heads of reactionaries.”

More background: In Brazil, as well as several other Latin American countries, a machismo culture has long prevailed. Violence against women such as rape (including spousal rape), murder, and beating is illegal, but as recently as 2009 such crimes remained widely underreported. During January to June of 2008, a government-run abuse hotline found that 64% of callers were victims of domestic abuse. Some 60% of callers reported being beaten on a daily basis; 18% were beaten weekly.

Nonetheless, Silva’s government worked to support women, notably by enacting the “Maria de Penha law,” named for a woman who survived abuse by her husband, that stiffened penalties and provided increased protections for female victims of domestic violence.

Rousseff is poised to continue in the same vein, but there has been controversy. Initially she avoided stirring the gender pot too much, saying increasing women’s privileges was not a gender policy but “a social policy.” She promised to build 6,000 day care centers. She talked not about matriarchies, but “recognizing women’s importance in the family structure.” But prior to the original election Rousseff stated her support of looser abortion restrictions—and the controversy took hold. Her opponent, Serra, countered by running ads of smiling pregnant women. Rousseff backpedaled into reiterating her own “love of family.” In a country where 1 million (mostly illegal) abortions are performed each year and some 300 women die from botched procedures, the issue is no small matter. And, given Brazil’s political climate, a solution is not imminent.

And so, if Rousseff does, indeed, become Brazil’s first female president, sweeping change may not immediately result. But it may mark the start of the slow, persistent demise of machismo in Brazil.

Read more about my visit to Brazil.

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.

The Glass Ceiling’s Global Dimensions – Despite Many Gains, Much Work to Do in the Most Basic Ways

by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research

african women - diversity and global cultures There is much positive going on for women around the world, but despite the many gains (which we will continue to write about on this blog), women still have seriously diffcult barriers to overome in nearly every corner of the globe.

Too often, the struggle isn’t even for equality, or equal wages, or equal access to jobs. In too many circumstances, the struggle is for a chance at basic education, or an escape from violence.

In China and India, the female struggle begins at birth: An estimated 1.5 million fewer girls per year are born than should be in these regions. Girls in these countries die before they reach age 5 more often than they should. By the time they are adults, there are 32 Chinese men for every 20 Chinese women—and, according to The Guardian, the ratio will worsen over time. Yet, as The New York Times reports, in both China and India, deeply rooted cultural values, religious beliefs, and economic conditions stand in the way of correcting the gender imbalance.

In parts of  Africa and the Middle East, reproductive rights take the stage, though the problem, of course, goes beyond reproductive rights: in some locations women often are perceived as property, as are children. Violence toward a wife is swept beneath the carpet, whereas wives and daughters who are assaulted by men other than their husbands are blamed, sometimes jailed, sometimes murdered by their families as a matter of honor. But even in their everyday lives, these women struggle. They bear more children than they might want, often more than they can afford. Recent media coverage in the United States around the Pill’s 50th anniversary includes speculation that making the Pill and other forms of contraception available in Africa and the Middle East might go far toward lifting women and children out of poverty.

Equal access to education is another priority, and here the picture is brightening. According to the World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Gender Gap report, 82 of the 134 countries studied have achieved parity in education. Another 41 countries have closed at least 90 % of the gap between boys and girls. The nine remaining countries, all in sub-Saharan Africa, have a longer journey ahead of them. Around the world, girls hold their own in enrollment and, when it comes to secondary education, even begin to surpass boys. The advantages for girls are immense: For every year of schooling, a female’s earning power increases 10 to 20%, increasing to 15 to 25% at the secondary level. Women use these gains to improve their lives, putting 90% of their earnings back into their households (as compared to men, who only reinvest 30 to 40% of their income into their homes).

This brings us back to equality on the job. Andrés discusses in The Inclusion Paradox, multinational corporations, with their meritocracy culture, stand poised to significantly help women, and already have dramatically changed the lives of women in India and China. In “The Global Glass Ceiling” Isobel Coleman found that 75 % of companies that worked to empower women in developing countries already had earned economic benefits or were poised to do so. Multinationals aren’t the only answer, either. In countries such as Pakistan, microloans from local organizations are making a difference. The New York Times reports how one Pakistani woman secured a loan for $65, using it to build a business that now employs 30 families, as well as her husband!

These gains are noteworthy and substantial, but still do not result in equal terms for women. Globally, women are more likely to be unemployed than men, and they are overrepresented in vulnerable or low-paying (or unpaid) jobs, such as agriculture, caretaking, unpaid family work, and the like. The International Labor Organization reports that in every region of the world working-age men are more likely to have jobs than working-age women. Even in East Asia, which boasts the highest rate of female workers among the eligible population (69.5% of possible women workers are employed), men fare significantly better (82.5% of eligible men are employed). Other regions fare much worse: Only 25% of eligible women are employed in the Middle East, for example, compared to 82% of eligible men. And, yes, the wage gap persists. According to this chart from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, on average women still earn almost 18% less than men—with the gap varying from country to country.

Whether fighting for their lives or fighting for their jobs—which, in some cases, equates to the same thing—women across the world have some distance to cover. Ground is gained here, and lost there, but the overall picture is one of slow progress.

Women: Have Come a Long Way, Yet Falling Behind While Getting Ahead

by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research —
switchboard operators2My daughter is 8 years old. I would love to give her—and my older son, who benefits as well—a world in which she is unquestionably equal, safe from being viewed/treated as an object, and valued for her real contributions to the world.

The data tells us we are getting closer. Throughout the world, girls are going to school in numbers nearly equal to those of boys. The wage gap in industrialized nations shrinks further, year by year. In the United States, women now outnumber men in terms of payroll, as seen here. Perhaps the best news: Men increasingly are okay with it all. According to a Pew Research report, more men are marrying women who are better educated and who earn more money.

But we still don’t have it right, do we?

Here’s the irony: Even when women get ahead, they fall behind.

The Social Price of Success

womanexecTake education, for example. At all levels, girl attendees are passing boys. In college, women have held a lead for a little while now—since 2007, 57 percent of U.S. college enrollees have been women. This academic gain comes at a social price. Women compete for dates and boyfriends, and when it comes to dating, men call the shots. As illustrated in this New York Times article a “hook up” culture, unsafe and unsatisfactory for women, has become prevalent on college campuses.

How many high-powered corporate women find themselves faced with a similar problem decades later in their lives? How many of them do not marry, or sacrifice their marriages for their careers? The single lives of the Supreme Court’s most recent appointees has generated speculation about women in senior roles in government. In her brilliant autobiography, Madeleine Albright speculates that perhaps she could not have become the first female Secretary of State had not her husband divorced her. How many other women have paid a painful price to claim positions of stature in their jobs?

That Stubborn Wage Gap

Generally speaking, although plenty of women are working, and the gap in wages is closing, it nonetheless still exists. Estimates vary, with a recent chart by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development setting the gap at 19 percent for the United States. The gap persists because of persistent challenges: among them, women are clustered in roles and industries that traditionally pay less. (Question: Do they pay less in and of themselves, or because the jobs are predominantly held by women?)

That’s the tip of the iceberg for working women in the United States. When women have children, roughly a third of them, per this Forbes article off-ramp, sometimes for more than two years, to care for their newborns. The two-year job loss, often at the beginning of a woman’s peak earning power, translates into reduced wages and responsibilities for the remainder of her career. Further, many who want to return to work (40%, according to Forbes) could not find full-time employment.

Flexibility Not Cure-All

For those that can find work, caring for children becomes the glaring issue. Employers increasingly offer flexible schedules, but truly sufficient work-life flexibility still can be difficult to come by.  Sure, the picture is changing. But as argued in this New York Times article, employers can view workers who also are caregivers as people who are, by definition, less committed to their jobs, and thus less deserving of promotions, pay increases, increased responsibilities. Asking for more flexibility might simply reinforce the stereotype.

Even when the flexibility is there, the child care may not be. When the economy flounders, working women—particularly single mothers—must hang on to both their jobs and their child care. But as this New York Times story illustrates, child care can be increasingly hard to come by. After all, isn’t this scenario the root of the feminization of poverty in America?

Indeed, when it comes to “having it all,” the equation can be made to work for financially successful women, but is burdensome for women who struggle economically. As this story illustrates, college-educated women are better positioned to attract men with good financial prospects. They might earn an income sufficient to let them outsource tasks such as house cleaning, lawn maintenance, and related work. They can afford high-quality child care. They are in a better position to take time off from their careers (even if that time does involve a relative financial penalty). Less educated women have few to none of these advantages.

Women’s Gain Equals Men’s Loss?

Even more troubling for women, from a bigger-picture standpoint, is that women’s economic gains historically have come at a cost to men. More women than men are working in the United States—but why? The article above points to a study showing women are more likely to be employed in countries where they traditionally earn less than men. And the reverse is true: They are less often employed in countries where their salaries are closer to that of men. Today in the United States, women are edging out men because they are cheaper. As already noted, they tend to be clustered in lower-paying roles and industries. When the economy rebounds, will men resoundingly reclaim their majority in the workforce?

Where does all this leave us? Are American women as close to workforce equality as they can expect to get? Is earning 80% of what a man makes, while still being able to have a home and family, good enough? Certainly it’s better than 60%. Perhaps women have done as much as they can by approaching the structural elements of the problem. Changing the structure of the working world has gotten us close. The underlying cultural and social change always has been harder.

So, much as I want to give my daughter a more equal world, I suspect it falls to her, and her generation, to get there. Millennials, and those behind them, seem to bring with them their own culture, a more tolerant, gender-, color-, and sexual-preference-blind point of view that might be just what we need.