How Diverse Cultures Shape Innovation

by Andrés T. Tapia –

(This article was originally published in Talent Management Magazine)iStock_000012215038XSmall.globeflags.purchased

There is an urgent need for innovation to generate growth in a hypercompetitive global marketplace. It’s a rallying cry in companies regardless of location, industry or organizational maturity. But leaders today struggle to translate this strategic imperative into organizational reality.

This made me think of my recent three-hour walk through the streets of Hong Kong. From the elegant lobby of the Mandarin Hotel, through the quintessentially corporate HSBC headquarters, to the food stalls with cooks washing and chopping up vegetables in plain view at the North Point market on Chun Yeung Street, it’s simultaneously very Eastern and Western. It found a way to harness the diversity of cultures into a rich cultural environment and a highly prosperous economy.

But while cultures can enrich one another in the right conditions, a company culture can be an enabler or a detriment to innovation. Let’s compare and contrast three national cultures and their varied approaches to innovation: Japan, China, and the United States.

Japan has been a hotbed of innovation, particularly in the last half of the 20th century. It brought us instant noodles (1958), the bullet train (1964), the Karaoke machine (1971), digital cameras (1981), the PlayStation console (1994) and DVDs (1995).

China, the world’s second largest economy, is considered the factory of the world and struggles to be innovative. China’s leaders recognize this gap and seek in their current five-year plan to stimulate an innovation mindset.

While both Japan and China are influenced by a similar Confucian, communal philosophy — in Japan, there’s a saying that “the tallest poppy gets its head cut off” — why did Japan surge forward in innovation and not China? Why has Japan stalled in the early 21st century when it comes to innovation?

Now consider the U.S., which was founded on the concept of invention — of things and of new beginnings for individuals and their families in the new world. Many industrial era inventions came from the U.S. It was the nation that landed a man on the moon and now is leading the way in the digital economy.

American individualism helps unleash anyone with a great idea regardless of their status in society to start something big — hello Steve Jobs, Bill Gates. But individualism alone does not explain American innovation because Japan is the opposite but also innovative.

So, what gives? While Japan is a monarchy and one-party democracy, it is still a representative-elected government. This form of democracy pulls Japan toward the right of the spectrum between hierarchy and egalitarianism, which data shows is more conducive to new outlier ideas. In contrast, China’s authoritarianism pulls a predisposition toward hierarchy, and further ensconces it in the rigidity of the status quo.

Given its democratic values, combined with its group orientation, Japan gave birth to the concept of Kaizen, which led to the Six Sigma methodology. This collaborative, non-hierarchical approach allows a face-saving way for all to contribute regardless of status.

The U.S. innovation system is likely thriving more today than the Japanese system because Japan has become the poster child for what happens when there is a lack of diversity. It’s one of the most homogeneous societies in the world and is way behind in including female decision makers into the workplace. As competition surges forward from newly developed nations in a complex world, the inclusiveness of Kaizen is not enough without greater diversity.

Americans, who so much talk about inclusion, must confront the obstruction individualism offers its self-proclaimed quest to include all. The Chinese must confront the opposite challenge if they are to have an innovation breakout.

In short, each of these three cultures has something the other needs.

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

by Andrés T. Tapia

(This article was originally published on

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.

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.


Why Corporations Need to Pay Attention to #BlackLivesMatter

by Andrés T. Tapia –

(This article was originally published in Huffington Post Black Voices)

As outrage over young, unarmed black men being shot by law-enforcement officers fuels marches in America’s streets from coast to coast, there’s an awkward silence among corporate-diversity champions on how best to engage on the issue.

The discomfort is understandable. While corporations can have social impact when they choose to, they have very rarely been at the vanguard of social-change movements and, by definition, must act according to self-interest, considering what is best for their brand and place in the market. Given this, the bar is set very high on when company leaders feel they can and should weigh in on polarizing topics without risking a hit to their bottom line.

So yes, General Mills, with its family-friendly brand, chose to recast Betty Crocker’s highly traditional father/mother nuclear family in the vein of Modern Family/Black’ish/Cristela. Starbucks stood up for LGBT rights in the state of Washington. Many companies are making glass-ceiling-shattering decisions when it comes to who leads them (#IBMGinniRometty, #YahooMarissaMayer).

But when it comes to race, and especially when it comes to violence on the streets, the terrain gets so much more complicated when it comes to how corporate decision makers feel they can and should respond.

In conducting my diversity and inclusion consulting work in corporate C-suites this past year, I have experienced a growing cognitive dissonance between what are genuine commitments on the part of leaders to achieve more diverse and inclusive workplaces on the one hand and, on the other, a near complete avoidance of reflecting on the implications of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin on their work.

Sure, it can feel like a leap to many. But here’s where we need to make the link. While some may say that the issues between the police and low-income urban youth are too far removed from the corporate dynamics facing college-educated professionals of color, scratch the surface and there are significantly more psychosocial links than meet the eye.

In saying there are links, I am not saying these are parallel situations. The dynamics of law enforcement, public safety, and incarceration disparities have a life of their own that don’t show up in corporations. But the realities of unconscious and conscious bias that lead to racial profiling and racial marginalization, which manifest in very different ways on the street, have a way of showing up under different guises in the corporation.

Take a moment and reflect.

The black male executives or high-potential talents swiping their ID card as they start their work day have just come in from a real world outside where they have a significantly greater chance of having been stopped by a police officer on their way to work, either driving or walking, than their white counterparts.

Check out these statistics about how real this kind of racial profiling is, and then ask yourself how much this may be weighing on the minds of Black and Latino employees. As reported by the ACLU in 2013, around 525,000 New York residents were stopped and questioned by police. Of those, 56 percent were Black and 29 percent were Latinos, though Blacks and Latinos collectively make up just over than 51 percent of New York City’s total population. Eighty-eight percent were found to be innocent.

It does not take a great leap of logic to consider that the level of paranoia this may induce on the street is likely to show up in some ways at work. I saw this firsthand when I was the chief diversity officer at a global human resources consulting and outsourcing firm headquartered in a white neighborhood. African Americans were indeed pulled over not infrequently as they were just trying to get to work. They were also more fearful of leaving after dark, therefore often showing less willingness to stay longer to finish a job.

And beyond fearing being stopped for driving or walking while Black, there are the too-many-to-name instances where a highly accomplished professional gets given the keys by a driver at valet parking, or gets asked for the aisle number for the paprika, or gets tapped for a glass of wine at a reception. Just ask President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, who shared with People that even they have not been spared from this type of indignity.

Back to the workplace. Even with the consistently dropping unemployment rate, there is a persistent discrepancy between the unemployment rates for various racial groups in the U.S. In November 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for whites and Asians was 4.9 percent, while the Latino rate was 6.6 percent, and for Blacks the rate is 11 percent.

And for those who are employed, the prospects of leadership promotions are dismal. According to DiversityInc magazine and the Alliance for Board Diversity, in the Fortune 500 only 1.2 percent of CEOs and 6.3 percent of board directors are Black. The representation of Asians and Latinos among Fortune 500 CEOs is no better, at 1.8 percent and 2 percent, respectively, and board membership has been reported at just over 2 and 3 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, out in broader society, compared with whites, Blacks and Latinos experience disparate results in health carelong-term savings, and educational achievement and face greater obstacles to being able to vote easily and suffer greater discrimination in housing and bank financing.

What does it mean to say that race still matters? It means that race has an influence on individual outcomes. From the moment a person is born in America, his or her race matters. Race matters at birth, and it matters at death. Race matters in the food we eat and in our health. Race matters in education and in justice. Race matters in politics; it matters in housing. Race matters in employment; it matters in wealth. Race matters in the U.S.A. from cradle to grave.

If we declare that we value diversity and inclusion in our corporations, then we must face this moment-of-truth question: Today, as protestors step into the streets, football fields, and basketball courts declaring that #BlackLivesMatter, are we ready to do the necessary soul searching and organizational changes to bend the narrative that race still matters in the workplace?


Creating Unity in a Broken Community: Eradicating Violence and Discrimination

This is a guest post by Candi Castleberry Singleton, chief inclusion and diversity officer, UPMC/University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences. The piece originally appeared on her Facebook page.

by Candi Castleberry Singelton — Mixed group of nations behind the American flag.

Until now, I’ve avoided my deeply personal thoughts about all of this news. My heart is so, so heavy.

At age 12, on my way home from school, I was confronted by six  White LAPD officers who pointed guns at me and accused me of robbing a hamburger stand on 8th Ave. This was clearly not the case. When they were done harassing the 12-year-old me, they just left. Long story short, I’m grateful to be alive.

At age 18, two Black men mugged and dragged me down an alley on Century Blvd. Inglewood PD arrived and caught one of the two. My mind and body were bruised. Needless to say, I’m grateful to be alive.

Years later, I married a police officer, who served for 16 years in the Bay Area. I’ve prayed for him every day because he was a police officer (he’s no longer an officer), also because off duty, he is a Black man.

I’ve spent many days worried about both sides of this situation. We all know that there are both good community citizens and good officers. There are also bad citizens and officers. We simply CAN’T stereotype ALL people, roles, or functions; this doesn’t move any of this forward.

Today, I pray for families, police, collaboration, and peace in our streets and neighborhoods. I pray community leaders and elected officials will listen and hear the voices and concerns of the people they serve.

I pray we will share our point of view responsibly, vote, and do our part to hold each other—including our friends and family—accountable to make our world a better place for ALL to live—with ALL of the differences.

As a Berkeley grad, I’ve done my fair share of protesting and advocating (but nothing compared to those before me.) What I’ve come to believe is we CAN find common ground when we recognize that issues can often be resolved by working together and respecting others. Differences are ONLY barriers when we allow them to be. We can accomplish more working together than alone, meaning Black & White, police & communities, citizens & leaders, etcetera. There is power in the “&”!

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” — John Lennon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Andrés T. Tapia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for sidebar.

As Economy Booms, China Faces Growing Diversity Challenges

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

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

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

Despite this somewhat rosy picture, challenges persist:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connecting Hispanics and Corporate America: Take Five with HACR’s Carlos Orta

by Andrés T. Tapia —


As president and CEO of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR), Carlos Orta leads an organization with a bold, yet simple-to-understand mission, “to ensure the inclusion of Hispanics in Corporate America at a level commensurate with our economic contributions.”

His background is well suited to leading this charge, having served in several capacities for major corporations such as Anheuser-Busch and the Ford Motor Company, and as a legislative staffer in the Florida House of Representatives. Under Carlos’ leadership, HACR has initiated programs, conducted studies and papers, and championed Hispanics and our impact on the economy, philanthropy, and corporate governance. As a result, Carlos and HACR have become the authority on Hispanics and corporate responsibility.

During our frequent travels, I often run into Carlos at various conferences. We recently caught up with each other, and as HACR celebrates its silver anniversary, Carlos agreed to share his thoughts about the organization and its 25 years.

Take 1: You often refer to the mission of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR) as having four pillars. What are those pillars, and why are they important?

HACR works with its corporate partners, stakeholders, elected officials, and community leaders to provide them with the expertise and tools necessary to ensure the inclusion of Hispanics in our four areas of corporate social responsibility and market reciprocity. Those four areas are employment, procurement, philanthropy, and governance.

With over 50 million consumers, Hispanics represent 16% of the population in the United States, including Puerto Rico, and have an estimated annual purchasing power of $1.2 trillion or 9.6% of the US GDP.

For HACR and the Hispanic community, a company’s reputation and goodwill is based on its ability to promote reciprocity in all areas of the company’s business model. To ensure the continued support and patronage of the Hispanic community, a company should strive to employ Hispanics, contract with Hispanic-owned businesses, support Hispanic-serving organizations, and utilize Hispanic talent to lead its operations in roughly the same proportions that Hispanic consumers support the company.

Take 2: Even though HACR’s mission is targeted toward corporations, its Board of Directors is made up of leaders of different Latino advocacy groups that are not necessarily in the business world. How well does it work for Latino advocacy groups to play an important role in influencing corporations to seek and develop Latino talent?

It works very well. And it works because they have a direct link to more than 50 million Latino consumers.

Collectively, the coalition members reflect the voice of Hispanics living in the United States and Puerto Rico, serving those diverse communities through advocacy, education, representation, assistance, capacity building, public policy support, resource development, and the exertion of political influence. HACR Coalition Members work with more than 1,500 affiliate community-based organizations serving the Hispanic community in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, including more than 450 institutions of higher learning enrolling three out of every four US Hispanic college students, and 400 publications with a combined circulation of more than 10 million.

Take 3: U.S. immigration reform is currently a polarizing issue. How important is resolving the immigration issue to the mission of HACR?

HACR does not deal directly with immigration or policy matters related to immigration reform; however it does affect our Coalition members. We rely on our Coalition members to drive the immigration discussion. They are the experts and the leaders on this front. Regardless of one’s immigration status, you are still a consumer – and one that over indexes on a variety of products and services.

Take 4: It is commonly predicted that Latinos will comprise a quarter of the U.S. population within the next generation. What are the greatest economic opportunities that these increased numbers will make possible for Latinos, and what vulnerabilities within the Latino community do you remain most concerned about?

Latinos are the fastest growing and youngest population in the United States. As the Baby Boomer generation retires, tomorrow’s workforce will be made up of Latinos. In addition, as Fortune 500 companies make geographic shifts, they are relocating into areas that have a higher Latino population (South, Southwest and West Coast).

Given our population and buying power, these corporations should see the value of recruiting, retaining and advancing Latinos at all levels of their corporate structures.

While Hispanics represent over 16% of the total US workforce, we continue to be underrepresented in the leadership of major U.S corporations. According to our own HACR 2010 Corporate Inclusion Index (CII) Survey, of the 1,191 board of director seats at Fortune 100 companies, only 3.6% of the seats were held by Hispanics.

In a recent review of Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 Boards between 2004 and 2010, findings show there are still big gaps to fill and much opportunity for minority inclusion. HACR continues to be an advocate of inclusion and seeks to provide the tools and assistance to those who want to develop their leadership skills.

Take 5: HACR just celebrated its 25th anniversary in DC. What do you believe is the organization’s greatest accomplishment so far, and what is your vision of what its greatest accomplishment will be 25 years from now?

A quarter of a century after it was founded, HACR’s mission is at its most critical and relevant in the organization’s history. Since the organization’s inception, which came at a time when Ronald Reagan was president and Michael Jackson moon walked his way into the American psyche, Hispanics have grown exponentially into the largest minority in the country. And yet, hard work remains to be done, and HACR has geared itself into a future-oriented institution.

Throughout the last 25 years, HACR has been the catalyst for change in Corporate America by staying true to its mission to advance the inclusion of Hispanics at a level commensurate with their economic contributions. We have developed programs specifically to provide a platform to talk with and nurture talent for executive boards, C-suite positions and upcoming executives. These programs include the HACR Corporate Directors Summit, The Corporate Executive Forum™, the HACR CEO Roundtable, and the HACR Young Hispanic Corporate Achievers™.

The goal for HACR in 25 years will be that we will have achieved our mission. And for those companies that didn’t get it, that didn’t understand the value of including Hispanics at all levels, they will lose out on two fronts: our financial and intellectual capital.

Soulful Diversity: The Spirit’s Urgent Demand for Greater Inclusion

By Andrés T. Tapia

Art by Cheryl Harris White

(Art by Cheryl Harris White)

Today I had a new experience where at the invitation of a close friend, I delivered a sermon at a Unitarian Universalist congregation. I had never before attended this kind of faith group and I always love experiencing new communities and learning about what they are about. In preparing I got more acquainted with the history of two fused congregations (Unitarian and Universalist), which is quite diverse in the belief systems of its members who tend toward mysticism on the one hand, social justice on the other. And the mysticism, while having Christian roots also embraces Eastern practices. So open is this denomination that it even makes room for atheists. All this was good for me to know and, while using a Christian scripture as the teaching text, I needed to use language that worked for this broad spectrum of belief without diluting the power of the message. I invite you to listen in.


[One of the readings shared earlier in the service to frame the sermon was the following:]

“And who is my neighbor?“ the rabbi was asked.

The rabbi replied: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ –– Luke 10:29-35 (NIV)


Who is my neighbor? Jesus was asked.

This is really an inclusion question, isn’t? It’s basically asking, who should I consider to be part of my community?

In the New Testament’s Gospel of Luke narrative there’s a short back story that leads to this question. Let’s look at it:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The expert in the law answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But the man wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In this exchange a lot hangs in the balance, doesn’t it?

In the theological context of this conversation, it’s a question of what will lead to eternal life. Others who may not believe in the concept of eternal life may interpret it as a question about the meaning of life.

In either case, whether we live eternally or whether how we have lived our lives has eternal impact, the weight of the question is monumental. How are we to live our lives so that something sustainable, memorable, long-lasting, eternal comes of it?

So we listen in with anticipation to Jesus’ answer. And he first directs his questioner to the ancient scriptures when he says, “What is written in the Law?” And so the expert in the Law, like any good rabbi or preacher or lawyer, quotes chapter and verse. The first part of the answer is what we would expect from a religious script: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. But it doesn’t end there, does it? The scriptures also command that we “love our neighbor as ourselves.”

This is a moment of truth.

Because there are many ways to show or even pretend to love God. We can faithfully go to religious service, we can pray piously, we can quote the scriptures. But this neighbor clause is troubling. It’s troubling because it may be that much harder to fake love for neighbor than love for God.

It may indeed be harder to be inclusive that it is to be religious.

And so I can imagine a challenging edge to the question: “So who is my neighbor, rabbi.”

As we heard in the Story for All Ages, the answer is taken from the headlines where journalists live by the adage of “if it bleeds it leads”: There’s a man lying by the side of the road, beaten up by thieves who took what he had. The well off, the religious ones, the elite pass him by on their Blackberry-scheduled ways. And it is a Samaritan, who is lifted up as the role model of inclusion.

And this is an outrageous answer. On several fronts.

First, because of who Jesus holds up as the role model. The Samaritans were despised by a significant segment of Jews of that time, in particular the elite. They were considered a half caste people, a mixture of Jewish and Arab who practiced a heretical form of Judaism. Good Jews did not deal with Samaritans. They avoided their neighborhoods. Shunned them from participating in their society.

They were the Muslims, the Latinos, the African Americans of that time. The outsiders.

And secondly, it’s outrageous because of how Jesus elaborates on the question of what is necessary for eternal life. He doesn’t say, believe this or that doctrine, or pray every day, or go to religious service weekly. In fact, it’s not about belief or religious practice at all. But it’s about love of neighbor. And the answer is not theological or academic or about change management. It is practical and pragmatic. Indeed, one could argue that this is the practical answer to how to love the Lord God with all of one’s heart, soul, strength, and mind:

There is a man lying by the side of the road. And he is hurt. He is alone and forgotten. Shunned and ignored. And he needs help. He needs bandaging and food and water and a place to stay. He needs protection, a place to heal to become whole again.

Put simply, Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan is both a literal and metaphorical message of who should we, you, I include in our circle of care. And his definition of inclusion is one that is about diversity.

That our neighbor is anyone we come across and see in need. It doesn’t matter what our profession and status is. It doesn’t matter the neighborhood we’re in. It doesn’t matter if we have a Lotus Notes schedule to follow. In fact, the eternal-impact action in that temporal moment is not “keep to the schedule” or “stick with the agenda” or “stay with the plan,” but rather tend to the person in need.

That’s how Martin Luther King, Jr. understood it when he declared that he wanted to be remembered as a Drum Major for Peace, Justice, and Righteousness. Who, using biblical language, would be remembered as someone who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited those in prison. That he wants to be remembered as someone who “tried to love and serve humanity.” “All the other shallow things will not matter,” he preached. “Not money. Not fine and luxurious things.” He was after a life that would be eternal in its impact. And so it has been.

And so who is our neighbor? Here in Grayslake? Lake County? McHenry County? Kenosha County? Who is it that is laying by the side of the road, neglected, bleeding, robbed of their money, robbed of their opportunities, robbed of their housing, robbed of their dignity, robbed of their rights?

And here we must go back to the news headlines. Isn’t our neighbor the Latino undocumented worker who is facing a fierce onslaught to make him or her leave? There are children today in Waukegan and North Chicago and Wheeling who are terrified every time Papi must leave the house, even for a loaf of bread for dinner, that he may not return with the promised rolls. Breathlessly they await wondering if he has been taken and deported never to be seen again. Aren’t our neighbors all the brown-skinned people who fear that laws will be passed that allow for them to be pulled over by the police just because of the color of their skin or the accent of their speech or the fashion of their clothes?

Isn’t our neighbor the African American in North Chicago, Zion, Highland Park who fears being pulled over for driving while black, whose family and extended family may face some of the same infant mortality rates, graduation rates, and incarceration rates today as when King began his march on Selma?

Isn’t our neighbor the Muslim in America who is facing increased discrimination in the workplace, threats to burn the Koran, accusations of being a terrorist? Isn’t our neighbor the Jew who is facing anti-Semitic threats from nation states and Muslims and Christians?

As we think about who is our neighbor, as we think about what it takes to have a life with eternal impact, eternal life, as we think about what love looks like, as we think about the meaning of diversity and inclusion, imagine a pitch black stage and suddenly a spotlight on a man…or is it a woman…or maybe it’s a child…on the side of the road, bleeding, hurt. Foreclosed. Bankrupt. Hungry. Deported. Struggling to graduate. Waiting for help –– waiting for a neighbor to stop and see him or her and show them love.

When President Barack Obama was asked about all the controversy swirling around Muslims in a press conference the day before this year’s September 11, he gave a very important answer that ended with this:

“I’ve got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan in the uniform of the United States armed services. They’re out there putting their lives on the line for us. And we’ve got to make sure that we are crystal-clear for our sakes and their sakes they are Americans and we honor their service. And part of honoring their service is making sure that they understand that we don’t differentiate between them and us. It’s just us.”

And this could have been an answer about Latin American and Asian immigrants. About African Americans. About Jews. About gays and lesbians. About those with disability. About veterans. About our youth. These are our neighbors whom we must love as ourselves. And who work in our backyards, our restaurants, our companies, our armed services. Who watch our children. Whose hard work and taxes serve the common good.  Who help us in our places of need. These are our neighbors as much as the person to your left and right.

There’s no them and us.

It’s just us.

Helping our neighbor in need can of course be scary; controversial… fraught with political and social polarization with code words such as Samaritan, half caste, not from here. Not one of us. No different in Jesus’ time or our time. To respond, to love…to love our neighbor as ourselves we need courage. And as we heard in the 2nd reading, Eleanor Roosevelt gives us practical and inspired advice: “We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up…discovering we have the strength to stare it down. We must learn to cast out fear.”

Who is our neighbor. My neighbor. Your neighbor. Who are you going to include? Will you cross the lines of diversity? Who is the us?

As you can see, this thing about diversity and inclusion is not at its core about mentoring and flyers in Spanish or training programs or international potlucks. Rather, it’s work of the spirit. It’s work of love. It’s work with eternal impact.

After sharing his parable, Jesus asked his questioner, “Which of these three – the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan – do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

The rabbi said, “Go and do likewise.”


Delivered on September 26, 2010 at the Prairie Circle Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Grayslake, Illinois

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.

Dolls of Color Move into Barbie’s Neighborhood At Last

by Andrés T. Tapia —

BlackBarbieIn her blog ms. rasberry’s world, Tamara Rasberry reports a shocking discovery on a recent trip to Target. In contrast to her own experience as a little girl who played with dolls, or as a younger mother who bought dolls for her own two little girls, the now mother of teens reports that mainstream dolls are finally reflecting ethnic diversity. Her reactions:

As a child, I had the “Black Barbie” – you know, the one with the red sequined outfit and the curly afro. She was so cool, but all of her friends had to be White and I always wished she could have more friends of color, siblings etc. . . .

The diversity in selection that I recently saw at Target came as such a shock, especially the Barbie dolls. They now have a line called S.I.S. (so in style) and I literally wanted to buy every single one. These are dolls of color, designed by a woman of color. (Yay!) In addition, the backstory of the dolls is that they live in Chicago (not, sunny California) and serve as mentors to little girls. I love it! They also have a line of Barbie ‘models’ – each wearing a different little black dress (LBD.)  I love that they even have a gorgeous dark chocolate-hued one. . . .

Oh how I wish I had these options back in the day. I applaud the doll industry for stepping their game up. . . . Before it’s all said and done, I can see myself purchasing at least one of these dolls. Just because I can.

As trivial as black babies and black accessories may seem, this is about big business and big cultural identity affirmation. It’s hard enough not seeing leaders who look like you. But to not even see a doll with your features?  America is changing — from who is in the Oval Office to who can be found on the toy shelves. And it is these small and large cultural markers that both indicate and help accelerate cultural change.

What profitable and cultural change opportunities to capitalize on diversity lie within your industry or organization?

Avis Rents Cars Equipped for People with Disabilities

So Avis does try harder.

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

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

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

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

What is your company doing to do the same?

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

by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research —


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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