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nearly every country in the world—that while diversity is more relevant than ever, the way we think about it is obsolete.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

Your Strongest Asset—Your Org Culture—Could Be Your Greatest Barrier to Inclusion

by Andrés T. Tapia – Business People Smiling

Our work in diversity and inclusion demands us to manage through many paradoxes. In part this is due to the work of diversity and inclusion having to surf its way through seeming contradictions. Do these sound familiar?

  • Diverse representation is paramount but we don’t want to focus on the numbers
  • Affirmative Action is about the numbers but you can’t make them quotas
  • If you surface a diversity and inclusion gap you are obliged to do something about it, so it may be better not to find out
  • We need to level the playing the field for those traditionally underrepresented but we can’t do it at the detriment of those who have been in the majority
  • Affinity groups are about affinity but must include everyone who wants to join
  • Diversity and inclusion strategy should expand its reach and be holistic. Address severe talent shortages, emerging marketplace penetration, global team productivity, generate greater creativity and innovation, but, oh by the way, do it with fewer resources
  • We must master best practices processes to move change through our organizations while at the same time be able to freestyle via spontaneous invention to arrive at creative and alternative ways to breakthrough.

There is plenty to explore in each one of these, but here’s one more I want to share and explore in this post:

Are companies with strong corporate cultures inherently more exclusionary?

This question came up in a recent conversation with my colleague Lisa Levey, a thought leader on women’s advancement and work-life integration and author of The Libra Solution: Shedding Excess and Redefining Success at Work and at Home, when we were chatting about a couple of clients we are currently working with. She framed it this way, “Enhancing diversity and inclusion within strong work cultures is ultimately a paradox. Strong cultures have a way we do things and a set of norms that dictate behavior. This clarity defines who they are as an organization as well as what—and who—fits. But D&I are about embracing new ideas and new ways of doing things, often challenging the status quo.“

How to address this conundrum that the bold, distinctive culture that has made these companies successful is the same culture that can severely hinder the organization from being truly inclusive?

We’ve witnessed this across the world and it doesn’t matter the industry—retail, manufacturing, managing consulting, pharmaceuticals, finance, and so on. In each of these industries there are longstanding companies with histories more than 100 years old as well as new economy companies barely a decade old that have a palpable and distinct culture that influences the profile of who gets hired, what gets identified as good and poor performance, and in this, of course, who gets developed and promoted.

Adds Lisa, “strong work cultures are typically characterized by a core set of values that influence priorities and bring life to the way work is accomplished.” The end result is that leadership and management is then shaped by these very values and the organization’s narrow interpretations of what the behaviors behind these values should look like.

Clients that have very strong cultures are extremely admirable. It’s easy to find people who have been there 20, 25, 30 years. Their employees have great memories and great pride in their organization—what it has accomplished, what it stands for, and the kind of talent it has attracted and nurtured. These are traits that get you on the Best and Most Admired companies lists.

How ironic then that it can be so painful and difficult that these companies are often the very places where it’s hardest to open up space for people who are different. The very people who are brought in under the auspices of the organization needing greater diversity and inclusion quickly run afoul of the unspoken coda of how to think, how to speak, and how to act.

The organizational system, wired to nurture the coda and conversely reject deviations from it, like a highly effective immune system, treats that difference as a foreign body that must be surrounded by contain-and-reject interventions. Here comes the raised eyebrow, the roll-of-the-eyes, the “we don’t do it that way here” pricks that slowly but surely deflate the confidence of successful-elsewhere talent.

The Achilles Heel of Strong Corporate Cultures

These companies with strong corporate cultures must then face a choice. They can continue business as usual and they may get lucky and for some time may not experience much apparent downside. But they should then be more realistic about how diverse and inclusive they can truly become.

Or, if the case for being more inclusive and diverse has been made forcefully, they can seize this moment to do some self examination, which in this upside down world, is critical as old assumptions are being swept away by the new normal.

To be clear, examining your culture for ways in which it can be inadvertently exclusive does not mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There are ways to affirm and even hold on to those differentiating distinctive aspects of culture, while letting go of things that have been long cherished and valued that are no longer necessary and long obsolete.

How can you go about this? A few things to think about:

  • Distinguish between requirements and preferences. Do an exercise using the honored late Roosevelt Thomas’ guidance. Determine what is really required to do the work and be successful at your company and what is really a preference that is tied to tradition and the people who came before you that really don’t reflect the new generation of work, clients, customers, and workers.
  • Rethink the assumptions around mentoring. Often mentoring in strong corporate culture environments can become the code word for training people who are different to become just like us. While there’s still a place to help people through mentoring that can increase their chances of success by showing them the ropes, until you do the work of distinguishing between a preference and a requirement, you’re not going to be able to know what is inclusive versus exclusionary advice.
  • Make it safe and inviting for alternative voices to be heard, valued, and acted on. Train legacy leaders and managers on how to seek out alternative voices in their teams and meetings. Reward managers who consistently do so. Profile those who have a different approach than has been the norm. Also design reciprocal mentoring programs—companies with strong corporate cultures often suffer from being too insular. Activate the very premise of diversity, which is to bring alternative thinking to the organization. Formalize and channel this diversity to effectively bring new thinking and life to the organization.

Finally, make this message go viral: in today’s global, hyper-diverse, rapidly changing world, those that don’t keep up with the changes risk getting sidelined. All companies are going to need the diversity of thinking of those who have not fit the formula in that past.

If homogeneity of thinking and behavior was the key to survival before, today it’s a vulnerability. Heterogeneity through those who don’t fit the traditional and previously successful culture could really be the very thing you need more than ever in order to sustain your success in this brave new world.

The Metamorphosis of Global Diversity

iStock_000012215038XSmall.globeflags.purchasedby Andrés T. Tapia –

In recent months, I’ve given in to my global wanderlust. In November, it was immersion in São Paulo, Brazil for our Diversity Best Practices Global Member Conference. In December, it was homecoming, visiting family in my native Peru.

There’s nothing like jet lag, the cacophony of different languages, new and childhood taste experiences, and newspaper headlines not about fiscal cliffs and sequesters to freshen up one’s perspective—and prompt these few thoughts on the state of global diversity today.

Global diversity continues to accelerate its rise in importance and, with that, it’s metamorphosing into something much more multidimensional and unexpected than the first wave of exported Made-in-USA diversity.

Take, for instance, three different invitations I have received in the past six months. The U.S. subsidiary of a Belgium-headquartered company calls asking for help on building out its diversity strategy. Then, a German company calls seeking help with getting its American affiliate to come up with a U.S. response to their global diversity imperative because they are behind their counterparts in Europe and Asia. And last year, a Korean multinational asked me to present to 500 company leaders from all over the world on how they can be more inclusive in the various countries it is expanding to, from Vietnam to India to the USA.  

This is all part of a trend of non-U.S.-based multinational companies making diversity an imperative—not only in their countries of origin but throughout the globe. Now Not-Made-in-USA diversity accountabilities are adding to the rising calls-to-action that an increasing number of American business leaders are facing regarding diversity and inclusion.

This is just one way in which diversity is changing globally. A few others:

  • To be a woman is to be rising in opportunities. Women’s advancement is the most frequently cited diversity issue today. It’s the one global diversity issue that arises on all continents as the common and urgent issue we must address now. The challenges are often the same regardless of country. From Chicago to Shanghai, women are pressing to fulfill their ambitions for leadership positions and a growing number in profit and loss roles. And women, at all levels of the organization, no matter where in the world, yearn, fret, and fight for work life flexibility.
  • Socioeconomic disparities are masking the realities of colorism. The United States isn’t the only country facing race and class disparities. In a host of countries, societies are stratified based on one’s economic status. Yet, in countries such as India, Brazil, and Peru those with darker skin are more likely than their fairer counterparts to be members of the lower socioeconomic classes. This is far from a coincidence. While there’s a great deal of denial about this reality, it’s true that in many countries a preference for those of a lighter hue is blocking access to educational and employment opportunities for a significant percentage people. Until countries where colorism prevails recognize the impact of this form of discrimination, companies in these countries will continue to struggle to have true diversity in the workforce.
  • Millennials are civilization’s first global cohort. Whether they grew up in South Africa, Egypt, Romania, Laos, or Venezuela, many members of this generation shared the reality of growing up digitally and interconnected to the rest of the world. Global terrorism, global recession, global warming, and global social media have meant a common experience in many formative ways of how the world works. When a billion go “Gangnam Style” around the world in a matter of weeks, when the Arab Spring inspires Occupy Wall Street (and not vice versa), and when the Twitter-nation transcends all borders with 500 million users (making it the third largest population in the world), an unprecedented shared upbringing across the world’s 24 time zones is in the making.
  • Employment gains for people with disabilities. While in the United States the Americans with Disabilities Acts made it the law to make workplaces physically accessible to those with disabilities, there is a growing global trend to actually make it the law to employ those with disabilities. Brazilian law stipulates that depending on the size of your employee base, 2 percent to 5 percent of your workers must be people with disabilities. On Christmas Day 2012, a similar law went into effect in Peru. And in the United States, the Federal Government has put into place guidelines that those doing business with the government must have 7 percent of employees be people with disabilities.
  • LGBT rights on the march. The wall of resistance around LGBT rights is tumbling in countries across the globe. In 2009, the high court in New Delhi, India struck down the law that made same-sex sexual activity illegal. In 2010, Mexico City and Argentina legalized same-sex marriage while Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Uruguay all started to recognize same-sex relationships, such as civil unions. This is an enormous gain for the LGBT community in Latin America, which has long been characterized by its strong Catholic roots and machismo undertones. And putting an exclamation point on the importance of worldwide LGBT rights, in 2011, President Barack Obama and then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced that LGBT rights would be a criteria for whether a country will receive U.S. foreign aid.

Just a few examples of how diversity and inclusion are playing out globally. This trend is unstoppable. Next generation diversity practitioners would be wise to track and then ride these trends for the good of their organizations.

When’s your next trip to another land?

Diversity and the Rise of America’s Second-Tier Cities

by Andrés T. Tapia –


The Cincinnati skyline at twilight

In my work as president of Diversity Best Practices, I travel around the country a lot—meeting with members, consulting, giving speeches. While my engagements often take me to the usual big cities—New York City; Boston; Washington, D.C.; San Francisco—increasingly my work is pulling me to second-tier towns. Like most people, I had preconceived ideas about our country’s smaller cities—slower paced, homogeneous, lacking in resources and amenities. To my surprise, there is a fervent movement around diversity and inclusion in these secondary cities that I believe is evolving into a national trend.

From Pittsburgh to Columbus to Omaha to Grand Rapids to Milwaukee to Indianapolis to Minneapolis, cities that people have typically assumed lack diversity are more diverse than people think. In fact, the percentage of racial minorities in Pittsburgh; Columbus, Ohio; and Milwaukee surpasses that of New York City. And Grand Rapids and Milwaukee come close to rivaling the Big Apple in terms of the percentage of Latinos.

What’s more, because many of these cities are experiencing economic growth the imperative of diversity is growing right along with their rising economic indicators. Omaha has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, Columbus one of the fastest economic growth rates, and Pittsburgh is the poster child of a city making the pivot from an industrial economy based on steel to the new economy of finance, healthcare, and technology.

In their growing dynamism, companies in these second tier cities are awakening to a realization that not only do they need to leverage the diverse talent pool already in the city; they need to bring in more talent from outside to keep their economic growth momentum. This means attracting more diversity—racial/ethnic, immigrant, LGBT—to cities that on first blush may not be seem to be magnets for big-city types from groups that historically may not have felt welcome.

It’s this legacy perception that they lack the diversity and amenities found in major metropolitan areas that poses a fundamental challenge to these second-tier cities. If they don’t overcome it, their economic growth may stall out due to lack of talent.

So companies in these markets are working together to get their diversity story out. I have been with passionate diversity leaders in Milwaukee, Columbus, Omaha, and Cincinnati, where they have banded together through city-wide diversity councils where big and medium-sized companies (even competing organizations) are addressing their common diversity challenges. They’re also partnering with their local Chambers of Commerce and city development organizations to make their cities more attractive. Because when it comes to attractive city life its not just about seeking tolerance; it’s also about finding a place to do my hair, find my spices, boogey to my music. So these diversity leaders are helping their cities with the following three-prong communications effort.

  • Spread the word about the economic opportunities as the nation as whole struggles with a sluggish recovery. These cities are home for some of the largest companies in the nation, many of them in the FORTUNE 100. Mutual of Omaha, Union Pacific, and ConAgra in Omaha; Cardinal Health, Abercrombie & Fitch, Nationwide, Limited Brands, Huntington Bank in Columbus, Ohio; Fifth Third, Macy’s, Procter & Gamble, Kroger in Cincinnati; 3M, Target, Cargill, Best Buy, General Mills in Minneapolis; PNC, Humana, US Steel, Heinz in Pittsburgh; MillerCoors, Manpower, Rockwell, and Harley Davidson, Johnson Controls, Northwestern Mutual in Milwaukee. And then there’s the largest employer in the world in the middle of Bentonville, Ark. Wal-Mart is so much of a force in its headquarter town that some of its vendors have set up large facilities in the southern town specifically to serve the big box retailer—supersizing the retailer’s already outsized economic influence on the town.
  • With economic strength comes the benefit of increased tax revenues. Increased revenues have fueled a civic renaissance providing residents and visitors alike with a very cosmopolitan experience. In Omaha’s Market Square, the small-town quaintness of horse-drawn carriages meandering down cobblestone roads meets a metropolitan menu of sushi, Indian, French, and Latin fusion restaurants representing a savory selection of international cuisine typically reserved for the big city. Pittsburgh has transformed from a soot-producing steel town to a clean, landscaped happening urban hub. Cleveland’s Historic Warehouse District with its potted flower lined sidewalk cafes is reminiscent of European scenes. Milwaukee’s shuttered factories have been reborn as funky lofts for artists and restaurants and night clubs for hip professionals. Cincinnati’s historic riverfront on the Ohio River offers a large urban park experience that can be topped off in the evening with a cabernet sauvignon and a prime rib cooked medium rare.
  • Confront and cast off the legacy that these cities are not welcoming to racial and ethnic minorities and other underrepresented groups. A Cincinnati study found that despite the city’s growing diversity, a majority of its residents feel that still more diversity is needed and that they still fall short of providing a truly inclusive and welcoming spirit to outsiders. Cincinnati’s findings likely represent the feelings of those in many of our country’s second-tier cities and these cities know their work is not done.

These systematic, city-wide approaches already in action are the key to achieving greater diversity in these smaller cities. The next step involves metropolitan-wide collaborations with local businesses—grocery stores, beauty salons, barbershops and more—in an effort to truly meet the needs for lifestyle amenities that potential residents seek when contemplating a new home. The effort is a win-win for all involved—these cities and their residents and the companies located there. For an influx of greater diversity will mean a growing population with needs for all kinds of mainstream and exotic goods and services.

This trend is still evolving. Keep your eyes open. There’s an emerging diversity story here, in a second-tier city near you.

The Obama Era Continues: Reflections on the Diversity Implications of Barack Obama’s Re-Election

by Andrés T. Tapia – Mixed group of nations behind the American flag.

Regardless of one’s political preferences, from a historical perspective, the first time Barack Obama was elected president was momentous. The second time marks actual culture change. If in 2008 the point was tipping, in 2012 the point has tipped.

A few years ago, as the U.S.’s first Black president began his maiden term, I published my book, The Inclusion Paradox: The Obama Era and the Transformation of Global Diversity. As a student and practitioner of culture change, the work was inspired by a sense that we were at a tipping point of massive culture change. The election of Barack Obama was a defining moment that captured the zeitgeist of the times. The moment came to be known as the Obama Era, a period in history that was as much about the demographic changes in society that made possible the election of the country’s first Black president as it was about the man and leader himself, whose own diverse biography would come to further define the early 21st Century.

That first election was certainly historic. It was a massive break through the color line. But it was too soon to tell if it would be anything beyond a flash-in-the-pan stroke of luck due to an imploding economy so out of control that many millions were willing to take the riskier, what-the-hell bet of voting for a non-White person. While the insurgency of the 2008 Obama election brought us to the cusp of the tipping point of a new way of understanding a contemporary and diverse society, as the governing road got tougher and steeper, plenty of evidence mounted that Obama’s historic election could end up being an outlier episode rather than a transformative era.

As there always is when societies are at a tipping point, powerful countervailing forces emerged to keep the tip from happening. True to form, we saw this societal dynamic emerge through the fierce Tea Party phenomenon, which led to major setbacks to the president’s agenda in the midterm elections. Confidence abounded among opposition leaders. And pundits confirmed that the countervailing forces would make even further gains by denying the president a second term and leading the Senate majority to change from blue to red.

As changing demographics and new biographies of those leading and influencing policy brought different perspectives and solutions to major issues such as healthcare coverage, immigration status, gay rights, diversity efforts within the federal government, the 2012 election truly became a high-stakes contest about which way the point was going to tip.

This is why Obama’s second election—and the various state referendums on gay marriage and the legalization of pot, as well as the election of the first out lesbian senator, and the sending of the greatest number ever of women to Congress—ended up being a thunder clap announcing true culture change.

While many will disagree, even vehemently, with the merits or values behind these culture changes, for better or for worse, the point has fully tipped. It’s an announcement that the diverse demographic tsunami and all its implications to the economy, education, energy, immigration, relationships, individual freedoms, and collective responsibilities are irreversible.

This, of course, does not mean that the actual solutions to the various challenges within each of these major arenas are obvious or that they won’t require debate about how best to address. But when Blacks, Latinos, Asians, LGBT, youth, and single women decide the election for president for a second time, the agenda has been set for what needs to be addressed for the United States to remain economically competitive in a world where change is happening at warp speed.

Here’s how one of the poster children of the new economy, CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria, sees it as narrated on his show “GPS”:

“Growing up in India in the 1960s and 1970s, I always thought of America as the future. It was the place where the newest technology, the best gadgets, and the latest fads seemed to originate. Seemingly exotic political causes—women’s liberation, gay rights, the fight against ageism—always seemed to get their start on the streets or in the legislatures and courts of the United States. Indians couldn’t imagine embracing all American trends—in fact, some were rejected outright—because they were too edgy for a country like India. But we had a sneaking suspicion that today’s weird California fad would become tomorrow’s conventional practice. For me, Tuesday’s elections brought back that sense of America as the land of the future.

The Obama Era carries with it profound cultural implications, both in the United States and globally, that will affect not only personal, group, and institutional relationships, but also how we go about doing our work strategically and day-to-day. Among the populations most significantly impacted will be the emerging workforce that is becoming the New Mainstream. An increasingly multicultural workforce requires a deeper cultural understanding from many different angles—not only of what cultures are in the mix, but what individuals believe, how they act, and why.

In my book, I explored the impact of the Obama phenomenon from a cultural, rather than political, perspective. Sure, there were myriad political observations to be made—from an analysis of blue state/red state shifts to legitimate policy debates—but regardless of how such matters were hashed out politically, there was an undeniable, transformative story that seemed to be unfolding that included all of us globally. Regardless of one’s political preferences or passions, we all were willing or unwitting players in this culture-change drama.

This meant that for the past four years, as the Obama drama of his first term unfolded, I had the chance to test out some theories and observations from the position of Chief Diversity Officer at Hewitt Associates and then as the president of Diversity Best Practices. In both positions, I have had the opportunity to also serve as an executive diversity and inclusion consultant to the C-suite of dozens of Fortune 500 companies.

It’s through experiences with companies such as John Deere, Marriott, McKesson, Baxter, United Airlines, Discover Financial, and many other corporations as well as law enforcement agencies, not-for-profits, government institutions, and schools that I was able to test the eight cultural implications that I believed would be hallmarks of the Obama Era. In light of Obama’s re-election I believe these are still true:

  • Inclusion is a transformative force.
  • Whatever we do has global impact.
  • Diversity and inclusion require intentionality.
  • We’ll experience a renaissance of values-driven decision making.
  • We must have a heightened focus on results.
  • The bottom up is as important as the top down.
  • Both/and trumps either/or.
  • True diversity and inclusion require calling out our differences, not minimizing them.

Read more about each of these points.

Zakaria summarizes the change this way: “What the world saw this week was a picture of America at its best: edgy, experimental, open-minded—and brilliantly diverse.” And here’s how the architect of the Obama Era sees it as stated in his re-election acceptance speech in Chicago on election night:

“I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Black or White or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.”

My diversity leader colleagues, our work has never been more important or relevant. Many see it, but many still don’t. And like the U.S. president is doing, we must continue to be agents and leaders of change with confidence, facts, and compassion.

Engagement: The True Measure of Inclusion

by Andrés T. Tapia –


Multiracial Hands Making a CircleInclusion! It’s the rallying cry in today’s organizations – a response to the urgent recognition that diversity alone is not enough. This has become more evident as organizations have become more diverse, but have failed to achieve the promise of diversity.

While a key diversity metric is a count of the different ways an overall workforce is diverse, inclusion requires different measurements. I believe there are three key inclusion metrics: influence and decision-making power, strength of the talent pipeline, and engagement. Today, I want to talk about engagement. (Look for my take on the other inclusion metrics in future postings.)

As seemingly obvious as this is, few organizations fully leverage engagement and employee satisfaction surveys to measure inclusion. And here, I’m not talking about the four to five questions around diversity and inclusion. Rather it’s about being able to use and analyze every single engagement survey question through a diversity lens.

A good number of companies are doing demographic cuts of the data. But I’ve been surprised that it’s still a limited number. However your organization defines the mix (diversity), it should be measured by how well the mix is working (inclusion). I can’t think of a more powerful, embedded, systematic, and accepted tool to do this than the engagement survey. It’s smart to hook diversity and inclusion to engagement, which often is already an accepted, and even valued, metric.

A few tips:

  • If you are already measuring “people of color,” see if you can break the group down into the different racial or ethnic population segments. You’ll very likely find variance in the results.
  • If you are measuring engagement by age and tenure, see what it looks like when you break the data down by generation. Evaluating age ranges within a generation can be more beneficial than simply looking at age.
  • If you are proud of your lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) inclusion efforts, count your LGBT population and measure their engagement.
  • If you want to discover more people with invisible disabilities, give them the opportunity to self-identity in your engagement survey. When they do, offer a handful of questions specifically about their experience as a person with a disability in the organization.

Be sure to measure these aspects in a multidimensional way. Don’t just look at your female engagement. Rather, look at the engagement of Millennial women versus Xer women versus Boomer women. Then look at those cuts through a racial or ethnic lens. With this approach you can look at multivariate results that lead to much more pinpointed and meaningful issues that in turn lead to much more focused interventions and solutions that can lift inclusion of those particular groups.

Measurement is not enough, however. When the results come in, be sure they are analyzed in crossculturally competent, diversity savvy ways. Much interpretation of engagement results is governed by cultural and worldview assumptions, beliefs, and preferences. Challenge preconceived notions of what is and is not engaging. Tap into the different groups for insights. See what’s missing that should be considered.

Diversity and inclusion practitioners need to get really smart about the art and science of engagement. Are you a part of those key engagement conversations? If you are, be ready to provide your diversity and inclusion practitioner insight coupled with a credible grasp of the engagement discipline. For those of you who aren’t currently plugged into your company’s engagement efforts, connect with the person who owns engagement. Ask him or her, how do you use this tool? What are its advanced uses? What are the challenges? Get to know that person and their engagement work.

As you learn from them, offer to help them become even better engagement professionals by allowing them to see the diversity and inclusion implications from a crossculturally competent way. The more diverse the workforce gets, the more diversity savvy all of human resources must become when it comes to making the most of the engagement surveys.

In upcoming messages, I look forward to sharing more thoughts on the other two key measures for inclusion: influence and decision-making power, and strength of the talent pipeline. In the meantime, I would love to hear from you about this topic. Share your thoughts in the space below.

2012 is the Year of New Thinking

by Andrés T. Tapia —  


With more than a month into the New Year, now is a good time to check how we’re doing with our 2012 resolutions. Earlier, Diversity Best Practices offered some practical suggestions of things you could do to increase your impact this year.

This is also  a good moment to re-examine common topics, challenges, and opportunities in a fresh way. At Diversity Best Practices, we’re committed to disseminating details about best practices, but we also strive to be at the forefront of new thinking.

What’s the new thinking in 2012 that has implications for diversity? Three things come to mind.

It’s a Multidimensional World

In today’s global, multiracial, multigenerational workforce some of the classic ways of thinking about diversity feel too limiting. With affinity groups, mentoring programs, and career fairs organized in unidimensional ways (women or Latino or Black or Asian or Gay) how do we effectively address the growing reality that people can be all of the above?

We need to challenge ourselves to think about diversity in multidimensional ways. If you missed last year’s insight paper published on this very topic make sure to check it out. The take aways included that in the past decade the number of multiracial people in United States has tripled and the Millennial generation has grown up in an era of greater tolerance, which means there is going to be an acceleration of multicultural relationships. What’s more, globalization is bringing together people from different cultures and nations, which is leading to new types of bonds that transcend traditional diversity dimensions.

The conversations around race, for example, sound and feel very different among white Baby Boomers (who tend to have grown up in more homogeneous environments and didn’t encounter diversity until they went to college) than among Millennial whites (who grew up in multicultural communities and in a growing number of cases were in the minority).

It’s imperative we have a better handle on the implications of the intersections between race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability to just mention a few. Is there a place for the gay African American or the Latino with a disability or the Asian who is a military veteran? This creates seemingly vexing new challenges in the workplace, particularly for employee resource groups. How do you accommodate this growing multidimensional reality? Many ERGs are not equipped to address this. Now is a great time to look at your team and discuss strategies.

Global is the New Local

We also need to shift how we think about global work. Instead of viewing it as an expansion of one’s domestic efforts, today’s global business culture necessitates that companies start globally to be successful. How do you do this? Instead of treating your global work as an add on, a global mindset needs to be in place when you develop your initial strategy. In effect, your entire approach becomes global, with your U.S. headquarters becoming one of your many global regions. 

This has implications for developing strategy, action plans, staffing, stakeholder analysis, and communications strategy. Even for those who are only U.S.-based, globalization is already affecting your support functions, competitive landscape, and future expansion plans. This is about the place where you stand, your punto de partida, your starting point. How much are you thinking of global as your punto de partida?

It’s Not Just About People

More and more Fortune 1000 companies are seeing that diversity is not just a talent issue. It’s actually a huge marketplace issue. The multicultural population represents a $3 trillion market. And it’s a market that is growing, as these populations enter the job market, go to school, have their first home, insurance policies, self-paid vacations. These groups will be driving consumption. In my work as president of Diversity Best Practices and in consulting, the opportunity here is bastante grande, very big. This is where executives get highly engaged when we can help them see the direct line of sight from diversity to revenue and growth.

One example of a company capitalizing on this trend: At a Walgreens in Highland Park—a Chicago community comprised of Jewish, Anglo, and Latino residents—the ice cream freezer is not stocked with Häagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry’s, or Breyers, but rather La Michoacana, a Mexican ice cream provider. The brand is not well known in the United States at all, but it’s definitely recognizable to those who grew up in Mexico. The decision to feature that brand of ice cream at the impulse buying check out area is a money-making nod to the fast-growing Latino demographic in the neighborhood.

When you see something like that it means things are starting to go mainstream. How much is your diversity strategy riding that wave? How much are you lending your voice and perspective to harness the power of diversity to really win in the marketplace?

The War Is On

The talent war is going to heat up. Be on the look out. It cooled down during the recession, but the diversity of that highly desirable talent hasn’t decreased. With the economy gradually improving, competition for that diverse talent is increasing. Great talent will be available because people are ready to look for new opportunities. Just recently I was talking with the CDO at one of our financial member companies and he commented about all the great talent he has come across recently and, in contrast to last year, this wasn’t very good talent who happened to have been laid off, but very good talent currently employed at very good companies looking to make a move to enhance their careers.

To be at the forefront of doing vital work, keeping and reviewing these new ways of thinking as beacons of thinking will be essential for a successful, prosperous, and breakthrough year.


What Apple’s New CEO Appointment Teaches Us About Corporate America

by Andrés T. Tapia –

2011-08-25-10-03-28-2-cook-has-been-working-with-apple-for-a-long-timeThe recent announcement that Tim Cook would be taking over as Apple’s CEO had journalists and bloggers across the Web commenting on more than just Cook’s business acumen. One article touted the Apple executive as “the most powerful gay executive in the world,” while other reports debated whether Cook’s sexual orientation even matters.

Neither Cook nor Apple has publicly discussed the new Apple head’s sexuality. The reasons why aren’t clear, but this news has caused me to contemplate why, in light of all the recent LGBT advancements in the country, so many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community still are reluctant to be out and open at work.

In just the past couple of years, we have witnessed multiple indications of a shift toward greater LGBT acceptance and inclusiveness. Through the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, gay and lesbian service people may now serve openly alongside their heterosexual counterparts. Five states (including New York most recently) and the District of Columbia have made same-sex marriage legal. Traditionally conservative people are having a change of heart. Former First Lady Laura Bush’s support of gay marriage, one of the definitive social issues of her husband’s presidency, is just one example. And across the country, public opinion polls show support of same-sex marriage is trending upward. In 2010, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life announced that, for the first time in its 15 years of polling, less than half of respondents stated they were opposed to same-sex marriage.

LGBT acceptance is also occurring in places around the globe that one might not expect. Bob Witeck, CEO of Witeck-Combs Communications, Inc., a Washington D.C.-based public relations and marketing firm specializing in the LGBT market, cites the following examples in Diversity Best Practices upcoming Global Diversity Primer:

  •  Argentina became the first Latin American country to enact a same-sex marriage law.
  • A lesbian proudly serves as the head of government in Iceland.
  • In Nepal, an openly gay man has been elected to parliament of his small Asian kingdom.
  • And South Africa now offers full civil and marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Yet, even with new laws and attitude shifts, there is no guarantee that those in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender community will not face discrimination or harassment. In fact, it is still quite dangerous to be homosexual. In a number of countries across the globe, homosexual acts are punishable by death.

While homosexuality is legal in the United States, there is no federal law that consistently protects against LGBT employment discrimination. In fact, discrimination based on sexual orientation remains legal in 29 states. In 35 states, it is legal to discriminate based on gender identity or expression.

Based on these statistics, it’s not surprising that Cook has not discussed his sexual orientation publically. Yet, doing so just might be the push Corporate America needs to move toward even greater acceptance and inclusion. In being vocal about his sexual orientation, the “most powerful gay executive in the world” can serve as a role model for both individuals and companies.

As champions and enthusiasts of diversity, we can help companies and the country get past the tipping point – to a place where lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees are afforded all of the same rights as their heterosexual colleagues.

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.

Comedy and Tragedy: Pop Culture’s Two-Faced Approach to Diversity and Inclusion, Part 2

by Andrés T. Tapia — comedytragedy

In Part One of this series, I shared my thoughts about the lack of diversity on the big screen. Here, I tackle television.


Although they represent 12 percent of the population, people with disabilities are only one percent of prime-time TV characters. There are even fewer positive, affirming roles for a character with a disability.

So why, in this paean of diversity, is Artie, a character who uses a wheelchair, played by a person without a disability? It’s mind-bending that, in the midst of an exceptionally inclusive move to portray a positive, productive, highly talented character, the Glee producers send a stunningly negative message–as described in an Huffington Post entry– that those with a disability are so not able–that they can’t even be relied on to play one of their own. Wow.

The same thing happened when Abigail Breslin (from “Little Miss Sunshine) was cast as young Helen Keller in the Broadway revival of “The Miracle Worker.” A hearing actor was selected for a deaf role in the off-Broadway “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” Daniel Day-Lewis played a man with severe cerebral palsy in “My Left Foot,” and Tom Cruise acted the part of a paralyzed Vietnam veteran in “Born on the Fourth of July.”  Angela Johnson Meadows’ post, “Where is Disability in the Hollywood Diversity Discussion?” offers additional insights.

The Cleveland Show

And why do the creators of “The Cleveland Show,” a smart, funny, and popular TV show about a black family, use a white actor, Mike Henry, to play the lead role of the black family patriarch? Again, in the midst of an inclusionary creation, a resounding exclusionary message is sent that blacks don’t have the skills, not even to portray themselves, not even in voice. Double wow.

We used to shake our heads when hearing about the old times, when white actors put on black face, or when they wore braids to play Native Americans. Now we see: Hollywood is still doing it!

We begin to understand how exclusion begins. It goes back to who’s being allowed to create and cast programs. The character from “The Cleveland Show” has its genesis on “Family Guy,” another animated show with a white creator and an all-white cast providing the characters’ voices. Because it would be inconsistent to change the actor who provided Cleveland’s voice once the character got his own show, the argument goes, it’s necessary to keep the same actor.

So, Cleveland’s visible diversity—and it is great to have a strong character of color in the show—masks the lack of diversity below the waterline among the writers, producers, and actors. Making it, in effect, a blackface cartoon.

Modern Family”

I love this show! Not only is it a contemporary and insightful exploration of today’s diversity issues as they play out in blended families, but it’s consistently hilarious, smart, and incisive in plot and dialogue. I applaud the creators’ and actors’ willingness to explore, through humor, sensitive diversity issues such as: What does it mean to “be a man” for the gay couple of Mitchell and Cameron? What are the lies that spouses, children, and parents tell each other? What cultural tensions exist between Latinos and European Americans that reach beyond superficial jokes about habits to more deeply expose differences in worldviews?


Why are there no black lead characters? For a show that has set out to elaborately address diversity issues in multiple ways, this is a glaring omission. True, it is an unfair burden for one show to address all diversity issues or to address them equally. I understand not only the dilution that would take place from a writing perspective, but also the apparent condescension involved in pandering to all constituencies. But for the African-American dimension to be missing–the genesis diversity issue in American culture–is a statement.

As I think about that inherent statement, and I am speculating here, I don’t believe it’s an “anti” thing. I believe it’s a fear thing. I can imagine a group being overlooked or deemed too small to be addressed, but in a show about diversity one just doesn’t overlook blacks.

Is it possible in today’s environment writers feel relatively safe writing smart, non-edgy, affirming comedy about gays, Latinas, youth, and older people, but not racial issues—particularly black and white issues? Could it be that writers felt they could not lean into making comedy of racial issues, even with their affirming, insightful philosophy to inclusion? And, if so, why not?

This apparent hesitation–actually, avoidance–reflects how too-hot-to-handle race still is in the United States. One sign of psychological health is the ability to laugh at oneself. Or, one’s group. At some level we now can laugh about Latinos, gays, and even our own preoccupation with inclusion, which is all good, but when it comes to race–particularly black and white–in America, we still can’t make it a family prime time laughing matter.

Application to Corporations

Don’t underestimate the corporate diversity implications regarding what pop culture can and cannot manage. If bold Hollywood runs away from dealing with race in a mainstream TV program about diversity, what about corporate America’s ability and readiness to truly deal with race in the workplace?

This is what worries me about the full embrace and emphasis of “inclusion.” I believe inclusion has been a transformational addition to the work of diversity. It should be about all of us. Introverts, analytics, white males included. I worry that in casting this wide net we, at times, end up equating personality and thought pattern differences to the more difficult, painful dynamics of race. And in so doing, we end up minimizing it.

I love inclusion and the concepts behind it, in the same way I love “Modern Family.” But within the good thing there could be a fatal flaw that, if not addressed, could undermine the very thing “Modern Family,” “Glee,” “The Cleveland Show”–or corporate diversity and inclusion–are supposed to be about. That is, addressing at a root level the very things that keep “us versus them” firmly in place.

When we don’t address race head on–all that unfinished business that leaves a disproportionate number of blacks still standing on the bottom rungs–it may just be telling us something troubling about our ability to truly address what matters most as we run off, gleefully, embracing all those other wonderful things.

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.

Five Steps Toward Normalizing Otherness

by Andrés T. Tapia

How do we identify when something is becoming normalized? As I define it, there are five signs of normalization for any issue that has previously existed outside the norm. The last three in the list below tend to overlap in varying degrees.

  1. The issue stops being completely invisible or buried in society, and begins to be recognized, and talked about, by people as an outlier issue.
  2. When the issue is mentioned in a negative connotation — in a group conversation for example — the person using the negative language is reproached by a member or members of the group.
  3. Pop culture embraces the issue.
  4. Attitudes toward the issue change in polls or elections.
  5. Legislation is put in place to protect or support the group affected by the issue.

What signs are you seeing in your everyday life, in your neighborhood, place of worship, on the job, on T.V., that indicate a change in the wind — a heightened level of awareness or acceptance — on a particular diversity issue?

Sorry, Veronica: Riverside High’s New Hunk is Gay

According to The Huffington Post, there will be a new student joining Archie and the gang at Riverdale High this fall. Archie’s new rival for Veronica’s affection is muscular, blond, . . . and gay.

Archie Comics recently announced that in the Sept. 1 issue, the long-running comic will introduce its first “openly gay” character, Kevin Keller. Defying effeminate stereotypes, Kevin will defeat Jughead in a burger eating contest, win the affection of Veronica and wrestle over how to gently rebuff her flirtations.

Jon Goldwater, co-CEO of Archie Comics, says the introduction of Kevin is “about keeping the world of Archie Comics current and inclusive.”

Keller’s arrival in Riverdale makes me wonder how well the stories we tell — to our peers, our children, our employees, ourselves — reflect the diversity of our surroundings. What kinds of characters would make your stories and your organization’s stories richer and more real? How could telling those kinds of stories lead to something new and profitable?

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