Race and Colorism Alive and Too Well

by Andrés T. Tapia –39748906GlobalForum_50_150dpi

(The following article was originally published in Diversity Executive.)

Today, after nearly a decade of denial that race still makes a difference in
the United States, the #BlackLivesMatter movement that emerged in response to the shootings of unarmed black men Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Gardner and Walter Scott is not letting the country sweep race back under the carpet.

But the United States is not the only country that must reckon with the unfinished business of racism. Despite protestations by locals, race and colorism continue to play an inordinate role in social exclusion in Europe, Latin America, and Asia where people are unwilling to admit that skin color still plays a role in marginalizing those of darker hue.


Europe struggles with a dearth of darker skinned leaders in the corporate world. In various European countries I have worked in and visited, Europeans’ self-image of their own egalitarianism flies in the face of deep housing and social segregation.

This is evidenced by the low-income neighborhoods of North Africans and Muslims surrounding Paris who in the past decade have erupted in violent protest against racial inequality. The Council of Europe just this year released a report titled “France: Persistent Discrimination Endangers Human Rights.” But race is difficult to talk about not only qualitatively but also quantitatively since a law was passed in 1978 that specifically banned the collection and computerized storage of race-based data.

In 2014, according Spanish advocacy group Movement Against Intolerance, of the 1,285 hate crimes reported to police across Spain, 37 percent were motivated by race. In the United Kingdom, the amount of those who self-report that they have some prejudice has risen to 30 percent in 2014 from 25 percent in 2001, according to an article in The Guardian titled “Racism on the Rise in Britain.”

These headwinds must be in play when considering a report by an organization called “Business in the Community,” which focuses on specific aspects of campaigning on diversity. It shows that less than 1 in 15 ethnic minority workers in the U.K. hold a management position.


According to the 2013 World Values Survey, 43.5 percent of Indian respondents said they would not want a neighbor of a different race and, according to 2014 survey by the National Council of Applied Economic Research and the University of Maryland, 27 percent of Indians still practice caste untouchability, the practice of ostracizing a group by segregating them from the mainstream by social custom or legal mandate.

In a 2013 study by the Institute of Policy Studies and OnePeople.sg, 1 in 2 Singaporean residents do not have close friends from another race, and only 71 percent of Singaporean Chinese believe it is a good thing that Singapore is made up of people of different racial groups. This correlates with the fact that 1 in 10 Indian and Malay respondents (the largest minorities in Singapore) perceived being treated worse than other races when using public and other services.

Latin America

Various Latin American countries will bristle at the notion that racism may be at play in their societies. Yet, there is an unmistakable pattern: The darker one’s skin is, the lower they tend to be on the socioeconomic ladder.

In Brazil, which is about 50 percent black or mixed race, there is a lack of black representation among executives, senior managers, and managers. Spend time in the business district of Faria Lima, and they are not evident. Even at a recent corporate diversity conference by a reputable global diversity and inclusion organization, the highly committed participants from major corporations could not muster racial diversity even in the most token of ways.

Despite protestations that skin color does not matter, why does Brazilian Portuguese have a Crayola-like color scheme with 134 different terms to capture different skin color gradations? These gradations don’t just make for interesting conversation; they make an economic difference.

According to a BBC report, “on average, white and Asian Brazilians earned twice as much as black or mixed-race Brazilians … black Brazilians are much more likely to be poor and rarely reach the top levels of business or politics.”

The Work Ahead

Between the realities of racial profiling on the streets, to rising prejudice and distrust of those of darker skin, and the continued dearth of people of color in leadership positions, where does this leave diversity practitioners? That even as we rightly broaden the definitions of diversity to be about myriad dimensions of difference, race wherever we look — whether we like it — still matters.

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?


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.

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

by Andrés T. Tapia – Business people standing on stairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, More than Ever, Diversity Work is Global

by Andrés T. Tapia –

Shanghai.istock.xsmallAs part of part of an annual global initiative conducted in partnership with Working Mother Media (our parent company), Diversity Best Practices recently hosted a Best Practice Session in Shanghai, China. The November 2011 event was just one of the ways that we are actively pursuing, capturing, cataloging, and disseminating best practices from around the world and ensuring that our members get exposure to global issues firsthand. Previous events featured diversity and inclusion sessions in countries such as India, South Africa, and Brazil.

In Shanghai, participants had the chance to experience China’s culture and diversity. It’s one thing to read about the country’s boom in the headlines; it’s another thing to be on the ground and feel the pulse of a nation that is seizing the opportunity of a developing global marketplace. While there, we experienced the reverence of walking through the serenity of the Yuyuan Garden and minutes later being in the center of one of the most modern skylines in the world.

Diversity is a hot topic in China right now and the work in this area is as urgent there as it is in the United States. There are big questions around the advancement of women, work life, and managing multiple generations in the workplace. Like in the United States and other countries, there are things that are clearly visible around diversity and inclusion that companies are ready to engage in and there are some things that leaders are not in tune with that are very real. The Chinese will often say that the race issue is not relevant to them because they all share the same race. While China may have little racial diversity, the country is not removed from the tensions that can come from having a diverse population.

I had an interesting insight during my visit to the Shanghai Museum. There was an exhibit about China’s ethnic minorities. When I looked at the exhibit map, I noticed that the eastern part of China, which is where China has been developing, it’s all Han Chinese. The majority of the other ethnicities are in the west. It struck me that as China expands westward, companies are going to run into diversity issues with Han leaders trying to engage and manage a non-Han workforce. It was very evident from the exhibit that people who come from these various ethnic groups have different histories and experiences and they likely have different world views that will be apparent in their preferences in what they look for in talent management and engagement.

Currently, this aspect of diversity is not on Chinese business leaders’ radar screens, but it’s going to hit them sooner rather than later. One of my takeaways from my experience in China is that we, as diversity practitioners, regardless of the country we come from, have a lot to learn about how diversity and inclusion is playing out in other countries. Because of our previous experience in the United States, we have a unique perspective to offer employers in other parts of the world.

At Diversity Best Practices, we’re expanding our relationships with thought leaders, government officials, and local leaders that will allow us to be more insightful about the reality of business and diversity in China. These relationships give us access to resources to enrich our research and hold a position at the forefront of thinking in the field.

However, China is not our only area of interest. India and Brazil are ripe with diversity challenges and insights and we’re already making plans to host events in Bangalore and Sao Paolo in 2012.

In the meantime, I hope you will take the opportunity to learn more about diversity and inclusion in China. We will be hosting a teleconference in which we will share our learnings from Shanghai on Thursday, January 19. A white paper from the event will be published shortly after. Additional information about diversity in China is available in our recently published Global Diversity Primer

The more we learn about diversity and inclusion around the globe, the more effective we will be as practitioners at home and abroad.

Adelante (onward) in the work!

Sesame Street Helps Women Love Their Hair

by Andrés T. Tapia

She’s a little brown Muppet in a pink dress with a big message. “Don’t need a trip to the beauty shop, ‘cause I love what I got on top. It’s curly and it’s brown and its right up there!…You know what I love? That’s right, my hair!” she belts out while bouncing about and dancing. Check it out here.


And with that uplifting message backed by a torrent of women sharing it across the Internet, this Sesame Street puppet has cut right to core of issues surrounding self-identity, self-esteem, and self acceptance. For many African American women, it’s a message that’s both affirming and empowering. But it hasn’t always been that way. I spoke with several African American women, who had viewed the video. “Why didn’t we have this when I was growing up?” asked Loren Simmons, an executive at the YWCA Metro Chicago who wears dread locks, which are also called locs. “The video made me feel good and it’s about time we celebrate our hair,” she said.

Most of the time, mainstream culture does not celebrate the natural state of African American hair and many black women bear the brunt of that disdain. “While hair for black women could be their crowing glory, for some, depending on the family they grow up in and the self esteem they have, it can be such a sad and sore spot in people’s lives,” said Dr. Philipia Hillman, a consultant in Washington D.C. who also wears locs.

The common standard of beauty says to be considered beautiful, a woman’s crowing glory has to be long, straight, bouncy and…blond. The exact opposite of what most African American hair looks like. Yet even black women who have tresses that come close to that description can experience their own issues around the subject. Kimberly Crooms, a communications consultant whose hair is naturally straight, remembers, “Growing up there were always lots of comments about my hair.” The downside to that admiration, according to Crooms, was that others were more attached to her hair than she was. “When I cut my hair, which I’ve done many times, the people around me would just have fits. They felt that my hair belonged to them,” she said.

That mainstream cultural message continues to affect some young girls and their families. You can spot its impact when two little African American girls ask their Dads why they don’t have long, silky, and straight hair.

The fathers’ responses? If you’re Joey Mazzarino, head writer for Sesame Street, co-author of the song “I Love My Hair” and father of Segi who was born in Ethiopia, then you create a Muppet and write a song that celebrates your daughter’s hair. And if you’re actor/comedian Chris Rock, you produce a documentary, “Good Hair,” that takes a look at the multi-billion-dollar hair care industry to find answers for your daughter, Lola.

What both efforts discovered is how strong cultural messages are. And cultural messages, like those reflected by the hair care industry, are big business. While this singing Muppet has touched many with her message, she has also helped to accelerate cultural change. And maybe, just maybe,  broadend the definition of beauty.

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

by Andrés T. Tapia —


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

That’s when it hit me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Does the Term “People of Color” Do More Harm than Good?

by Andrés T. Tapia —

Recently a high school classmate from Peru contacted me with questions about my use of the terms “communities of color” and “people of color” in this blog. Here’s part of what she wrote:

“This term  ‘people of color’ or ‘personas de color,’ which I also saw recently in an article written in Spanish, has got me thinking. Using dark/er skin as a social reference has historically proven painful. Black/Whites is where it all started, with ‘whites’ being the ‘superior race’ and ‘blacks’ being slaves. Up to this day I think that superior connotation for white (pure) remains. I think the shorthand ‘people of color’ continues the horrible tradition of differentiation due to color of skin/social rank and does nothing to draw attention to ethnicity and all its richness. Is an educated Hispanic, with a good economic situation, light skin and blue eyes a person of color? Is a swarthy person of Italian ancestry a person of color? Is a light skinned Arab with blond hair a white person ? Color of skin is relative and says nothing about who you are or what your culture is.”

My classmate and I had a constructive exchange which became a good opportunity for me to put in writing what I believe about this topic. Based on our conversation and further reflection, here are my thoughts:  

I agree wholeheartedly that humans, in their primal need to find ways to say “you’re in” and “you’re out,” have chosen skin color as an easy but very problematic distinction. And although the contradictions and inconsistencies in race–as in all social constructs –are easy to see, I too am deeply troubled that it has been used to justify slavery, Jim Crow laws, Apartheid, and exclusivity even within “communities of color.”

So why do I refer at all to the social construct of race that has been used in negative ways for so long? The short answer is that ignoring the concept of race won’t make it go away; it is still too pervasive and too ingrained. But one can transform the meaning of race by playing the social construct game in reverse. If skin color has been used to disempower darker skinned people, then let’s turn the tables and use it as a form of empowerment, associating a palette of strengths, abilities, traditions, and values with the presence of  “color.” In this way we can acknowledge the anthropological, sociological, and psychological payoff and costs race has meant for people within certain groups–and work to deconstruct its meanings and create new ones.

Shifting the Conversation from Being Exclusively about Race
Having said this, it is also true that in my work as Chief Diversity Officer at Hewitt Associates and a speaker on diversity and inclusion issues around the world, I usually shift the conversation away from race and toward becoming crossculturally competent in order to understand one’s own and others’ worldviews and navigate differences in a mutually beneficial way. This is because it doesn’t take long to run right smack into the wide spectrum of diversity withinracial groups. We can say Black, but then how to we address the differences between African Americans, Afro Caribbeans, AfroPeruvians, Africans? Much of the answer lies in addressing their cultural worldview differences in addition to not losing sight of common dynamics they experience based on their shared race. 

However, despite what I feel is the need to address race and then move to a deeper place,  even in this work, in the US  specifically, I do end up using the term “communities of color”  as a shorthand to identify those who are not Northern European whites. It works in the U.S. given its history of racial separation.  And especially now. given this special historical moment as the demographics shift dramatically, there is a powerful story emerging about the growing number of non-whites, aka people of color, in the US. While African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans each have their own distinct stories of their increasing numbers in US society, it is the collective diversification of the US that is creating the synergistic cultural, political, and economic  transformation. 

To say that in 1950 90% of the US was white and that by 2040 only half will be so — and that already whites are not the majority in many counties, cities, and some states — is to describe a national transformation that then  invites a new conversation  about national identity, shared values, go-to-market strategies, social policy, and so on. And after centuries of color being used to subjugate, color now is about rising in power and influence. Check out this “People of Color” map of the USA. This is not a moment to give up what is now a benefit.

A Shorthand for the Debate
Also, given that this social construct helps us talk about a phenomenon it is both practical and legitimate to use the shorthand “people of color” instead of in every reference using the awkward as it were one word “AfricanAmericansLatinosAsianAsianAmericansNativeAmericans.” It also helps us move away from the less-than connotation of “minority” (which is becoming more and more a misnomer anyway).  Admittedly, this simplification for discussion purposes does not properly manage the more complex reality of, say, Hispanics who consider themselves “white.” It also leads us down convoluted categorizations like in the US Census Bureau’s “non-Hispanic white” (though dropped in the 2010 Census). As we go deeper we get the inevitable blending of race (skin color) and ethnicity (cultural heritage).

From a global perspective, people of color ends up usually not being a helpful way for engaging the dialogue on diversity. In countries such as my friend’s and my native Peru, our history of miscegenation, I use different social constructs that make more sense than race when talking about people groups. I talk about low-income and high-income communities, women and men, Limeños and Aymaras and Quechuas, or whatever distinctions need to be made in a particular context that make sense for the audience so that together we can figure out how we can tap into that diversity for unleashing greater acceptance and understanding yes, but also greater creativity, innovation and productivity.

Far from making a scientific claim for the validity of “race” I use the terms “people of color” and “communities of color” when they resonate with how people perceive the world.  But even then it is only as a starting point for more holistically exploring what makes each of us uniquely who we are. As my friend rightly points out social constructs are often used to control and manipulate and there is an important caution here about falling into the trap of reinforcing a way of looking at the world that has been used to keep marginalized groups down.

The paradox here is that to undo the negative impact of the social construct of race, we must first use it as a starting point for the conversation because it is so ingrained in members of society, then deconstruct it (challenge the traditional interpretation and offer a new one), and then actually begin to dismantle it altogether. My friend is ready for that. I believe there’s too much work still to be done in the middle step of deconstruction and redefinition before we are ready to get us there.  After so many centuries of those in power defining what dark skin means we need this empowering moment to define it in our own terms. And only then can we, in a significantly more powerful way, contemplate letting go of it for good.

When It Comes to 21st Century Families, Individualistic American Worldview Bending Toward Communal: Multi-Generational Homes Make a Comeback

by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research

multigenerational_EuropeanAmThe “traditional” nuclear family may seem like an American ideal. Indeed, starting just after World War II and continuing to its peak in the 1980s, the nuclear family was the norm. But an early 1940s trend that faded, yet started a slow resurgence in the late 1990s, is gaining steam: multi-generational families.

Increasingly, two generations of adult family members are sharing a roof. Some of you may say this reflects an increase in elderly parents moving in with their adult children, where they are poised to help raise grandchildren and even contribute financially to the household. Some of you will attribute the trend to an increase in young, unwed mothers whose parents are willing and able to help raise their grandchildren as part of their household. Others will point to “Boomerang” Millennials, who return to their parents’ home to take up residence, often due to economic struggles particularly during this Great Recession. And still others of you will note that rising rates of immigration—particularly among Latinos and Asians, who highly value families and respect their elders—are responsible for this trend.

All of you are correct.

multi-generational-family_AfAmThe trend toward multi-generational households is multi-faceted, and shows several social trends converging. A difficult economy, increased immigration, greater longevity, delayed marriage, and even work-life struggles (working moms seeking reliable care may prefer a parent to a day care center) are all factors in the rise of many-generation families.

According to this Pew Research Center report, Boomerang adults are most responsible for the rapid increase in multi-generational households. In 1980, 11 percent of young adults (between the ages of 24 to 35) returned home to live with their parents. By 2008, 20 percent of young adults returned home. Interestingly, this age group is the only one in which men make up the greater share. Among the elderly, the reverse is true: Women are a larger portion of those in multi-generational homes. Overall among the elderly, the same percentage as young adults (20 percent) enjoy a multi-generational home, up from 17 percent in the 1980s.

Multi-generational_LatinoCulture and ethnicity contribute to the trend. According to Pew, “Hispanics (22%), blacks (23%), and Asians (25%) are all significantly more likely than whites (13%) to live in a multi-generational household.” This is a natural behavioral interpretation of the communal worldview of these racial/ethnic groups. Even so, multi-generational households increased across all populationsbetween 2006 and 2008. Why may this be for European Americans? As we indicate in our Hewitt crosscultural training, worldviews are significantly influenced by what is required for a community to survive and thrive. And changing conditions for European Americans plus the influence of a greater number of communal diverse groups in American society, are leading to new interpretations of family that bend somewhat away from an exceptionally strong individualistic bent to a more communal one.

The lifestyle implications of multi-generational households are abundant, ranging from increased grandchild/grandparent interaction to increased strife among in-laws. But these lifestyle changes also make themselves felt in the workforce, where they are less likely to be acknowledged or addressed. For example:

  •  Women—and men—who are sandwiched between caring for their children and their older, in-residence parent, often struggle with work-life balance.
  • According to this PBS article, they also may need health care emphasizing stress relief.
  •  Older, but still working-age, women—and men–who are rearing their grandchildren may need increased health care for themselves, and also may struggle to secure health care for those grandkids (particularly when the parent is unemployed).
  • These same grandparents may require legal support to ensure guardianship of their grandchildren if needed.

Multigenerational_AsianThe benefits of multi-generational households can greatly outweigh its challenges. Employers savvy about this trend can look for creative ways to support members of multi-generational households, thus helping preserve a strong and growing kind of family unit.

Podcast: Groundbreaking Study — How Race Trumps Income in Why People Save, How Much, and How

The Podcast of How Race Trumps Income in Why People Save, How Much, and How. Results of a groundbreaking study by Hewitt Associates and Ariel Capital Management.

Race Relations in the Obama Era: Better and Worse – Implications for Managing Diversity

by Andrés T. Tapia — Race relations continue to undergo profound shifts as the first ever African American US president is about to complete one year in office. Are things better or worse? The answer is both. Understanding this is essential to be able to better manage diversity in these transformational times. 

Evidence of better is fueled both by the powerful imagery of a black commander-in-chief showing up daily in the news and by shared difficult economic times. Worse is evidenced by the rise in hate crimes, a significantly polarized political environment with racial undertones, and the fact that for many minorities many things don’t seem to have changed much.

Let’s just take a look at a couple of recent news stories telling these two diverging tales. Here’s an excerpt from the New York Times’ “A Racial Divide Is Bridged by Recession.”

During the housing boom, Henry County, a suburb of Atlanta, had its share of racial tension as more and more blacks joined the tens of thousands of others pouring in, creating a standoffish gap between the newcomers and the county’s oldtimers.

But the recession has begun to erase those differences.

Blacks and whites have encountered one another in increasing numbers recently in the crowded waiting rooms of the welfare office and at the food pantry, where many of both races have ventured for the first time. Struggling black-owned businesses are attracting the attention of white patrons. Neighbors are commiserating across racial lines.

… “There used to be a lot of racial tension here, but everybody knows that we need each other to survive this recession,” said Eugene Edwards, the president of the Henry County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “People now, they seem to be starting to care for one another.”

But on the other hand, here’s another recent New York Times story that shows that little seems to have changed, “In Job Hunt, Even a College Degree Can’t Close the Racial Gap.”

There is ample evidence that racial inequities remain when it comes to employment. Black joblessness has long far outstripped that of whites. And strikingly, the disparity for the first 10 months of this year, as the recession has dragged on, has been even more pronounced for those with college degrees, compared with those without. Education, it seems, does not level the playing field — in fact, it appears to have made it more uneven.

College-educated black men, especially, have struggled relative to their white counterparts in this downturn, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate for black male college graduates 25 and older in 2009 has been nearly twice that of white male college graduates — 8.4 percent compared with 4.4 percent.

…A study published several years ago in The American Economic Review titled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?” found that applicants with black-sounding names received 50 percent fewer callbacks than those with white-sounding names.

These two articles pull us in different directions in terms of whether race relations have improved. They are further evidence that in these upside-down times we’d better get better at Both/And Thinking and analysis and less trapped in the current either/or mindset dominating the airwaves and blogosphere. Not only is it less polarizing, it is also more helpful in determining what is going on and in so doing be better able to develop solutions that more realistically take into account paradox rather than submerging one truth to prove the other.

A good place to explore this issue and make the discussion on inclusion relevant is through diversity training. How are you applying Both/And Thinking in your organization?

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