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Diversity and Inclusion Are Not The Same

For the past couple of years, I've been one of the organizers of a passion project called #techInColor. This project organizes a social event each year as part of Philly Tech Week. Each year, our goal is to celebrate the diversity in the Philadelphia tech industry and educate organizations on the business value of diversity. For my fellow organizers, we are united by a firm belief that diversity isn't just a corporate buzz word applied to half-baked HR hiring initiatives; for us, it's a competitive edge. The research bears this out. Last summer, Fortune Magazine published an online article with some rather fascinating numbers. Fortune 500 companies with substantive diversity within their ranks outperform companies that don't. The Harvard Business Review reports similar results; the verdict, ladies and gentlemen, is that diversity can give your organization a competitive edge.

However, in this same article, Fortune points out that only 1 in 5 Fortune 500 companies transparently shares their diversity data despite all members on the Fortune 500 list having some official statement on the value of diversity. This little factoid gives myself and my male colleagues with facial hair what we commonly call, "a strokey beard moment," meaning we pause to consider something with more depth; typically because we see something that doesn't smell quite right.

Statements on Diversity are Not Enough

While most organizations have a corporate statement on diversity and possibly have some real teeth behind it as far as recruitment is concerned, that doesn't mean the company itself will benefit from the diversity it seeks to build within its walls. HBR writer Maxine Williams offers this somewhat troubling insight:

People in marginalized racial and ethnic groups are deemed more often than whites to be ‘not the right cultural fit’ or ‘not ready’ for high-level roles; they’re taken out of the running because their ‘communication style’ is somehow off the mark.

Let's unpack Maxine's observation with a practical nonbusiness example. One of my Senior Associates, Fanny Korman of FZK Performance Solutions, has been wonderfully patient in educating me about American Jewish culture. One thing I find fascinating is her assertion that Jews tend to be more comfortable in navigating conflict in open and direct ways because of how rabbis engage in an ongoing disagreement over how to interpret religious texts. These arguments can be very intense, but there is rarely vitriol or angst in the intensity; this is just how rabbis, and by extension Jewish culture, manage disagreement or conflict. Within my liberal Quaker church, we admit that our culture struggles with having these kinds of open disputes. We have an acknowledged aversion to conflict, which results in behavior that I consider passive aggressive and opaque, especially to newcomers to the Quaker Way. Liberal Quakers struggle with managing conflict in a way that's accessible to converts raised in spiritual traditions that address conflict openly and directly. As a result, individuals in our community may react to newcomers possessed of a genuine desire to align with the Quaker Way as, "not the right cultural fit," or subtly avoid newcomers because of their, "communication style."

Being the "other" is never easy

If you work with an individual who represents some flavor of diversity, then that individual is most likely someone other than a non-disabled, white, cisgender, heterosexual male. Being "diverse" by the standards of American society means that your experiences shape your self-perceptions as a function of your differences. Your "otherness" defines you, it defines how others see you and treat you, and you get no choice in the matter. You learn to live with it, or the weight of your otherness slowly suffocates you. That slow suffocation process has a habit of turning bright children with lots of potential into disaffected and disengaged adults outside the warmth and safety of the hegemony -- and this is probably happening, right now, in your own place of work. This process of what French post-modern philosopher Michele Foucault defined as "othering" is what forms the basis of most minority identities. It shapes your self-perception and how to interact with people within your stripe of diversity and with those for whom othering has never been part of their experience.

Othering is also what I believe to be the root cause of the tense identity politics proving so divisive in American civil and political discourse. This divisiveness also spills over into the workplace in ways that are pernicious and destructive. This kind of divisive, anger-driven, defensive, and self-serving activism does nothing to create more inclusive work environments where people are safe to learn about one another as professionals and colleagues.

One of the most visible examples of this is the high profile firing of Google engineer James Damore who very publicly shared his assessment of the fitness of women and minorities as leaders and software engineers. For the record, it is the official position of Argyle Analytics that Jame Damore is an uninformed bigot and we won't pull punches on this one. We've reviewed his treatise and can state that in our estimation, Mr. Damore's research skills are subpar and his assertions are demonstrably false. In our opinion, Google was right to fire Mr. Damore not only for violating their corporate code of conduct but for also demonstrating that he doesn't understand how to use Google's search engine to fact-check his assertions -- which I find the greatest irony in this dark little incident.

Diversity Is Only Possible When You Embrace The Other In His or Her Otherness

For an organization to truly leverage the diversity within its ranks, the organization must have a culture that also values inclusion. Building an inclusive culture means more than having corporate mission statements and a diversity or cultural sensitivity training program. Despite the political and cultural attractiveness of inclusion, the reality of inclusion is a very touchy subject. The inclusion conversation requires individuals within the organization to engage in a level of self-reflection that I don't believe most American's are prepared to engage in. An organization's inclusiveness is nothing more than the sum-total of how individuals interact with one another as it relates to perceived differences between individuals. When one individual is radically different from the other in ways that deviate from the prevailing culture within a place of business, this is where we enter the danger zone.

For example, if your organization recruits primarily from within the Ivy League and through the personal contacts of your current employees, your diversity initiatives will likely struggle. If your core of Ivy Leaguers share fixed ideas about how individuals within the organization should comport themselves, the lifestyles they have, or even where they happen to live then your organization is not ready for increased diversity. For those outside the norm of being educated in the Ivy League any deviation, no matter how inconsequential in the big scheme of things, means that the non-Ivy Leaguers of your organization will not get included in the top ranks of your organization. I am willing to bet money that you likely hear such organizations' top levels use phrases such as, "not the right cultural fit," or offer critiques related to, "communication style," when considering the advancement of employees. There is substantial research that suggests that top organizational leaders are terrible at recognizing their own biases in this regard and speaks to the need for leaders in the C-Suite to seek consultative expertise on this topic.

Multi-lingual Organizations Build Inclusive Work Environments

One thing I have found somewhat fascinating about American culture is that we do not value bilingualism within our citizenry. We are a monolingual culture, which places us at a disadvantage when it comes to being a global economic power. It means that we rely on others to meet us where we are, and we take for granted that English is the international language of business, science, and diplomacy for many organizations. Our monolingualism also places us at a disadvantage when it comes to working with immigrants seeking to build a better life in our country. For companies that rely on blue-collar labor, it's not uncommon for such corporations to find a high degree of Latinos and Latinas working within their organization. Hotels, for example, offer employment to folks who may not yet speak English but live in semi-bilingual households. Housekeeping, for example, is a universal skill, and anyone can be good at it without speaking the native language. Global trade skills that transcend language barriers rely on critical thinking, a solid work ethic, basic math, and are mostly the same no matter where you go.

I want to share a recent experience my brother shared with me after interviewing for an HR position at a manufacturing concern in the Western United States. One of the topics of discussion in his interview was a growing realization within the company that the mostly Caucasians management did not speak Spanish despite leading a primarily Latino production staff. While this may not seem like much of a barrier -- and in our current political climate some individuals might say, "So what, this 'Merica, learn the language," -- in truth, this created something of a cultural crisis within the workforce.

To further qualify the issue, we should note the interviewer disclosed that the composition of the management staff was mostly a byproduct of nepotism and hiring from within the personal networks of the family who purchased the business some years back. The Latino workforce saw that, no matter how hard they worked, they would never likely get promoted to a management position. Engagement, retention, and productivity all suffered because of this perception. For anyone reading this and thinking that the owners are within their rights and the production staff are at fault for poor company performance I would remind them of the words of Abraham Lincoln:

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

If I were fortunate enough to work with this company, the first thing I would recommend is developing a multi-lingual competency across the company. Language training isn't just something that business leaders should seek for strictly business purposes, but language studies can be intensely fulfilling in your personal life.

Arygle Analytics Proudly Offers Instructional Design Services In More Than 250 Languages

Admittedly, I am not a multilingual consultant. While I have a spattering of French, Spanish, and German under my belt, I will admit that my competency in each language is less than what you could expect of toddlers growing up as native speakers of those languages. It is because of my acknowledged language deficit that it is my sincere and heartfelt joy to announce a new strategic partnership between Argyle Analytics and Global Bilingual Solutions.  Global Bilingual Solutions, a fellow member of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is lead by CEO Karla Narvaez Hurley, Founder and CEO of Global Bilingual Solutions. Karla's extensive background in Human Resources makes her an ideal leader for an organization that offers translation and multilingual services in over 250 languages. Beyond Karla's exceptional entrepreneurialism and business acumen, she has built a company that embodies many of the characteristics Argyle Analytics admires in our clients. Global Bilingual Solutions is woman-owned, immigrant-owned, and Latina-owned. In so many way's Karla leadership and Global Bilingual Solutions embody the American Dream. Argyle Analytics is proud to serve minority-owned businesses because, as an LGBTQ-owned training and management consultancy, we know how hard minority business owners work to achieve what they have.

Global Bilingual Solutions has impressed me, not just with their extensive capabilities in translation services, but also with their capacity for interpretation and their ability to supply native speakers of all primary languages spoken today. Over the next few years, I expect that Global Bilingual Solutions will enable Argyle Analytics' clients in the following ways:

  • Produce classroom training in any language our clients require
  • Develop written training materials translated for both language and culture
  • Deliver consultative expertise to clients offering customer training in multiple languages
  • Language training for professionals seeking to develop a multilingual competitive edge

This is a major step forward for Argyle Analytics and our clients. As a boutique training and management consultancy, we are committed to helping our clients build the capacity they need to enhance employee and organizational performance. As our Founder, I genuinely believe that a significant growth area for any company using training as a competitive edge is to build an inclusive company that taps the most capable people in your community. In some case, those people may not speak English but are no less capable of producing value for your customers. If Argyle Analytics can be of service in this regard, it will be our pleasure to connect you with Global Bilingual Solutions as a premier partner in building your multi-lingual capacity.