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‘I Don’t Believe in Diversity’

January 7, 2011

Just a few short years ago I was having a discussion with an HR peer from another organization.  While she’s a generalist by background, her primary role for her rather large organization at the time of this conversation was in recruiting.  We were discussing some generalities around various HR topics and landed on Diversity.  With a great deal of disdain in her voice, she uttered the phrase “I don’t believe in diversity.”

Sitting on the other end of the phone, as my jaw probably dropped, I thought to myself “she doesn’t believe that people have personal qualities, experiences, backgrounds or ways of thinking that are different and unique?” 

So I asked her what she meant. What precisely didn’t she believe in?

Now I like to think I can read the subtext and innuendo behind comments fairly well.  And her actual meaning, although she tried to dress it with pretty language, was clear –  she didn’t believe in affording opportunities to, needing to consider differences of, or deviating in any way from her prescribed norm for, people who were different from her and the ‘majority’ of people.   Because of Diversity she had to have a program and goals so she could check a box on some compliance paperwork or compile a report for Corporate.  There was code language used such as “those people.” 

I felt like I had stepped back through a time-machine.

This was a person responsible for screening, selecting and onboarding new employees; an HR professional who represented her organization to countless thousands of candidates and employees. 



A few days ago, Jay Kuhns had a blog post over at NoExcusesHR which brought this conversation back into my mind. I encourage you to go and read it here.

I’m saddened when it strikes me that for many of my HR brethren, the word Diversity automatically and ONLY brings to mind EEO-1 reports, compliance, and Affirmative Action Plans.  I think this is often accompanied by a lack of curiosity about the evolving concepts and understanding of what diversity and inclusion means.  And this plays itself out at HR conferences, workshops and seminars across the country, when a local SHRM chapter or another group proclaims “we need a Diversity topic at a meeting!!”  And once again they trot out the Affirmative Action expert or the lawyer who will speak to legislation or court cases that tie back to Title VII or E.O. 11246.

Much like Jay I’m committed to my own ongoing growth in understanding what Diversity & Inclusion means and how I can use that to propel my organization forward.  I’m looking to further my ideas around how the unique and collective talents of individuals can be used to leverage opportunities for excellence.  Knowing and understanding these things are critical to our roles as HR professionals – diversity, inclusion, affinity.   

The question Jay posed at the end of his post was, I think, a perfect question to start that journey of understanding and begin to put one’s arms around D&I.    If the answer to THIS question is “yes” – there’s a lot of work to be done…

“… do you still think diversity is an annual ethnic foods picnic and an EEO-1 report?”

I wonder if I can find a way to ask that question of the HR-peer-who-doesn’t-believe?

*** Here are two people I greatly admire and I encourage you to check out their blogs.  They keep me thinking about a lot of issues, but especially Diversity & Inclusion.  Visit Paul Smith here and Joe Gerstandt here and here.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 7, 2011 7:57 am

    Robin-Thanks for the shout out and for writing on a subject that grinds my gears lately. I think the HR community has done a poor job in evaluating and teaching what diversity and inclusion really mean. Hence it is more common, than it should be, for HR people to squirm and shirk away from the topic.
    Do you want to know what a pink elephant looks like when it is swept under the rug?
    Answer: a pink elephant swept under a rug.
    Thus, the problem is never going to get better unless we discuss it. Again thanks for doing so.

  2. January 7, 2011 6:09 pm

    Excellent post Robin. Food for thought. Diversity is sensitivity. I just had to deal with this as a Social Media Community Manager for a website that I moderate…it was for a film company. They are releasing a movie/documentary entitled, Mooz-lim…about what it’s like to be a Muslim in a post 911 world. The insanity that ensued on the website was just beyond anything I’d ever before encountered. The hate being spewed was uncalled for…and I wrote a very powerful response, one that I am proud of, and one that I will be proud of one year from now. We have to wake up, take off the blinders, and stop blaming entire cultures for the actions of small minority of people.

    There is an organizational cuture, and human resources component of diversity that is crucial. If we miss it, we are missing a key to a healthy human resources strategy, and organizational culture. I value the people in our space who lead diversity seminars. Diversity equals sensitivity to the fact that not everyone is YOU, or like YOU, and that is a good thing. Think how boring life would be if we were all alike.

    What a boring world that would be.

  3. January 7, 2011 8:36 pm

    I enjoyed this post, Robin, and it is nice to see you keep the diversity conversation going. I have always prided myself on maintaining some ethnic/cultural diversity in my workforce, but I don’t think I understood the meaning and value of real diversity until I heard Joe Gerstandt speak at Ohio HR. He was marvelous and I learned so much more about what constitutes diversity and how it benefits the workplace. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, grab it.

  4. January 10, 2011 6:09 am

    Hi Robin. Thanks so much for the mention in your thoughtful post. I’m hopeful that progress will be made this year on such an important issue through repeated writing, discussion, and action in our organizations. It’s good to know there are colleagues out there who are willing to step out and address D&I. Insensitivity on this topic has been a hot button for me over the years, and I’m anxious to learn more, and try to make a meaningful difference going forward.

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