‘I Don’t Believe in Diversity’
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.