By Terence Parris for Inventum Consulting.
Diversity is not about replacing one power with another...
I have had this topic in mind for many years now, and felt the time is right to ‘put pen to paper’, especially when you hear now that straight white men feel that they are becoming ‘the victims’. You read headlines that ‘men from the North East of England are the most disenfranchised demographic in England’, or hear comments such as - “I stand more chance of getting a job if I am a black lesbian”, or “white men now have a target on their backs” in the workplace.
As a black professional man, I have spent all of my working life in work environments dictated by values driven from the perspective of white, heterosexual, Christian, men. (the four 'pillars' - that I will talk about another time)
I have been party to the banter explicit or implicit, ranging from - “you don’t sound black on the phone”, “what do your friends think when you tell them you have a job” or “you are not like the others”; amongst the many comments readers of this will have experienced and/or empathise with. And something most non-white heterosexual men/women will have heard, thought, or experienced - “you have to be twice as good, to have half the chance”.
So, I should in theory start jumping for joy at the apparent shifting of power, rubbing my hands with glee, and saying “now you know how it feels”! I am sure that many from outside this ‘elite’ group are thinking this, and perhaps wishing for far worse than the seeming power shift - nothing less than revenge will do!
Imagine, there is now a debate about whether white men can be discriminated against, whether it is racism; and even a case where several very privileged white men from an advertising agency are bringing a case for discrimination - because they are white men. Now to be honest, but sorry guys, if any large company recognises that it is ‘top heavy’, and/or wants to restructure top management, this is almost always going to hit white men hardest, because they are almost the only people there!!! ‘Pin the tail on the donkey and you couldn’t miss’.
"Is there the danger that ‘diversity’ becomes a dirty word?"
However, I am writing this because I want to press the pause or rethink button. Aren’t we in danger or replacing one set of discrimination with another? Are we recreating a ‘McCarthyite climate’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCarthyism) where we are persecuting one complete group of people ‘without trial’.
Is there a danger that the very word ‘diversity’ becomes a dirty word, the McCarthy red, a battle cry for the seemingly embattled white man. If we look carefully, its already happening. Articles in the media, embattled white men sharing social media about - ‘here’s another example of diversity gone mad’, and more and more people moving to the extremes (for many other reasons too.). And, I say the following with a sense of irony, but I know many, many white men, ‘that are not like the others’!!!
History is full of people like Abraham Lincoln, William Wilberforce, Donald Woods, Robert Kennedy, F. W. De Klerk...the list is endless, and would also include the hundreds that I grew up with, and that are hopefully reading this - respect to my brothers! There are also some of the most iconic images of Martin Luther King Jr's marches in the South, linking arms with people of all races and sexes, so too at the famous “I have a dream speech’ in Washington - which included a line - “I dream of a day when people will be judged not by the colour of their skin, but the content of their character”.
White men are not the enemy.... The lack of social sensitivity and the lack of fairness and equality is the enemy.
The latter, inequality, is what has also fueled ‘Popularism’ around the world. Again, if you are non-white, heterosexual, Christian, male, - you may have a smile of irony on your face and think - ‘now they know how we have felt all our lives’. It’s easy to open up a whole new discussion here, but back to ‘diversity’.
What do I mean by ‘social sensitivity’? It’s something developed when you are not part of that elite group. You develop a greater sense of awareness of the people around you; you develop a greater awareness of how you are seen/perceived, and how to navigate your way through the workplace and society as a whole.
But in the workplace - for me at least, it meant learning to better articulate myself when angry or frustrated with situations/decisions. Again readers of this will understand - being a black man showing anger is seen as an ‘angry black man, “typical - I wondered when we would see his real side”.
Showing anger as a woman generates the - "time of the month" comment or "ball buster feels she has to prove herself". As a white man however, demonstrating anger/frustration in the workplace - can be seen as passionate, driven, invested in the outcome, etc. The elite group hasn’t had to be socially sensitive, aware of themselves, etc - because the world has had to play by their rules. BUT, social sensitivity is not unique to people outside this elite group.
Nor does everyone outside of this group have it! I believe that our goal, the goal of diversity and inclusion, is the development of social sensitivity and awareness of others. Pursuit of diverse thinking is perhaps more important than diversity of sex, race, religion, sexuality.
Some of history's greatest leaders for change, Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, etc all with good reason to want revenge on those who suppressed them and those they represented, recognised that this is not the way to create lasting cultural change. Replacing one form of discrimination or persecution with another, creates a vicious cycle...and also, like any ‘cornered animal’ (I say that about the human race as a species and not as insult) white men will resist and fight back.
They still and may always have the majority of the power...but all ‘we’ want is fairness and equality. ‘We’ are not asking for favouritism either in selection or promotion, we just want to know we have a fair and equal chance, based on our experience, aptitude and skills. And actually, if any favouritism was going to be shown, it should perhaps reflect what challenges someone from the non-elite group has had to overcome to even get to the ‘table’ in the first place - perhaps twice as good?
If someone who had never seen a 400 metre race, watched the start, they may well ask why the person in lane 8 appears so far ahead with n unfair advantage. This 'Lane 8' perspective is probably the perception white men have about diversity and inclusion.
... Perhaps we too, in our pursuit of a fair race, need to do a better job of explaining what Diversity and Inclusion is; what we are trying to achieve (fairness), and that ‘lane 8’ is about ensuring that the race is of the same distance, not about making ‘white men the enemy’.
Terence Parris for Inventum Consulting