Exactly a decade ago, a group of us were honored as trailblazers, pioneers of diversity by the Profiles in Diversity Journal. it was a milestone moment in which we reviewed the characters and the innovations prominent in the USA diversity movement. But it was also a moment in which to ask, "Where do we go next?"
It offered us the opportunity to review the shifts that the introduction and the seeming success of diversity programs and those who deliver them were teetering on a balance. Diversity began as a moral imperative, sometimes religious concern for social justice, "the right thing to do". It sought and found legislative force, so that organizations felt required to implement programs and policies and train people in how to carry them out in everyday organizational life. The challenge a decade ago seemed to be how to assist organizations to realize what were seen as the objectives and benefits of workforce diversity and to eliminate obstacles to "targeted groups."
Resistance was often outspoken. Diversity was not an easy sell, and those who would promote and market diversity programs sought to address to and hence reinforce corporate objectives by showing how diversity would contribute to them. Consultants and trainers marketed themselves by describing the benefits to ROI, to sales, to corporate reputation, to globalization, etc. Meanwhile the focus and technology of diversity interventions was branded and rebranded with such labels as building the bottom line, talent management, inclusion, etc., up to the latest hot label, dealing with unconscious bias.
I don’t want to disparage these efforts, nor the goodwill or energy we have put into them, but what I have learned in the meantime is that we have actually tried to act as cultural intermediaries, taking ideas and processes and framing them in the language of the corporate target audience so that they should appear to be a normal part of their functioning. In short, we have accepted and are operating within the metanarrative of "commodification." We collaborate, whether consciously or unconsciously, promoting diversity as a product to sell, in harmony with our culturally constructed, but highly unfair economic realities. Commodification has tainted our language with concepts like "social capital", "emotional capital", "intellectual capital" etc., all echoing the accumulation of wealth mentality. Our artificial intelligence is and will continue to be no less biased because it embodies the social discourse of our prefabricated worlds.
"Postmodern" and "postcolonial" thinking, along with neuroscience and cognitive research are uncovering how we actually function, allowing us to imagine operating out of a different narrative than the ones we have assumed to be "reality" for several centuries now. Socially constructed metanarratives, the inner voices we listen to as culture, both as individuals and as groups, in fact align our thinking and behavior with the very systems we are trying to challenge. People can be bought and taught, both options fraught with naught when it comes to change. Changing that alignment means clearly identifying it together and joining hearts, minds and hands to begin to speak and listen a fresh reality.
This crisis is almost too painful to look at. Our challenge is finding the tools to help ourselves and each other break the rigid frames of the metanarratives preventing successful humanization of our societies and our ecology. Some tools already exist, but we have been discouraged from using them; others start to emerge as we better understand the integral nature of our human selves. Resistance to any new vision and challenge, internal as well as external is to be expected but, remembering that resistance is pent up energy, we can use it to fuel a new vision rather than unwittingly reinforce the old.
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