Once upon a time I had the opportunity to have high level conversations as the Vice President for a private liberal arts university on the East coast. These conversations often had direct budget implications. Questions would arise such as, “do we put additional resources into increasing the discount rate to attract additional students? Do we put institutional resources toward a cost of living adjustment to compensate the over taxed faculty, or maybe resources should be allotted to the renovation of a building to accommodate a new program which will generate additional future revenue. All of these conversations were done in the name of perpetuating the overall mission. My guess is that decisions as such apply to most work settings.
These are interesting economic times and now the topic of diversity has moved from the peripheral to a more central position within many organization’s strategic master plans. This is a time when some organizations are asking the question, “how important is diversity?” Many of such companies or institutions then reduce the topic to that of resources, political correctness, accreditation, and politics in general. It is at this time that I suggest that Diversity and inclusion is not a choice!
There is general and genuine support in most work settings and a commitment to a more diverse community (Brown, 1999). I am convinced after serving as a faculty member or administrator at 3 different U.S. private institutions of higher education that all colleges and universities would arrive overwhelmingly at the very same conclusion; that diversity and inclusion should be encouraged and promoted. I am sure that the leaders of your organizations are all for inclusivity and can even document their desire, however, in practice the question must be asked, are the leaders actually doing what they say they support. I will not speak for other companies or small businesses, but in most of our college and university settings there continues to be a perpetuation of a colonial education model, where a dominant group educates a subordinate group from only the dominant world view.
The disconnect begins to appear when the very persons who are in agreement with the principles of diversity in practice are content to leave things as they are or begin to voice in a more passive way the discomfort with the demographic shifts (i.e., “the student is not a good fit”, “this may lead to the lowering of our academic standards” or “faculty are not prepared for the underprepared student”). James Anderson the chancellor of an Arkansas University (2008) says it like this “those who claim a perceived threat to institutional quality and reputation such as lowered standards, or political correctness are only trying to generate anxieties that are misplaced and to maintain the status quo” (p 167).
In 1997 Keith Denton, from Missouri State University, wrote Down with Diversity where he posited that diversity has the potential to dilute the cultural identity of an organization. It appears that our institutions of higher learning may have that same fear because we sincerely speak political correct rhetoric but seem hesitant to bring in the very students or employees who threaten historical narratives and cultural values. The need to preserve the organizations core values and beliefs makes it difficult for it to fully embrace those who do not look, act, nor believe like the majority of its constituents (Fubara, Gardner and Wolff, 2011). How does your own place of employment reconcile this dilemma?
Our diversity cannot just be a diversity of assimilation and acculturation, which suggests that as long as one behaves like the dominant campus group, sheds a particular set of cultural values, norms and/or beliefs and especially does not over emphasize individual cultural distinctiveness, then and only then, will there be a welcoming and acceptance into the larger community within the organization.
Diversity is a gift and leads to the possibility of an enriched and engaging environment where greater learning and skill development is possible (Smith and Schonfeld, 2000). (Gudeman, Marin, Mayurama, and Moreno, 2000).
The role of the organization when attempting to conduct business ethically is to commit to developing inclusive communities and placing diversity more closely to the overall mission of the organization. It means moving forward with the seriousness of inquiry like we do with so many other endeavors. I would challenge us each to seriously conduct introspective analysis of our individual organizations and companies. I would challenge us to incorporate a diversity plan that becomes systemic and transformational instead of settling for projects, special programs, short-term initiatives, and other efforts that are not sustainable and are difficult to evaluate (Anderson, 2008). Let’s continue to strengthen our organizations by moving forward in authentically valuing and celebrating the gift of diversity and inclusion and maximizing the benefit of our rapidly changing demographics.