Chief Diversity Officers inside modern enterprises first took off at the start of the millennium. Institutions across the social fabric (including governments, corporations, universities, and charities) viewed these officers as ones that would: (1) impact their organizations in a positive way, including enterprise value for shareholders and stakeholders, (2) raise sensitivity and awareness around diversity and inclusion, and (3) create a workplace that valued diversity, which could then permeate across the social fabric.

Photo Credit: Liberty News

According to Scientific American on September 16, 2014, “The first thing to acknowledge about diversity is that it can be difficult. In the U.S., where the dialogue of inclusion is relatively advanced, even the mention of the word “diversity” can lead to anxiety and conflict. Supreme Court justices disagree on the virtues of diversity and the means for achieving it. Corporations spend billions of dollars to attract and manage diversity both internally and externally, yet they still face discrimination lawsuits, and the leadership ranks of the business world remain predominantly white and male.”

This article more specifically addresses exactly what this premise raises squarely and frankly to engender water-cooler discussion and further comment by you. For diversity is more than just skin deep, it is about people first and foremost. Has diversity divided us into divisiveness is the issue raised herein. What have these diversity and inclusion programs accomplished that truly permeates across the social fabric?

Diversity and the Social Fabric.

May 17, 2018 marks the 64th anniversary of the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education landmark Supreme Court ruling outlawing segregation in public schools.

This year also marks the 54th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, established as law on July 2, 1964, which was made possible, because the 1954 Oliver L. Brown et. al. vs. Board of Education of Topeka (Kansas) et. al. decision struck down the legitimacy of laws that segregated people because of their race.

Lyndon Baines Johnson, the thirty-sixth U.S. President, during the course of his five-year presidency, sounded a death knell to racial inequality through a triumvirate of laws: The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

From the social impact emanating from these pieces of historical federal legislation of the U.S. Congress and the LBJ White House, this year also marks the 54th anniversary of The Great Society, first proposed by President Johnson on May 22, 1964, and featuring his presidential pronouncement, “The Great Society,” originally crafted by his Harvard speechwriter, Richard (“Dick”) Goodwin. LBJ’s unprecedented and ambitious domestic vision changed the nation. Half a century later, it continues to define politics and power in America.

Photo Credit: Lyndon B. Johnson speaks to the nation on July 2, 1964 before signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. East Room, The White House, Washington, DC.

President Johnson introduced his vision of a “Great Society” in a May 22, 1964 speech: “The great society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time.”

The Great Society legislation included “War on Poverty” programs, according to the learning blog of The New York Times, many created under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which established jobs and youth volunteer programs, as well as Head Start, which provided pre-school education for poor children. Johnson’s social welfare legislation also consisted of the formation of Medicare and Medicaid, which offered health care services for citizens over 65 and low-income citizens, respectively.

Evolution of Institutionalizing the Chief Diversity Officer.

The Chief Diversity Officer roles inside institutions (including governments, corporations, universities, and philanthropies) largely self-manifested and shaped themselves in a variety of ways – some reported directly to the CEO, while others reported up through human resources departments. Some organizations created formal departmental infrastructures that tracked and measured success of diversity initiatives led by Chief Diversity Officers.

Other organizations established these diversity czars as independent individual contributors, whose chief messenger role was to persuasively spread the message of diversity across the organization through influence, collaboration and communications. Many diversity chiefs were aligned with external relations, whereby these individuals were often called upon to represent their companies at events that catered to the organization’s diverse constituencies, interests and stakeholders.

Efforts to address the issue of diversity both domestically and globally, not only inside multi-national enterprises and institutions, but also across the social fabric, began long before the evolution of the chief diversity officer role, but took shape in other forms, such as affirmative action, as a result of legal and compliance mandates. However, other forward-thinking organizations were also strategically formulating their own positions on diversity and enterprise value.

I know because I witnessed some of those companies’ diversity impacts (like Procter and Gamble, for instance, under John Pepper, former Procter and Gamble CEO, and the late LaVelle Bond, former Procter and Gamble Vice President for Diversity Worldwide) inside the Clinton Administration, when I served as a senior policy adviser in the Clinton White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Therein, LaVelle Bond, the late Charles M. Vest, former MIT president, Judith Rodin, then-president of the University of Pennsylvania and now president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Shirley Malcolm, head of human resources at the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS), the late John H. Gibbons and Neil F. Lane, former assistants to the president for science and technology policy and OSTP Directors, and so many fine others and I led OSTP’s contribution in 1998 to “Clinton’s Initiative on Race,” which resulted in the White House policy document, “Meeting America’s Needs for the Scientific and Technological Challenges of the Twenty-First Century – A White House Roundtable Dialogue for President Clinton’s Initiative on Race.”

African American leaders in business, government, academia, and philanthropy have a unique contribution to make to the challenges faced by African American men and boys, particularly in regard to the development of talent needed for the future sustainability of American society. In response to these challenges, Morgan State University and The Kellogg Foundation co-sponsored a dialogue on June 26-27, 2007 at the Lansdowne Resort Boardroom in Lansdowne, Virginia entitled, Future of African American Men and Boys: Promoting the Saving, Transforming and Empowering of African American Men and Boys for the Betterment of American Society.

The Lansdowne dialogue was co-chaired by Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, President, SUNY Old Westbury, and Dr. Earl Richardson, then-President, Morgan State University. Butts and Richardson also served as co-moderators of the conversation. This Lansdowne dialogue brought together 12 prominent African American leaders to inform business, government, university, and philanthropic interests on suitable goals and strategies for improving and enhancing the lives of African American men and boys in American society.

The fixes that both extraordinary events put into place for America are far from complete. Scholars and The Obama White House called for a “black male initiative” to focus not on segregation, but achievement, and are basing it on workplace data. I have written what that initiative looks like a little further elsewhere on the Future of African American Men and Boys, featured on LinkedIn Pulse Social Impact Channel and on my website. But, I think it is one of the most important things business leaders can do to make American business — and society — stronger.

Today, the Chief Diversity Officer positions are much more commonplace and widely accepted across multiple industries, including higher education, government and not-for-profit entities. Most organizations now have high-level diversity officers, whose role is to make their work places more culturally sensitive, and whose role is to ensure business enterprises and corporate brands are viewed as places that strategically manage diversity integrally aligned to enterprise value for shareholders and stakeholders. Awards and recognitions are nowadays given to those institutions that are cited for their innovative diversity initiatives.

As the diversity function evolved over the years, affinity groups sprouted up so that people of similar backgrounds could share experiences and discuss their unique views. Diversity was no longer a “one-size-fits-all” business value proposition. In the age of demography shift and heightened engagement of shareholders and stakeholders, companies now have to consider the perspectives of different affinity groups that emerged around race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, physical disability, military status, and so many other dimensions.

More specifically, eight criteria for companies to be listed exclusively inside the prestigious DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Global Diversity include:

  1. Presence and role of a global diversity council
  2. Effective use of global employee resource groups for recruitment and talent development
  3. Global policies to prevent discrimination and harassment
  4. Global initiatives to hire and promote people with disabilities
  5. Global initiatives to hire and promote LGBT people
  6. Cross-cultural mentoring initiatives
  7. Specific talent- and leadership-development initiatives for women
  8. Global supplier-diversity initiatives

According to DiversityInc, “The No. 1 company on this list, Deloitte, has been at the forefront of initiatives to advance women and other underrepresented groups in a variety of countries in Europe, Asia, the Mideast and Africa. Seventy-five percent of its employees work outside of the United States. Global resource groups include those based on gender, age, heritage, religion, disability, sexual orientation and parenting.”

Here is the 2014 DiversityInc Top 10 Companies for Global Diversity

  1. Deloitte
  2. IBM
  3. Sodexo
  4. EY
  5. Accenture
  6. Procter & Gamble
  7. Merck & Co.
  8. Dell
  9. Johnson & Johnson
  10. Wyndham Worldwide

Photo Credit: Walmart is committed to initiatives that support diversity and inclusion.

It begins at the top.

We are still not quite truly diverse in our boardrooms, in our C-suites, in our colleges and university leadership, and in our institutions or other bastions of real power and influence.

BLACK ENTERPRISE reports that “corporate boards have become less diverse over the past several years. The report, “Power in the Boardroom,” is also featured as the cover story in the July-August 2014 issue of BLACK ENTERPRISE Magazine.

In its second annual report focused on African American representation of corporate boards, “the media company identifies 176 African American directors at S&P 250 largest companies, including American Express, Walmart, Xerox and Carnival Corporation, on the BLACK ENTERPRISE Registry of Corporate Directors.”

Read more inside: Black Enterprise Wealth for Life. The registry and report can be found here. Remarkably, the report “reveals 74 companies with no African American representation among their boards of directors.”

According to a report from the Alliance of Board Diversity, in 2012, white men held 75% of board seats on the 500 largest publicly traded companies, versus 5.5% for African American men and 1.9% for African American women.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder and president of the civil rights group Rainbow PUSH Coalition, is among those challenging the lack of board diversity, taking aim at Silicon Valley high technology companies, like Google Facing Test on Diversity, and pressing top management on the subject.”

By denying African Americans access to a seat at the table, they have made a detestable statement that they seek to maintain these preserves of white male privilege and dominance.”– Earl “Butch” Graves Jr., CEO and President of BLACK ENTERPRISE

What have these diversity and inclusion programs accomplished that truly permeates across the social fabric?

With all of the time, infrastructure and resources allocated to making us all more accepting of our differences, here we are nearly 15 years after the start of the millennium with racial tensions, LGBT issues, women’s rights, pay equity, economic disparities, political divisiveness, voting rights and civil rights dominating our daily lives. There seems to be a rising plethora of racially charged incidents of late coming from multiple segments of our society.

A Harvard Business Review blog argues that diversity training can promote prejudice.

“Diversity training doesn’t extinguish prejudice. It promotes it.”

The blog, citing a study of 829 companies over 31 years, showed that diversity training had “no positive effects in the average workplace.” Millions of dollars a year were spent on the training resulting in, well, nothing. Attitudes — and the diversity of the organizations — remained the same.

It gets worse. The researchers — Frank Dobbin of Harvard, Alexandra Kalev of Berkeley, and Erin Kelly of the University of Minnesota — concluded that “In firms where training is mandatory or emphasizes the threat of lawsuits, training actually has negative effects on management diversity.”

The solution proposed by the Harvard Business Review for the divisiveness of diversity initiatives is rather than engaging people through the lens of race, gender, age, heritage, religion, disability, sexual orientation and parenting, we need to engage people as people.

“Stop training people to be more accepting of diversity. It’s too conceptual, and it doesn’t work,” says the Harvard Business Review. “Instead, train them to do their work with a diverse set of individuals. Not categories of people. [Just as] People.”

“Teach them how to have difficult conversations with a range of individuals. Teach them how to manage the variety of employees who report to them. Teach them how to develop the skills of their various employees,” argues the Harvard Business Review.

“Move beyond similarity and diversity to individuality.”

At its core, “diversity”, as it is used in relation to the workplace, is a divisive and rather weird concept, reports The Guardian (U.K.). “In claiming certain groups into its fold, it suggests that some people are “diverse” and some are “not diverse”. It suggests, in other words, a nucleus of normal and goes about classifying everyone off-centre into check-box categories that can be totted [or totaled] up and turned into tables for the annual report.”

“What’s more, definitions of diversity tend to be skin-deep, about differences you can see […],” The Guardian (U.K.) concludes.

It appears that whenever a high profile and potentially racially divisive incident occurs, the battle lines are drawn. Even if the incident or issue (albeit health, human services, housing, education, energy, sports, entertainment or environment) itself has nothing to do with race, it quickly turns into a racial issue, when racial stereotypes surrounding those involved come into play.

According to The Washington Post on November 5, 2008, in a historic commemorative article entitled, “Obama Makes History – U.S. Decisively Elects First Black President, Democrats Expand Control of Congress” – a piece now framed and bronzed in millions of black family homes, “standing before a crowd of more than 125,000 people, who had waited for hours at Chicago’s Grant Park, Obama acknowledged the accomplishment and the dreams of his supporters,” as they ushered in the Obama era – the new Age of Obama.

“The historic Election Day brought millions of new and sometimes tearful voters, who had waited in long lines at polling places nationwide, and celebrations on street corners and in front of the White House. It ushered in a new era of Democratic dominance […] and returning them to a position of power that predates the 1994 Republican Revolution […], according to the historical November 5, 2008 election special commemorative edition of The Washington Post.

For a brief moment, we thought the election of our first black president was a signal that we had turned the corner and become a more racially neutral country. On the contrary, President Obama’s election appears to have added fuel to the fire. Nearly half of Americans in key voting areas think race relations have gotten worse under the nation’s first black president, a new poll shows, reports Politico and The Daily Mail (U.K.).

Photo Credit: Politico and The Daily Mail (U.K.)

The survey, taken by Politico the last week of August and the first week of September, found that 46 percent of residents in states and House districts with competitive federal elections this fall believe that racial tension has increased under President Barack Obama’s leadership.

Just six percent of voters polled said they thought relations had improved under Obama. The survey’s findings follow the high-profile death of the black teen, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, who was shot and killed by a white police officer, reports The Daily Mail (U.K.).

America was neither ready for its first black president, nor was its first black president ready for America. We are not racially neutral and it was the election of President Obama that fueled this tipping point. Blacks praised this victory and dared anyone to take issue with this president, at his height of minimum political risk in 2008-09, because all criticism was viewed as an attack on race, and not an attack on policy in the national interest.

“There has been quite an interesting response to President Obama’s second term selections for filling top cabinet positions. Women, such as Hillary Clinton, have stepped down from their cabinet positions and President Obama has nominated only men to fill the vacated positions […], even though there are qualified women who could have taken the job.” points out political blogger, Brian Anderson in early January 2013.

“The argument for all male nominations is that, “well, these were just the best people for the job. We don’t look at gender, we look at qualifications.” This logic makes certain women advocacy groups angry at the suggestion that there was not even a single woman as qualified as one of the men he has nominated,” Anderson argues.

Anderson writes further, “You don’t put women in top cabinet positions just because you feel like you have to be politically correct, but because diversity is extremely important when it comes to making important decisions. You want people from a variety of backgrounds and upbringings when considering policy. That keeps you from overlooking details that may not adversely affect people that look like the decision makers, but may very well hurt those not involved in the decision making process.”

“The opinions of women especially should be sought after to bring a different and much needed perspective in making such important policy decisions.” Anderson adds.

President Obama’s election presented an unprecedented opportunity for the “disenfranchised white male” to come out too. This disenfranchised group was already bearing the brunt of the corporate diversity initiatives that had now raised the sensitivity that rooms full of “white males” were a sure sign that an organization lacked diversity in its strategic thinking and management.

It was more rare for white males to even be considered for chief diversity officer roles, although now we are beginning to see this co-hort represented. For those who did not really buy into all of this “talk about diversity,” we now have the Rush Limbaugh’s, Sean Hannity’s, Mark Levin’s, Michael Savage’s, Breitbart’s out there, who could now voice either satisfactions or frustrations we have been feeling for years, as we are forced to accept these so-called “diversity initiatives.”

While racial undertones have always been a part of our society, we are seeing much more blatant acts now being exposed. Instead of talking more about ways to celebrate our differences and to appreciate our diversity, we are seeing more and more negativity being expressed.

Did putting diversity in the spotlight help fuel this negative exposure?

We are now a more socially-connected society through our hand-held mobile devices, making it much easier to spread opinions and views.

The relative anonymity in which we can communicate within social media provides a way to make raw, blatant comments that we would most likely be reluctant to make face-to-face. We seem to be speaking to each other more exclusively nowadays inside the news and opinions we spread among each other instantaneously on our digital hand-held devices.

As ESPN’s Ivan Maisel recently reported on Saturday, September 20, 2014, Florida State quarterback, Jameis Winston “picked the wrong week to shout something demeaning to women.”

“If this is the nation’s Rosa Parks moment regarding violence toward women, Winston picked the wrong week to mimic the worst form of fratboy behavior at the top of his lungs, while atop a table at the student union,” Maisel writes.

Florida State deserves credit for suspending Winston for the entire game against ACC Atlantic rival Clemson one day after the incident.

We all tend to speak over each other and not with each other so fast nowadays in which conventional wisdom spreads with such exponential virility, like a brush fire, that no containment or quarantine of information, knowledge or understanding is possible.

We have seen countless instances that demonstrate that we are much less tolerant of others, much more outspoken in our politically incorrect views, and with very little to show for all of the dollars spent on conferences and programs aimed at making us more diverse and more racial and gender tolerant.

Bottom-Line Takeaway:

So, here we are today – more distrusting of others, and more closeted in our views. For diversity initiatives to work, they must allow us to discuss our true feelings and biases, and not be chastised for what we believe.

We must evolve as a society where we can relegate those who harbor views of what can be described as racist, to the commonly viewed and reasonable point of distaste or disdain. Yet, along the way on the course to this new destination of societal norms and conventions, what have we done to understand why we feel this way?

Take the explosive case of Paula Dean. She honestly answered a question that was asked of her. Yet, she was slaughtered in the press alongside her food empire being attacked. Blacks surprisingly came to her defense. For them, what she said and did was troubling of course. In her own, southern charming way, this woman, who grew up in the height of racial segregation, simply told the truth. Some could say she was too naïve to know better. However, her naivety is what endears her to us. She admitted what she said and felt. Since then, she has taken steps to face her inbred prejudices.

Contrast the case of Paula Dean’s comments, to what takes place in corporate offices, where discussions about the racial makeup of the leadership teams surely take place.

Some would say, “We have become a very diverse nation and diversity, due to its very nature, breeds disagreement. People have always had trouble getting along with each other, but in our day we find ourselves in a divided country.”

In part, “we are a nation divided because of two things which are mutually exclusive – liberty and government. While some people seek a government that passes binding laws that infringe on personal freedom, others seek a more libertarian form of government. While one group sees the government as the solution to our problems, another sees it as the cause of our problems,” some would add.

Yes, America, we have a long way to go before we truly accept each other and our differences. We need to learn how to fully appreciate the rainbow of colors, ideas, lifestyles and philosophies in each other. We must learn not to judge others, because they hold views and opinions quite dissimilar to ours. It is only then will we be a society that truly appreciates our differences, and values those perspectives that we all have.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.