Have well-intentioned people destroyed the word “Diversity?” I read an interesting article the other day in The Atlantic titled A Person Can’t Be Diverse. The article references the director of the movie, “Selma,” Ava DuVernay, as stating, “We’re hearing a lot about Diversity, I hate that word so much.”
Her rationale is that “…it’s a medicinal word that has no emotional resonance, and this is a really emotional issue…It’s emotional for artists who are women and people of color to have less value placed on their worldview.” Ava DuVernay prefers words like “inclusion or “belonging,” as in belonging to a group.
In the New York Times last year, journalist Anna Holmes said “…the term had lost much of its meaning,” and to paraphrase, we pit white male Americans against everyone else. Everyone else is considered an “Other,” and at the end of the day “Otherness” is at the core of why diversity initiatives fail.
When exactly did the word diversity become hijacked to mean everyone other than white American males?
This kind of article, well-written and provocative, makes me explore how I can agree 100 percent with the feelings expressed about gender and ethnicity, yet that’s not what I’m left thinking about. Rather, it’s the quote, “It’s emotional for artists who are women and people of color to have less value placed on their worldview.”
I see people every day with speech-language impairments or other disabilities, and there is little, if any, discussion on their value or worldview. This is because they are considered, by too many (even those advocating for workplace diversity), to be in the “Other” category. Speech-language impairments don’t discriminate against any class or ethnic group. The members of our community are white and Americans of color, both female and male, our sons and daughters, LGBT and those who are not Americans.
There are a plethora of studies showing that people with disabilities are hired less frequently and assumed to be less intelligent, and unless and until decision-makers decide to change this in businesses, it will go unchanged.
The majority of us does not think much about people with disabilities, or change our habits to support inclusive organizations and businesses. Companies often think a reasonable accommodation is unreasonable, no matter how small it is. Much like when soldiers go to war, we recognize a war is going on, but don’t think about the individuals in the trenches. When these soldiers come home, not much thought is given to the treatments they need to live a happy and independent life. If thought is given, the conversation becomes about money and how we can’t afford to provide services that are essential. Just look at how long it took for funding to be available for the first responders that ran into the buildings during 9/11.
Chris Cuomo recounted a story on CNN from the book, Ten Minutes from Normal by Karen Hughes who worked for President George W. Bush. In it, Ms. Hughes writes of walking on the beach and hearing a small plane overhead. As she looks up, she sees it pulling a banner. The banner says something like Jill, I love you, I need you, I can’t live without you and Karen thinks to herself, “This relationship will never work because it’s all about you.” Working towards a truly inclusive society, and business culture, in particular, cannot be about one group, or two groups, but instead must be about a mindset to guard against Otherness.
I saw a better definition of diversity, as a ‘whole range of possibilities,” rather than what we’ve intentionally or unintentionally developed as “not a white male.” Maybe we can agree on that without showing our unconscious bias to other groups.
Our ability to focus only on ourselves and not band together is a remarkably poor business decision. Because at the end of the day, it’s not all about you.
A version of this post was first published on The Speech Factor.