March Together//

Making a Difference to Diversity Might Require us to Deviate from Existing Definitions

Even as we aspire for greater diversity in the boardroom, the fundamental definition itself could (and should) be made more ambitious and relevant—here’s why.

Photo by Pixabay/ Pexels
Photo by Pixabay/ Pexels

The fashion industry saw one debacle after another in 2018-19 that demonstrated just how wide the gap is between how businesses should behave and how they do. In the recent past, Burberry, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana have been hurt by adverse publicity highlighting their cultural insensitivity. 

Dolce & Gabbana’s “Eating with Chopsticks” commercials showed an Asian model trying to eat spaghetti with chopsticks. People called the ads disrespectful and racist, and the commercials were pulled within 24 hours. It was estimated that Dolce & Gabbana put ~$500 million (a third of its revenue) at risk as a result of the backlash. There have been many diagnoses offered (how did something so obviously offensive slip through the cracks of a diverse, global management team/ workforce?) and the general consensus has been that making strides in hiring for diversity doesn’t mean much if that diversity is not used effectively.

The last couple of years have seen diversity conversations expand to “Diversity and Inclusion”. But even as we fight for respect, religious sensitivities, representation on the Board, and the right to equal pay (for equal work), we might want to re-evaluate if this expansion is sufficient. 

Inclusion (noun): The act or practise of accommodating people who have historically been excluded. OR The action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.

I see two fundamental issues with the definition of the word that has become synonymous with initiatives targeted at bringing into the fold (of leadership, power, belonging, and more) groups that have been, until now, marginalised.

First, it suggests that there is an authority that is IN the group that will determine “bringing in” (that is including) hitherto excluded populations. That, by itself, introduces a sense of hierarchy. The “giver”/ determiner of inclusion, and the recipient, who has been given permission to join. 

While sipping wine with a senior executive at a Fortune 500 company, we fell into a discussion about company policies as they relate to women returning into the workforce. He expressed dismay that the women should expect to return and “be handed the role of a CEO” when they had already received paid time off, and had the gratification of birthing/ taking care of their child.

One only needs to remember Mary Antoinette’s infamous suggestion to resolve a shortage of bread to know why solutions proposed by the forces that are already “in”, with little insight into the struggles of those who aren’t, are likely to be flawed.  We need to switch from permission granted by the privileged, to power for the protagonist so they themselves can drive the changes impacting issues with which they are more familiar.

Second, the assumption that “inclusion” leads to someone being accommodated “within an existing group or structure” when the existing group or structure is what needs to be improved. Enhanced representation and diversity should lead to an evolved configuration, and a new game – not more of the same play. Pope Francis, considered by many to be an outsider in the Catholic Church (the first pope from outside Europe since the 8th century), is credited with altering/trying to alter the way the Church operates, starting with how he accepted his cardinals’ congratulations—choosing to receive them standing, instead of while seated on the papal throne—to indicate dismantling some of the formalities and rigid doctrines of the Vatican. Quotes from The Two Popes (a 2019 biographical drama film based on discussions between the outgoing Pope Benedict and future Pope Francis): 

Pope Benedict: You talk about walls as if they are bad things. A house is built of walls. Strong walls.

Pope Francis: We need bridges, not walls.

With new players on the field, the identity of the group will, and in fact, must, progress.

Hence, I would argue the case for going beyond inclusion to solidarity. 

Solidarity (noun): Unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.

  • It suggests upside for all—diversity is not just good for those that get enhanced representation and opportunities; it lifts the entire ecosystem.
  • It hints at a sense of empathy and an effort to understand something better. 
  • It suggests movement and flow—while inclusion seems to indicate a static, binary snapshot (“in or out”); solidarity seems to drive forward, towards a purpose.  
  • It indicates respect and equality—not lending a hand or providing permission to someone, but rather standing shoulder to shoulder with someone…

…and what better way to achieve diversity and equity than by marching together, in unison, to the same beat?

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- Marcus Aurelius

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