If you’ve spent even a short stint in Corporate America over the past handful of years, you’ve no doubt been exposed to lots of Diversity & Inclusion mentions, initiatives, photos, what have you. And if you’re like me, when you hear “D&I,” you automatically think about a cliched picture of a young Asian dude, a middle-aged black woman, an older Indian guy, and then all of that again but just switched genders and races. Everyone is smiling, they’re probably volunteering, it might be a beautiful day outside or perhaps it’s in a staged conference room. It’s all really good and important stuff, but I wonder if in our quest to deliver on it as a goal, we’ve made it less powerful than it otherwise could and should be.
Like many, I assume, I am simultaneously a social media hater and lover. Hater because it wastes my time (ok, I waste my time – I recognize it’s not its fault) and it can make me feel like shit about just about anything it or I set our minds to; lover because it keeps me connected, makes me happy to see happy stuff even if that happy stuff is far from the whole story, and opens my eyes to more and different views and ideas than I’d see and hear if I stayed cocooned in my own bubble. Weirdly contradictory feelings now that I write them out like that. Anyway, a couple days ago I came across a post from someone I don’t know (Josh Comrie) because someone I did know for a bit about, oh, 20 years ago “liked” it. It’s a long post, but one thing he said in it really struck a chord: “Diversity is a statistic, and is meeting a number like you would a sales target. Inclusion, however, is a way of living.”
I grew up in what is likely one of the least diverse places on the planet: north of Boston in a town called Andover. I remember one Asian kid in our school: Allen Soong. He was very smart. I remember he would make glasses (resembling his own) out of the 0s from the 100 he’d inevitably have at the top of every returned test and paper. Allen was it. I don’t remember anyone else who didn’t look exactly like me. But I was taught, by my parents and my community, to be inclusive. To me, being inclusive meant not leaving people out, being the one to sit with the kid who was sitting alone at the lunch table, asking the kid playing by himself at recess he wanted to join our kickball game. The kid’s skin color meant nothing to me because there was nothing different to see. I now live in Brooklyn. And just like when I was a kid in Andover, my Brooklyn kids have been taught from day one to be inclusive. The fact that one of their best friends is Asian and the other one’s best friend is Indian has nothing to do with that. Being inclusive is just who they are. Diversity just happens to be their reality. (And let me just caveat here in case you’re rolling your eyes… No, I wasn’t perfect and I’m sure there were plenty of times that I ignored the kid playing by himself, and I’m certain the same is true of my kids. But we are all generally accepting and inclusive people.)
I fully recognize that Diversity isn’t a reality for a lot of people, companies and areas of the country. And therefore making it a goal like you would a sales target is a requirement to ensuring equality becomes a reality in the (hopefully soon but we all know it’s going to be a long, long road) future. But to me the more significant half of the D&I phrase is Inclusion. If Inclusion is nailed first, Diversity should be a natural outcome. And an outcome that comes to be recognized as something that means more than just race: gender, sexual orientation, religion, size, intellectual capacity, athletic ability, whatever it may be.
When the knee-jerk perception of Diversity is race, it can actually feel exclusive. If the goal of diversity is ultimately inclusivity, that perception is an impediment. I’m not naive enough to believe that flipping the phrase to Inclusion & Diversity would change anything overnight, but I do believe that changing the words of any familiar phrase (and in this case, it’s a simple sequence flip) can make one pause to think about what it really means.