The Case for Crafts

In my last column, I defined craft as a mixture of task-related elements: art, concepts, principles, skills, savvy, tactics and decision-making frameworks, as well as practice, continuous learning and mastery requirements. I also addressed questions related to the nature of a craft.

My observations during the past 25 years have convinced me that most organizations focus not on crafts but on tactics. I believe that unless CDOs and their enterprises spend more effort discovering, fostering, adopting and sharing diversity crafts, they will hinder the field’s continued advancement. I base my belief on the following circumstances.

The field is stagnant. We have been grappling with the issue of racial and gender representation — the numbers — and relationships since the ’60s. While diversity practitioners have broadened their focus to other ways in which people can be similar and different, the principal domain for the diversity discussion remains the workforce.

Another sign of stagnation is the dwindling and changing attendance at diversity conferences. I have frequently seen and heard that senior diversity practitioners no longer attend these conferences, explaining their absence by citing the lack of anything new. One individual reported that his company was looking for more productive ways to spend its conference budget.

A final sign of stagnation is complacency among individuals in organizations. A workshop participant recently stated with a spirit of resignation, “This is livable.” He said this even as he noted continual challenges recruiting and utilizing African-Americans.

The field continues its obsession with benchmarking and searching for silver bullets. These tactics generate only limited, non-sustainable progress. Concepts, principles, skills and decision-making frameworks remain unnecessary burdens for action-oriented executives and managers.

Without visible crafts, details can keep CDOs and their CEOs mired in minutiae. This promotes short-term perspectives and stifles innovation. Indeed, without crafts suggesting what is possible, CEOs may define success as keeping diversity off their desk.

The field struggles to attract and induct newcomers. Since my early days in the diversity arena, I have received inquiries about the best way to enter the field. I suggest that the inquirer seek out supporting crafts such as human resources management, organization development and organizational psychology, and look for apprenticeship opportunities.

Given these multiple concerns, how might the identification and use of existing elements of diversity crafts, and the development and adoption of missing ones, be beneficial for the field? Five possibilities come to mind.

1. Crafts come with definitions and measures of success, and thus can stir and energize the field’s stagnant waters. As a budding photographer, I accessed the crafts of photography. Even with a hobbyist’s limited desire to master photography, knowledge of the various photography crafts has been stimulating in terms of what might be achieved.

2. By their nature with their multiple elements, crafts suggest to practitioners that working on the craft requires more than mastering tactics. Mastery of crafts requires going beyond tactics into the realms of concepts, principles, skills and frameworks.

3. Crafts, with their various elements and prescriptions for definitions and measurements of success, can free CDOs and their CEOs from limited, short-term perspectives. As such, crafts can release CDOs and CEOs from parochialisms that can come from not having the external discipline of a craft.

4. Crafts can facilitate the entry of newcomers. They offer paths to achieve mastery. They also can correct misperceptions and provide enhanced credibility that can attract individuals into the field.

5. Crafts can foster the growth of the field as a discipline. The elements of the crafts can provide the foundation for practitioners and scholars seeking to refine and expand the field. This expansion is more likely to occur by drawing on all of the elements of a craft, as opposed to just tactics.

In summary, given the field’s challenges and the potential benefits of crafts, I believe that developing and adopting diversity crafts will expedite moving the profession to the next level.

R. Roosevelt Thomas Jr. is CEO of Roosevelt Thomas Consulting & Training, founder of the American Institute for Managing Diversity and author of World Class Diversity Management: A Strategic Approach. He can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.