What’s Wrong With You?

I escaped Minneapolis by the skin of my teeth. I’m exaggerating, but I did worry a moment or two that an April snowstorm would prevent me from traveling home Thursday from the Multicultural Forum on Workplace Diversity. It was my second year attending, and diversity conferences may be among my favorite type of event to attend. By and large, the people are ready to be friendly, to introduce themselves to strangers, and share all manner of personal and educational information.

This marked the 25th anniversary for the conference, and as I went over my notes I thought that was significant, because several of the sessions I attended discussed the lack of industry progress during that time. Why? The finger was pointed rather firmly at the diversity executive.

Not that the diversity executive is solely to blame for the fatigue, the backsliding, the denial, the confusion or the myriad other adjectives one could use to discuss organizational diversity efforts. But several people — Tyronne Stoudemire of Mercer among them — suggested that diversity executives might want to examine themselves first to consider how their efforts to advance corporate diversity strategy might be hampered by personal, unconscious bias.

It makes sense. When I shared the idea with him, my boss shook his head and pointed out that when it comes to behavioral change, the only thing we can control with any certainty is our own behavior.

During a session on authentic gender leadership, presenters Leslie Traub and Rosalyn Taylor O’Neale of consulting firm Cook Ross pointed out that to go into a diversity scenario with the idea of fixing the other person is a surefire way to raise hackles and create resistance to any teaching or awareness that might take place.

The next day during the final keynote, Howard Ross, founder and chief learning officer of Cook Ross, summarized the idea a bit more bluntly: Who are we as an industry that’s producing these results? How successful are we? Do we want to be right about our point of view, or do we want to be successful and make a difference?

It’s definitely food for thought. Ross said we’ve spent more money and resources on diversity than ever before, but are we getting the results we need to advance the business of diversity and reap its benefits? If not, who’s really to blame? Is it a blame issue? Should diversity executives bear some of the responsibility for the lack of progress the industry has seen? Stay tuned. The answers will undoubtedly be revealed in time.