Does the message about the importance of diversity need to change? Should the message about diversity need to be crafted so it can appeal to those who feel it is a take away and a loss? The value of diversity is perceived as common wisdom by most of those in business and civil society. Diversity is known to be extremely valuable for better decision making, lauded for creating innovation, reflective of changing demographics, and helpful for business to increase its profitability and recruit the best talent. However, not everyone views diversity as a positive factor in both their own lives and those of the country.
The recent election highlighted this divide. Pew Research Center report of August 18, 2016 found, among Clinton supporters, 72% think increasing diversity makes the U.S. a better place to live compared with only 2% who say it makes the U.S. a worse place to live. About a quarter (26%) say greater diversity doesn’t make much difference for life in the U.S. About as many Trump supporters say greater diversity doesn’t make much difference for life in the U.S. (43%) as say it makes the U.S. a better place to live (40%); 16% of Trump supporters say an increasing number of people of many different races, ethnic groups and nationalities makes the U.S. a worse place to live.
Eight times as many Trump voters see diversity as eroding their lives than Clinton voters. For some voters increasing diversity might make Americans more xenophobic (Allison Skinner, Jan 10. 2017). Ms. Skinner states in her research, “…reminding white people of the increasing size or increasing political power of racial minority groups in America-whether it was via the majority-minority projection…or about President Obama’s election-led them to show more implicit racial bias against black people.” “We have moved from diversity to difference to division” observed Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. “People say diversity creates innovation, new experiences and change. That is the last thing that people who feel left out by the ‘elites’ or have lost their place in the proper order want to have happen to them”.
Diversity and inclusion are the right things to embrace BUT it seems clear that the approach of its message about the value of diversity needs to be expanded. How can diversity be re-imagined given the enhanced voice of its ‘detractors’ in society, in politics, business and the law? Jeff Chang, in his book We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation suggests that today when people talk about diversity the reference is to race, gender, ethnicity, perhaps sexual orientation and some religions, rather than economic class. He posits that “whites who struggle economically notice the slight….and view nonwhiteness as a valued commodity…working class whites feel ignored by elites and (in this election) looked for someone to vocalize their anger and anxiety. White, rural, religious Americans think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threated or ignored (or blamed)…”
Most people are not reacting against the reality of diversity in America or even against specific groups. But they need a more compelling message about the value of diversity in their own lives. Many of us are secure in our knowledge that diversity adds value to our lives, to workplaces, to creativity and innovation. It is our challenge to find ways to make that message welcome and inclusive to all.