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5 Quick Tips for Dealing with Hostility to Diversity Programs

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Presenting five tips for dealing with hostility to diversity programs, our cultural attaché Quincy Hall, explains how, for many, the idea of diversity programs is wasteful, frightening, divisive and nonsensical. 

I suspect we’re in a bubble.  By we I mean people either working in or who are active in the diversity space.  That’s a lot of people, but it’s not a majority of people.  

We write articles and post them on internal and external business outlets, and we all agree with each other (mostly) because we’ve created a community of diversity ambassadors and champions with shared ideas and values.  We support one another.  That’s because we bubble-dwellers are aware of the benefits of diversity, more so, diversity that’s fostered and championed. But, sometimes, well, it’s a hard-sell. 

On this site, I’m “preaching to the choir”, as they say, but what happens when I say this stuff elsewhere?  

You may have all experienced this.  You’re at a party, there’s possibly alcohol, and someone asks what you do for a living, and you mention ‘cultural diversity’ and suddenly you hear that what you do for a job is somehow ethically wrong.  By running anti-racism programs, that makes us the real racists (or something like that).

When that happens, you’re out of the bubble.  

But it’s not just parties with wine we hear this.  At Cultural Infusion, the team behind Diversity Atlas we’re privy to the anonymous feedback of the participants in our survey and it’s illuminating (and sometimes frightening) to see what some people at the coalface really think when offered the chance to send unfettered and anonymous comments.  

A lot of the feedback is supportive.  Variations of “I’m so happy my company is doing this / finally doing this,” come piling in, but they’re not always like that.  What we also see is fear that a focus on diversity somehow means that:

  1. Promotions and jobs will be offered to people ‘without merit’, or
  2. ‘The white male’ is becoming the true victim of discrimination, and 
  3. We are being ‘divisive’ by acknowledging differences between people.

These seem to be the main three objections.  Response to these fears can be found within our own recent literature.  Our CEO Peter Mousaferiadis recently addressed the ‘quota’ debate, our CTO Rezza wrote an excellent piece explaining that diversity does not mean ‘anti-white’ and I’m soon to put to paper my explanation as to why counting things is not divisive. 

In the meantime, I have put together below a list of approaches to dealing with hostility to diversity programs.  

Addressing hostility to diversity

The list is for a particular type of worker and/or workplace; one that is reluctant to support DEI programs.  It’s for people in companies or teams or any type of cohort that are worried about the ramifications of diversity, or who are confused or even frustrated by the focus on diversity across the globe… and there’s a lot of people like that.  Probably more than are in our bubble.

 “Stop bringing politics into it!”

“You’re being divisive!  We’re all equal!”  

“We all work for Awesome Crunchy Biscuit Co., and we have the same goals – to make awesome crunchy biscuits that people love and to make good money.   Who cares that Hanna in accounts is a Jewish lesbian, or how many Muslims and Hindus we have in IT, or about the Uruguayan Pastafaria in the warehouse, or the Boomer in the wheelchair in Marketing and the Scottish-Italian Gen X-er General Manager?  We are all part of the one team; and after work too, we all have to stop at the red light, and we all have access to Medicare.  Why does it matter if Irene is Orthodox or that Louis speaks Thai?  You’re dividing us!”

Well, yes, all of that is true enough. In the eyes of the law, we are all equal. At work, we’re all on the same journey, united, in agreement with company standards and policies.  But that last bit, the bit about being ‘divisive’, which keeps coming up… we disagree.

Does it matter that Irene is Orthodox?  Quite possibly it does, especially to Irene.  People’s identity, cultural and social, are very important to them, and people are at their happiest and most productive when they feel that they are presenting as ‘their whole self’, rather than trying to hide some aspect of themselves. 

That’s not to say Irene wants or needs to express her Orthodoxy at work, but, maybe she just doesn’t want to hide it either.  Or maybe she does want to express it somehow, at prayer time, for instance, or even just in a discussion as to what she got up to on the weekend?  Does Irene feel comfortable to say, “I sang in the choir at church yesterday?” or not?  

You can be an individual and a member of a group or groups.  In fact, prima facie, that’s the best way to be.  If you lean too far into one of those two aspects of life, troubles may arise.  

“That’s being political!!” 

No, it’s not.   We do culture, not politics.  

With this in mind, here are my handy tips for dealing with hostility to diversity programs, aimed at people who are resistant, hesitant or even angered by the thought of them.

1:  NORMALISE DIFFERENCE

My fellow “white male heterosexuals” keep popping up, self-identified mind you, stressing out about all of this ‘diversity stuff’.   Remind them that difference was always a thing, even if ‘back in the day’ (in Australia, for instance) the difference was not so much skin colour or religion, but it was age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, political affiliation, denomination, socioeconomics, education level, even the school you went to and a million other things that make us unique. 

No one individual is diverse in and of themselves, but everyone is different.  Remind staff that are showing hostility to diversity programs that diversity is in fact inevitable.  It is quite literally impossible to avoid, and as time goes by, given globalisation, diversity can and will morph and grow.  

2:  NORMALISE CHANGE

“You can’t even say Merry Christmas any more!” 

Actually, maybe you can, and if someone is telling you not to, there’s no harm in asking why, and finding out more as to why perhaps it’s discouraged.  Likewise, the emergence of intercultural understanding programs and anti-racism policies and harmony days and celebrations are all part of the ‘new normal’, and it’s not like there exists some magic land where there’s a plethora of industries that deny the very existence of racism or homophobia or sexism, or that do acknowledge these things but refuse to do anything about it. 

Emphasise to those that are displaying hostility to diversity programs that becoming more inclusive and more diverse, and showing a greater understanding of culturally diverse cohorts, is completely normal now. 

Stakeholders, investors, customers and especially staff are demanding meaningful cultural diversity development and management, and it’s unstoppable, and it’s pretty much every company that’s doing this.  It’s normal, and it’s best practice, and if you’re not on this journey, you’ll drop off the tracks.  

3.  FOSTER AND PROMOTE DIFFERENCE

You look at the sea of faces across the company and you see a kaleidoscope of colour and movement.  Good.  Great, even.  But who’s there?  Who are we, really?  Encourage people to talk about who they are, let them express who they are, listen to how they feel about being a bead in this grand kaleidoscope, even if they’re uncomfortable with it… especially if they’re uncomfortable. 

We know from every business study that greater diversity leads to greater profits, but, as we suspect, that’s only true of companies that foster and promote diversity, rather than let fear or ignorance of the cultural particulars of ‘others’ to fester.  It’s not just for the people unique to a particular cultural practise, it’s for everyone else, including the people who think it’s ‘divisive’. 

You may only have one Faroese staff member on your team of 10,000, but publicly wishing them a happy Dýri biðidagur sends a message.  There’s going to be people that are part of some ‘majority’ (eg: ‘men’, or ‘heterosexuals’) that may feel in some way threatened or undervalued; meanwhile there might be some people who are alone in some aspect of their identity (such as our Faroese above) who might feel overwhelmed, unseen or isolated.  BOTH of these group/s of people need to be able to talk, and ask questions, and be answered, and over time, difference, now normalised, fostered and promoted will lead to positive change.  

4.  FOSTER AND PROMOTE CHANGE

We have never been fans of ‘quotas’ at Cultural Infusion, and we do not suggest using Diversity Atlas as a tool to implement quotas.  You still need to have ‘merit’ in place.  Having said that, we do love targets! 

Assuming there’s some job opportunity at the workplace and there’s 100 applicants for that job, all of who have the right qualifications, well, consider this: 

In Australia, it is estimated that (roughly) 3.5% of the population are Indigenous Australians and 2% are Muslim, and 5%-ish are LGBT, and the male/female split is roughly 50/50 and … well, the types of statistics here are endless, but, wouldn’t it be nice if your company even roughly followed those sorts of statistical patterns?  It’s obviously geographically and industry specific, but even so, as a target, the census is not a bad start, and not just for the whole company, but department by department as well.  And if anyone starts to feel uncomfortable, you can explain to them that, well, we’re just a mirror of Australia, and that’s a good thing.  

5:  CELEBRATE DIVERSITY

Over time, as you inevitably become more diverse, and perhaps more reflective and representative of your wider community, and the spread of diversity is not restricted to ‘islands’ within your organisation…. celebrate it and celebrate it hard.  Tell everyone.  Tell us, tell your customers, tell the media and tell the world how proud you are of your culturally diverse team.  When you celebrate the diversity of your team independent of (for instance) profits, you will find that hostility to diversity programs will dwindle.  

About the author

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Quincy Hall has had a 30 year association with Cultural Infusion, and is the Diversity Atlas customer experience manager. Quincy also takes a keen interest in the development and management of our database - the world’s largest commercially available (and most accurate) database of world cultural groups. He lives in Colac, Victoria and in his spare time is the lead singer of a pirate-punk band

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