“LieVersity” and “In-True-Sion”: What People Aren’t Saying About Why Diversity Programs Fail

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I am a minister now largely because working as a consultant on a “Diversity Recruiting” Program for a large multi-national company frustrated me so deeply that I enrolled into seminary just to see if I could learn what it would take for a person or organization to have a true conversion experience. Most people who know me don’t know that I did not go to seminary with the specific intent of becoming a pastor. Rather, I went because I wanted to know what it took to encourage people to actually do what they profess to believe.

Ever since my stint in an intelligence agency where I first encountered an Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI), I have realized that these initiatives are rarely conceived out of the professed belief that “Diversity is good for business.” More accurately they are conceived out of a CYB (Cover Your Butt) mentality. Ever since companies started having to shell out money because of discrimination lawsuits, organizations have been thinking preemptively in an effort to protect themselves from litigation. Like my former workplace, the reaction of many organizations emerging out of the pre-21st Century world was a check the box campaign. I mean, how can anyone complain about diversity not being embraced in an organization that has an office dedicated to the initiatives, an exec in charge of that office, and Employee Resource Groups (ERG) where people get the chance to eat foods from other countries?

Unfortunately, I think these efforts have done more harm than good because they have conveyed a false sense of “progress lost” in the minds of the people who saw these programs as a sign of actual transformation on the parts of their organizations and a false sense of “we gave it our best shot” on the parts of the people who implemented the programs. But in reality, these initiatives were doomed from the start because they were powerless from their inception. To illustrate this, I will begin with using the formula for Power used in mechanics, which is Power = Work/Time. When Applied to the work of Diversity and Inclusion the formula would look something like this:

Power = -(D&I)/500 years

In other words, the work of industry in this country as applied to this formula actually ran contrary to D&I for about half a millennium which in mechanics terms would be considered negative work thus rendering this a powerless activity. Mind you that 0 joules/year would be powerless. Now consider that we’re talking about is less than zero or negative power which, because D&I programs were instituted in tandem with the existing negative power system, they pretty much constitute an effectual power drain on business. No wonder these initiatives aren’t living up to the hype. But, for argument’s sake, let’s just say that on January 1, 2000 the whole world realized the error of its ways and every one on the planet had a conversion experience and agreed to start really buying into the whole “Gospel of D&I” and were willing to do everything they could to fully live into its promises (to include dropping the bottom line mentality). If this were achievable, where would that put us in 2016? Well to figure this out, let’s look at the formula for Work applied to D&I which would look something like:

(D&I) = Force • Displacement • CosineƟ

or

(D&I) = Power • Time

Given that the conversion experience would eliminate the power drain i.e. resistance, we could have only moved forward from year 2000, which means that we will have made 16 years of progress. But the question is where is the starting point for measuring progress? Does our calculation take into consideration the 500 or so years of actively working against the course we are now taking? If so then that would mean that in order to actually feel the positive effects of D&I we will either have to wait 500 years or we will have to increase the Power we apply to the initiatives in order to reduce the time it would take to experience the effects. One way of looking at this is that we will not really know if D&I initiatives are working or failing until the year 2500 or so if the same Power applied to -(D&I) was applied to this work. Or, we can hope that intentional work in this area will make up for lost time and we can just stick with it and learn to live with the growing pains that are part and parcel of accelerated transformation. Either way at this point D&I programs have to be relegated to matters of faith to use religious parlance. They just cannot be quantified in the same way other initiatives are no matter what the “Justifiers” on either end try to say.

Now back to reality. The fact is that there was no total conversion experience that eliminated all resistance to these initiatives. D&I programs were built on many false narratives to include:

  1. America has a level playing field.
  2. People from so called underrepresented groups are being given something from the more highly represented group that is unearned
  3. By being included, the people from the “underrepresented groups” are somehow taking something from those in the more highly represented group.
  4. There is only one way to understand what equality means.

What I mean by #4 is that for many people the idea of equality feels like an upgrade in status whereas for others it feels like a downgrade. In my opinion both are incorrect. If you believe someone can offer you equality your are complicit in your own diminished capacity. Likewise, if you believe equality is yours to extend you are operating under an oppressive paradigm. These both cause drag in terms of moving D&I initiatives forward.

Finally, in my opinion, the greatest contributing factor to the failure of D&I programs is that they play into the idea that they must be justified. This works against the programs in two ways.

  1. They put in extraordinary amounts of energy trying to make a business case for something that “business as usual” created a need for in the first place. This means that in many cases they are trying to justify themselves using the “profit at all costs” model that justified many of the worst practices that organizations are now trying to overcome. In some cases it’s like trying to justify to your abuser why you shouldn’t be abused. Sounds rough, but it’s pretty fair in some cases.
  2. Because these programs put in so much energy trying to justify their existence, they are not planning for the day when they are no longer necessary. I’m of the mindset that in order for D&I programs to meet their full potential they should be planning for an exit strategy–even if its for 500 years from now. If this doesn’t make sense to you, consider that an organization whose purpose is to eradicate cancer should hope for a day when they can close their doors. Most people don’t know this, but even Judaism and Christianity have an exit plan for the day when ministers like me won’t be necessary (see Jeremiah 31:34).

In conclusion, I will share what I learned about conversion experiences in seminary. They do not exist. As I see it, what we witness as sudden conversion experiences in most cases is actually the tail end of a process that was going on beneath the surface all along. It’s similar to a person choosing sobriety after having a “rock bottom” experience. To the outsider it might seem as if all of a sudden the person just woke up and chose sobriety; when in actuality it was a back and forth process that culminated in the final decision based on the acceptance that they had to change or die. For example, if January 1, 2000 was the world’s actual day of reckoning on D&I, then it might seem like we all converted when it would have actually just been the day we acknowledge our “rock bottom-ness”. But even after that acknowledgement there would be a struggle. Then on January 1, 2500 when it suddenly seems as if all this D&I stuff just started instantly making sense, it would really be because of the 500 years of effort put into reversing the engines. It is from that point that things start really moving forward. And perhaps that would also be the day that ODIs would proudly close their doors saying, “Our work here is done.”

A final note:

Undoubtedly there will be some people who will have some issue with my chosen metaphors, which to some degree are admittedly fantastical. To you, I suggest not trying to argue with the metaphor but rather look at what the metaphor points to. We all know that many ODIs are still operating in a subversive environment. How can they not be? Unless we started this country over from ground zero, it is next to impossible that many won’t experience these efforts as a drag on “so called progress”. It is really like trying to get sober in a bar and being judged for taking up a seat that could be used for a paying customer.

And with regard to using the Mechanical Formulas to illustrate work and power as they pertain to D&I; I will use different equations when people are no longer treated as if they are machines. Until then, if it walks like a duck and looks like a duck…

In the end, despite the picture I have painted, I am hopeful that humanity will someday live up to its potentials on every level of interrelations. When the conquering spirit that has swept this world and endangered our very existence is turned inward, I am certain that as individuals we will be able to “be the change” the world needs. But to get there, we have begin with being truthful about where we are individually and collectively. Equally important is being truthful about where we came from. I hope that this post is at a micro-step forward in the direction of progress.

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