Beyond Diversity and Intercultural Management
Excerpts from a post on LinkedIn on August 14, 2017
The recent actions in Charlottesville, Virginia are painful reminders of how deep racism runs; on domestic and global levels. In many countries, the in-fighting that continues to manifest is largely drawn across racial or ethnic lines—not too dissimilar to what we see occurring in the United States.
So, how do we ameliorate racism? How do you change the hearts and souls of people; or can those types of changes ever occur? Perhaps the ways in which we address racism and all the other ‘isms’ that plague us are no longer productive strategies.
Over the next week or so, I would like to share with you some of my thoughts, which are excerpts in their entirety from the book “Beyond Diversity and Intercultural Management”, Robinson-Easley, C.A. (2014), New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
A concept that I believe requires discussion and debate is whether or not we understand the lens of all the actors when we look to create change and embrace the true meaning of valuing humanity. Often when looking to create change, we fail to factor in people’s “lens”, which serves as the foundation for their fears and resulting attitudes and behaviors. Yet, I have found over the years that when we take the time to engage in a conversation that positions people to productively deconstruct their biases and critically examine their lens, change can occur.
I sincerely hope you make the choice to read these excerpts, debate their propositions, pass them on and engage in a conversation with your colleagues. We as a country and as a world cannot continue down the path we walk. Domestically and globally, the stakes are too high!
Many recent events in our world caused me to expand how I posit the concept of difference and diversity even as I continued to write this book. When we look at difference from the lens of valuing and loving humanity, we can significantly move beyond the need to engage in the varying diversity and intercultural management strategies that over the years have made questionable difference on how we globally interact with one another. Valuing diversity, managing diversity, managing intercultural relations, and all the other references we attribute to evoking acceptance of one another in our global society cannot override a fundamental concept . . . when we learn to value our humanity without process descriptors, we can work toward valuing one another simply from a lens of love. You see, “Love is the strongest force the world possesses, and yet it is the humblest imaginable,” (Mahatma Gandhi).
I initially began writing this book from the point where I began my journey with the concept of diversity—during my years in the corporate business sector. As a result, the primary focus of the book was to look at the concepts of diversity and intercultural management solely from the lens of workplace environments and at the global impact of that worldview. Yet, as I continued to write, many issues emerged in our global context that moved me to reconsider some of my original praxes.
I had the opportunity, over the course of a 20-plus career in human resources and organization development, to witness how organizations handled difference from the early inception of implementing the vast array of civil rights laws, through a variety of diversity management strategies that incorporated interventions such as sensitivity and diversity training. During the latter part of my career I have taught, researched, published, and consulted in the areas of diversity and intercultural management. Yet, what plagues me each time I stand in front of my students and/or groups that I work with or consult to, is that I still feel a nagging doubt that little has changed since the very beginning of my diversity journey in the 1970s.
Recent global events have sensitized me to understand that if we are to change our world, we should view the concepts of difference and how people perceive and react to the injustices they see associated with difference from very different paradigmatic perspectives. Oftentimes, perceived injustices are not just ignited by reactions to the more acutely observable differences. Just as the concepts and constructs associated with diversity have expanded, so have people’s responses to issues of how they view treatment toward them.
As I worked to finish this book during the summer of 2013, for several weeks I daily heard and/or read about people making the choice to voice, in huge numbers, their concerns with what they perceived to be varying acts of oppression on the part of their governments and other country entities.
I cannot help but again rhetorically ask if the domains of diversity are being inadvertently expanded by society due to the times in which we live—times where people are less tolerant of actions imposed by the varying “systems.” Are people uprising because they believe their humanity, framed by many micro cultural differences, is being challenged?
The issues are overwhelming and the concerns run deep. Equally disturbing, there is an element of unrest that closely resembles the early 60s. I will not begin to espouse an understanding of the issues as they pertain to the international arena, simply because I do not live in these countries. Yet, I have lived all of my life in the United States and have an acute awareness of why people from multiple walks of life and race are still very concerned about equality.
We are emerging into different times. I also suggest that the emergence of these times will require our diversity conversations to expand. Equally important, our actions toward ameliorating injustices that are based upon differences will be held to higher standards.
Many people across the globe are angry about the failure to see and, more importantly, experience change. The negativity that we are bombarded with in concert with more salient issues that contribute to the destabilization of people who live with challenges to their humanity and diversities, can and does impact how people internalize self-worth and vision their ability to collectively question that which is placed in front of them as “truth.” I have seen these issues, having worked with challenged communities within the United States. Yet, at some point in time even the most subjugated people will wake up! Ironically, Paulo Freire wrote about the awakening of the masses in the 1970s as he worked with challenged communities in Brazil. And here we are—40-plus years later having similar dialogues.
A concept that will be repeated in several places within this book is that our knowledge of social phenomena is fundamentally shaped by the subjective worldviews through which we perceive events (Tenkasi, Thatchenkery, Barrett, and Manning, 1994). This proposition simply means we cannot understand appropriate response patterns until we understand the lens of the actors.
Yet, shouldn’t we critically examine the etiology and sustainability of those worldviews and resulting lens? No one wins when the outcries of people are ignored. If people have made the choice to wake up and rise up, I respectfully suggest that a new conversation should emerge. Equally important, I want to be clear that these examples are not relegated just to a country context. As we will visit throughout this book, organizations in varying forms are being either overtly or subtly impacted by people’s fatigue with varying forms of marginalization. If you are the CEO of an organization that has a history of allowing people to feel disenfranchised, you will “feel” their wrath in their productivity, which impacts the organization’s profitability!
We no longer can look at the concepts of diversity, difference, and any other terms that we wish to associate with what differentiates people from a lens of dispassionate actions. More succinctly said,
The peasant begins to get courage to overcome his dependence when he realizes that he is dependent. Until then, he goes along with the boss and says “What can I do? I’m only a peasant.” (Freire, 2006, p. 61)
People are slowly but surely awakening to their dependence as they move toward independence and what it means to have their humanity valued. Yet, what appears to be taking leaders of organizations, countries, and other entities by surprise is this awakening, which is long past due.
When I think about diversity, intercultural differences, and how to effectively address many of these issues, I also cannot understand why we continue to address the issues of social injustice in developing countries from the lens of ethics and social responsibility. Is there that wide a difference between the constructs that frame social responsibility versus valuing difference? We tend to neatly package issues into silo perspectives and propositions, thus failing to identify and address their relatedness, which can be germane to finding appropriate solutions. Yet, understanding the connectivity of issues is germane to evoking deep systemic change, or as adeptly stated by Dr. David Korten,
“Part of our inability to come to terms with institutional systems failure stems from the fact that television reduces political discourse to sound bites and academia organizations intellectual inquiry into narrowly specialized disciplines. Consequently, we become accustomed to dealing with complex issues in fragmented bits and pieces. Yet, we live in a complex world in which nearly every aspect of our lives is connected in some way with every other aspect. When we limit ourselves to fragmented approaches to dealing with systemic problems, it is not surprising that our solutions prove inadequate. If our species is to survive the predicaments we have created for ourselves, we must develop a capacity for whole systems thought and action.” (Korten, 2001, p. 21)
If I have the ability to “see” humanity from the perspective of oneness, would I, as a major corporate leader, even take my organization down a path of importing human deprivation upon others simply because the people who are subjected are different from me, or, worse, they are not in an economic position to protest? Does their difference imply my right to impose substandard working environments and conditions upon them?
These are difficult questions that the literature typically wants to gingerly handle and/or address under separate domains. It is easy to find social justice addressed in its own respective literature or merged within the ethics literature. However, if we are to move past the silo mentalities that continue to frame our responses to complex questions, we should learn to deconstruct and reconstruct issues from an interrelated systems perspective. In other words, the question needs to be continually asked that if people cannot “see” equality from their domestic lens, why should we expect them to act differently on a global level—a question that also challenges how we want to differentiate between diversity and intercultural management.
My perspective and point in writing this book is not to be politically correct. Our world is in crisis. Even when we view events that are not in our backyards, we cannot walk away from the issues. The failure to value difference and people’s humanity is a worldwide concern. In my own country, the United States, there is another level of civil war being raged.
Violence and the deaths of our most precious resources—our children are being addressed by lackluster attempts to ameliorate the conditions that are giving rise to their death tolls. In many ways these are issues that fall within the domains of diversity—or the lack thereof. You see, it was not until youth violence in the latter part of the twentieth century began to attack Caucasian communities that the discourse about “what to do” began to change. And, even with those tragedies, the death tolls of young people—particularly youth of color across the globe—continue to morph to unprecedented levels. There is not one inhabited continent in our world that does not have youth gang problems, which suggests a serious breakdown of multiple systems that impact children. The level and intensity of interventions designed to ameliorate this issue will largely depend upon the demographics of the youth most impacted. Yet a child, regardless of his or her ethnicity or race is too valuable to lose—children are our future!
The concepts and issues associated with valuing difference should be viewed beyond corporate domains. They reside on many levels and the resulting actions to “remediate” situations are inappropriately executed across many venues. As I have taught diversity over the years, from the position of my lens as an active actor in this maze of diversity and as an individual who has nationally and internationally traveled and witnessed poverty, difference and many differentiating factors that give rise to class, socioeconomics and other domains of separation, I personally have grown in both my pragmatic perspectives and my understanding of human nature—an understanding that has reshaped how I view the topic of diversity and difference.
Over the course of these latter years, I have learned that no matter how sophisticated a change strategy one institutes in an organizational setting with respect to diversity and intercultural management, until we begin to have authentic conversations that address society’s failure to embrace our humanity, regardless of our ethnicity, gender, or any other spectrum of difference, there would be little to no sustaining change.
Although I spent years in the corporate sector addressing diversity—experiences that are discussed within the context of this book that I pray helps frame productive cognitive dissonance in the reader, it was not until I began my walk through seminary and began to synthesize my seminarian training with my corporate background, business degrees, and experience in the “fields,” that I “saw” diversity from a broader lens.
Historically, our world has continued to face a failure to evoke an egalitarian environment. You can easily trace the historical concepts of domination and power to contemporary times by utilizing examples such as the development of World Wars, the impact of toxic wastes upon developing countries, the expansion and growth of racism, of sexism, the exposure of children to violence, exacerbated by the proclivity of media and all other types of inputs to perpetrate the concept of redemptive violence as a guiding praxis for society (Wink, 1992). The issues do not simply reside within the walls of corporations—points I will address in later chapters.
Yet, power is not always bad. We need leaders, we need systems, and we need institutions. However, we need leaders, systems, and institutions that possess strong “interior spirits” (Wink, 1992). And, we will need those leaders who possess strong interior spirits to lead the charge as to how we value humanity across our various venues.
I believe that those that reside in the “C” suite will need to emerge as the serious leaders of change. In other words, it is time for them to change their standard operating procedures regarding diversity and intercultural management. It does not matter whether those leaders are CEOs of major corporations or the heads of NGOs or government entities. Their leadership and resources coupled with an enlightened insight regarding the need for change positions them to be the force that can begin a mass movement toward valuing humanity—a concept I address in my proposed model for change.
It is also important to understand that my point in writing this book is not to exhaust the literature, as I engage many issues that I “see” needing to be treated differently in the diversity conversations. I simply have the following propositions that are designed to evoke controversy in order to begin a very different dialogue:
- There are far too many issues of disenfranchisement that we continue to allow to exist globally throughout our world. They reside in multiple domains.
- Our responses and strategies to address these issues are insufficient.
- The way in which we understand issues of discrimination on multiple levels has to expand if our world is to productively survive and we are to reverse discrimination. Discrimination spans within the walls of corporate America, our educational systems, developing countries, and the list goes on!
- We must move beyond structural responses that tend to represent lackluster attempts to implement programmatic initiatives and move to strategies that embrace the humanity of all people—regardless of where they globally reside.
- And, we have to keep this forward movement going. We can no longer afford to be comfortable with our response patterns because as I will point out in this book, close to 40 years after the enactment of varying civil rights laws just in the United States, the issues remain unchanged and the same holds true for many other countries—a few of which are identified in varying chapters.”
(Robinson-Easley, C.A. (2014), Beyond Diversity and Intercultural Management, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. vii-xv)