Editor’s Note: This was the introductory presentation at the 2021 Diversity Town Hall in partnership with the Gary W. Rollins College of Business /U. of TN at Chattanooga (Moderator Dr. Gail Dawson) and the American Diversity Report.
I appreciate both the eagerness and anxiety about the future of the diverse workplace and I’m often asked to predict what that future will look like. Predicting the future requires looking at the past – at the history of the diversity field and how it developed. I’ll get personal here and go back to New York City 40 years ago. I had just graduated college with a degree in anthropology based on cultural structuralism along with the science of storytelling. I was excited about getting a job, but was considered esoteric and irrelevant. And female. No one would hire me. Still hopeful, I went to an employment agency in Manhattan. As soon as I walked in the door, the office manager insisted that I sit at the all-women’s table and take a typing test. I said no and moved to sit at the all-men’s table where they were interviewed for executive positions. The manager said no. I insisted, he physically blocked me. I insisted again, he threatened to call the police.
While leadership training will often include issues related to Diversity & Inclusion, few programs include instruction in religious diversity. Yet, cultural awareness, cultural competence, global leadership, and cross-cultural communication are embraced as the tools of the market place of the future. What accounts for this black hole of information on diverse religions? One has only to turn on the TV, open a newspaper, or check the internet headlines to see that religion is a major factor in interactions across the planet. It is both puzzling and disturbing that a virtual vacuum of expertise exists in the relationship-oriented sectors of our society: business, education, government, and human services. Trying to avoid culture clash of belief systems can result in a paralyzing sense of being overwhelmed and under-prepared. Too many leaders are left scrambling for strategies and resources designed to turn the religious diversity novice into an expert.
When COVID-19 changed the economy, more people became entrepreneurs. The act of creating your own business has an underlying connection between spirituality and entrepreneurship. How does that work? The first element is the business side of the endeavor and its bottom line, otherwise known as ‘show me the money.’ The second motivation is self-fulfillment. Some refer to this element of entrepreneurship as ‘personal satisfaction.’ But the core of the vague term ‘personal satisfaction’ is what is best described as a spiritual sense of purpose. This spirituality is sometimes linked to one’s particular faith tradition, but is not necessarily so. Rather, there is a commonality in this spiritual sense of something greater than ourselves that translates across the boundaries of specific religions. Most importantly, there is tremendous power where this spirituality and business overlap.
Antisemitism goes back long before the term wascoined by a German historian in 1781. Violent attacks and expulsions of Jewish communities span centuries. The Babylonians exiled Jews from Zion, the earliest use of the term, into Middle Eastern and Mediterranean regions. The Romans forced Jews into Europe. Blamed for causing the Black Plague, Jews were driven out of England, France, Germany, and Italy. They fled to Eastern Europe but experienced violent pogroms and isolation into The Pale. Throughout it all, the elements of antisemitism rarely changed.
For example, the Blood Libel dates as far back as the Temple in Jerusalem with claims that Jews sacrificed Greeks. It reappeared in the Middle Ages when an English cult announced that Passover Seder wine was actually Christian blood. Centuries later, a mob destroyed a synagogue in Damascus for this blood libel. As recently as 1928 in New York, Jews were accused of kidnapping and ritually killing a young girl.
In the wake of the killing of George Flyod and the civil unrest that followed, communities of color around the country are feeling more empowered to speak out on issues of racism that make their everyday life harder and even painful. These bitter experiences are not limited to the dominant culture but also take place within communities of colors themselves.
Speaking within the Muslim community, voices echoing sentiments of injustice started rising on the maltreatment of black Muslims under the patronage of Arab leadership. Among the stories that have been circulating offensive social media posts among Arab employers, lack of participants representation among mosque dwellers and incidents of verbal offense among school board members towards black students or their parents.
When I was a sophomore in high school, my history teacher showed us a film during Hitler’s reign. The graphic film gave me nightmares for over a week. In great detail the atrocities of the Jewish people were in front of my eyes. Bodies of loved ones were dumped into a pile as the families were forced to watch in the cold, emaciated and near death themselves. The scene of women standing naked outside, holding their hands over their private areas was appalling. Not long ago I read that some women would cut their skin and use the blood to give them coloring. That was what Hitler had done. It didn’t matter that some were German, his own people, it mattered that they were Jewish. I can’t fathom a person having done such harm. In an article it said that he loathed the Jewish population because they took away jobs. We’ll never fully understand or know what was behind his madness.
I was excited to return to Cincinnati where my father had been the CFO of the American Jewish Archives. I was on the road, speaking on Religious Diversity in our Schools and at Work at the invitation of a Women of Faith event sponsored by American Jewish Committee, Xavier University & the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue, Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, and the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Now that so much of our work is done online and out teams communicate through cyberspace, it’s vital that cultural awareness, sensitivity, and competence in the area of religious diversity be part of the leadership tool box. Lessons learned from in-person presentations like this one should be reviewed and updated for a new world of long-distance work.
I hail from the family of Priests and Pastors in India. My tryst with “Om” and its significance in my life is immense. From early childhood, I was taught how to chant it with correct diction and feel so that it would bring my mind, soul, and body in unison with the vibrations of the chant.
I used to be an over active child and would never sit in one place to study or do anything with concentration and single-minded focus. The chanting of Om made my mind calm, it helped me focus on my studies and made me aware of my surroundings.
As a child, on Easter Sunday, my mother had my clothes neatly pressed laid on the bed. My wardrobe consisted of a light knee length dress, normally sky blue or ivory, with white socks, and white patten leather shoes. She’d tie a light blue ribbon in my hair and hand me rosary beads to place in my tiny white purse. Then my parents, brother and I went to church. I had been too young to understand the importance of the day. All I cared about was getting home to my basket of chocolate and toys. After mass we’d go to my grandmother’s house for pasta with simmering tomato sauce cooking on the stove and a rack of lamb with fresh garlic hot in the oven. It filled the room with a delectable aroma. Year after year we continue the same food tradition, not the wardrobe, and spend it with family. But this year may be different…
I’ve seen movies about it and even wondered if it could happen, but to live it, is surreal. Easter is April 12th. Will we be with family? Will anyone be able to spend it with their family or go to church? With Covid-19 aka Corona Virus across the world, who knows?
It’s exciting to start a new year and a new century with the hopes that this year will be better and offer many opportunities.The work in Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) must be intentional and not a one-time activity to check-off the box. Successful organizations in the field tend to have D&I as part of their organizational DNA just like safety.Some trends for this year include: intentionality and understanding for the business case for D&I, increase in unconscious bias awareness, and the expanding of the Muslim ban on its impact in the workplace.