A Diversity Futurist’s Perspective
In my more than half a century dealing with diversity, I have seen multiple changes in the field of training, coaching, and consulting. COVID presents an unprecedented mountain of changes in the DEI field that merit an overview of the past, present and future. As much as I appreciate some of you giving me the title of Diversity Futurist, Diva, Matriarch and Fairy Godmother, I’m well aware of the many experts reading the American Diversity Report and welcome your comments on the future of diversity.
The Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s ushered in activism regarding race that continues today. Advocacy had existed for decades before that. The NAACP was founded in 1909 and there was a Jewish element in that process. That synergy was revisited in the 1960s which is when I became involved in civil rights protests and Affirmative Action was enacted. The very different experiences of Jews and Blacks did not always resonate together and the partnership phased in and out. I belonged to a Black-Jewish Dialogue in Chicago in 1990 and current issues prompted me to re-energized that effort with a virtual Black-Jewish Dialogue that I founded last summer. Click for Dialogue background and episodes.
The Black Lives Matter movement is latest phase of civil rights, but there have been multiple surges following incidents in various cities, particularly regarding police violence. The DEI response is one of the most notable in history. The BLM movement coincides with COVID and emphasizes the Equity given the massive economic and healthcare impact on communities of color.
FUTURE: Given recent eruptions of long-held prejudices against people of color including Asian-Americans, African Americans and Latinx, diversity consultants will be focused on issues of race and ethnicity, coupled with Equity and community activism/leadership, for years to come. Additionally, it’s likely that law enforcement will use diversity consultants more frequently to better serve diverse communities.
In the late 1960s, the Women’s Liberation Movement began and I joined the first march in NYC, partly inspired by the Jewish women at the forefront. They didn’t identify as Jewish but their presence was understood in our community and in 1972 the first female rabbi was ordained in the US. However, efforts to discredit ‘Feminism” as radical/left wing have existed for more than century and still exist today. The #MeToo movement re-booted the Women’s Movement, creating a newly energized phase of the Women’s Movement, particularly regarding both sexual harassment and Women in STEM/technical fields. Last year, I was contacted to do an interview about being a pioneer in the computer world – I studied computer programming in the 1960s and was an IT manager in the 1980s. This was the first time anyone paid attention to that aspect of my work. Internationally, the movement to highlight women is progressing rapidly.
FUTURE: COVID has created an historic “She-Cession” recession and diversity consulting in the US will need to respond as COVID subsides. Among the issues to address: Recruitment, hiring practices, advancement in the workplace, parental leave, child care, equal pay, and presence in the executive C-Suite and on Boards. None of these issues are new, but they will gain increased visibility and demand greater attention.
There is a long history associated with gay rights, the first advocacy organization was established in 1924. The movement accelerated in the wake of the Stonewall Riots of 1969. An example of the evolvement of LGBTQ diversity consulting is Indiana’s Another Bookstore founded in 2004 which became The LGBTQ Center in 2016. But according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) there are still 3 dozen states where it’s legal to fire someone simply for being gay. And only 29% of the Fortune 500 offer health benefits to domestic partners.
FUTURE: The expectations expressed by SHRM include an extension of civil rights to include sexual orientation. This would embed sexual orientation issues more firmly into DEI consulting. It would also guarantee similar benefits to individuals and their families regardless of sexual orientation. There would also be more equity regarding the treatment of hate crimes towards these individuals.
In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act brought disabilities into the diversity consulting arena. I believe that the original focus was on physical disabilities. I taught ballet at a school for the deaf 15 years earlier, before dance therapy or diversity consulting existed and the term “handicapped” was acceptable. Intellectual disabilities came later. My younger brother was a high-performing Aspergers/autism and my experience was helpful in assisting autistic students in technical writing at the College of Engineering & Computer Science at the U. of TN/Chattanooga in 2017.
FUTURE: While physical disabilities may remain a challenge for diversity consultants in this COVID era, there are signs that intellectual disabilities may continue to be addressed. The need for social interaction is less and the need for technical skills has increased, giving the intellectually challenged more opportunities and requiring diversity consultants to include this form of diversity in their skill sets.
Often referred to as Interreligious Affairs and Interfaith Dialogue decades ago, religious diversity has had an on again-off again presence depending on world current events. The term Interfaith, which I used when founding the DuPage/Chicago Interfaith Resource Network in 1991, continues to be relevant today, although not as a DEI consulting category.
My first book on this facet of diversity, Teaching Curious Christians about Judaism, came out in the early 1990s and won awards at a time when Holocaust issues around Auschwitz were prominent. But it wasn’t taken to the Vatican until Pope Francis became pope in 2013. My book, Religious Diversity in Schools, was originally written after a street riot in a Chicago suburb over Christmas displays in mid-1990s. My book, Religious Diversity at Work, was published in 2016 when legal suits regarding religious expression had became a prominent issue for diversity consultants.
FUTURE: Religious Diversity has been and will continue to be used in corporate diversity consulting and for organizations in the healthcare sector. The combination of legal issues and service to a broadly diverse religious clientele makes this form of expertise necessary to both engage a diverse clientele and to avoid legal issues.
MULTICULTURAL & CROSS-CULTURAL
Diversity was originally known as multiculturalism, a term which came to be known as cross-cultural or intercultural. This approach to diversity rose to the surface when international businesses relocated to the US in large numbers. Training internationals to maximize the local-global teamwork quickly became a necessity. When Volkswagen located their American plant here in Chattanooga, TN, around 2008, I was contacted by a New York management consulting firms to assist in coaching executives in adapting to the Southern culture. Almost a decade later, that NY firm changed its named to include ‘diversity’, reflecting an updated perspective of its work.
The cross-cultural trend corresponded with a move towards Global Leadership Training that was sometimes taken up by diversity consultants, including myself. My sequence of cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity, and cultural competence as a training strategy reflected the thinking then, and have become terms used in diversity consulting in general.
FUTURE: The ‘America First’ movement made global leadership development somewhat irrelevant and it merged with general leadership development training. While it’s questionable whether my books, Inspire Your Inner Global Leader (2012) and Going Southern: The No-Mess Guide to Success in the South (2013) are being used currently, as the virtual workplace becomes the new norm, the concepts of global leadership and cross-cultural expertise will be revived.
I created the Matrix Model Management System more than 20 years ago, embedding the concept of “implicit bias” which emerged in 1995. The System included the neuroscience of storytelling, emotional intelligence and the application of both to setting goals and plans to achieve them. When the term “Unconscious Bias” became part of diversity consulting about 1/2 dozen years ago, I revamped the Matrix System as Un-Bias Guide for Leaders and the Un-Bias Guide for Educators workbooks in 2018.
FUTURE: Issue of Unconscious Bias will continue to be part of diversity consulting. with an additional focus on how it might evolve into hate speech, acts, and crimes. The use of neuroscience to broaden the ability to process Big Data will increase. Given the tensions and frustrations of the COVID era, there will be an increased emphasis on emotional intelligence and smart decision making. Understanding the communication and appeal of hate groups will be a necessity for diversity consultants as noted in our book: When Hate Groups March Down Main Street: Engaging a Community Response.
Generational diversity became a sub-set for diversity consultants as the Silent and Boomer generations reached retirement and younger generations became more visible. There is little discussion of the older generations in the workplace today given COVID. And there is little knowledge of Affirmative Action, so long in the past, although references to it remain.
FUTURE: We’ll see a new phase of generational diversity going forward and there are already labels for young teens as the COVID generation. The emphasis on technology will increase and the influence of online information, news, AI, and social media will need to be folded into diversity consulting strategies. Schools, colleges, and universities must prepare the new generations for a different mode of work and diversity consultants will need to assist in blending new methods with existing ones for the future.
CONCLUSION from THE DIVERSITY FUTURIST
COVID has changed all our lives and our work places will probably never be the same as the pre-COVID reality. We are often at a loss to predict what comes next and how to adapt to whatever it is. Yes, there are benefits to this time. Many of us are in contact with folks we haven’t talked to in years. Ordering supplies/food over the internet can be cheaper and easier than our previous in-store trips. But the real benefit is yet to be seen and that is the creativity that is being applied and will blossom over time. Chaos theory tell us that the most creative place in the universe is at the edge of chaos. We’re certainly at that edge today. Can we apply that creativity to the increasingly diverse world that we live in and be our most innovative selves?
Can we do that together with my favorite tag line, “HARMONIZE NOT HOMOGENIZE”? This is where diversity consultants can be a major factor in our success together. As the poet William Wordsmith said almost 2 centuries ago:
“Life is divided into three terms – that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future.”