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Diversity is not a minority problem; it is an American opportunity

We need to recognize that political correctness and a positive and healthy dialogue are quite often mutually exclusive.

In my role at The Consortium, I speak daily to representatives from top MBA schools and corporations. I often hear, “We need to increase our diversity numbers.” Or, “We’re looking for highly qualified diverse candidates.”

I will often reply – with a smile – that Caucasian men are an important component of diversity. I smile, not because my reply is disingenuous; my reply is genuine. I smile because many diversity professionals incorrectly use the term “diversity” to represent underrepresented minorities – one of the many downfalls of political correctness.

I smile because smiles tend to break down barriers to dialogue.

Understanding and leveraging the power of ethnic diversity in the United States is one of our greatest opportunities. This understanding will enhance leadership, governance, product and service development, and the marketing and distribution of those products and services. We live in a global economy. If we fail to understand and flourish within our own multicultural environment, we will never find success in the global economy.

Diversity is not a minority problem; it is an American opportunity.

If we are going to address social problems in the United States that stem from cultural clashes, we need to remove ignorance as an excuse. Contrary to one popular line of thinking, we need to stop talking about race. There is only one race – it’s the human race.

Instead, we need to become educated about ethnic diversity. Diversity is a state of being, something that can be easily measured. In any room full of people, we can take a snapshot and quantify the diversity in the room by ethnicity, religious background, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

Unfortunately, we tend to oversimplify the meaning of diversity when we discuss it. That often results in flawed understandings, inappropriate “solutions” and undesired outcomes.

We categorize people as black, white, Hispanic, Asian. These categories lead many to think the groups are homogeneous. They are not. These categories also lead many to believe everyone is included in at least one group. They are not. Rather than assume everyone is the same – and then be shocked to learn the fallacy of this assumption – let’s assume everyone is different. Let’s have dialogue to understand and enjoy these differences, celebrate the common ground and leverage these commonalities to move our country forward in a positive and productive manner.

Further, we should understand that when we remove race from the equation, we all become part of a minority. Ethnically, as the chart below shows, no one ethnicity in the United States is a majority. The percentages are based on numbers from the 2010 U.S. Census.census-breakdown-graph

On that basis, the United States has always been a very diverse country – since long before we formed our nation, in fact. Native Americans (American Indians, Alaskan Natives and Native Hawaiians) were here before the United States was created. Likewise, roughly 300,000 Africans were kidnapped and brought here as slaves. Pre-colonial immigrants arrived from England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Sweden, Finland and Spain.

As the United States annexed more and more of the West, via war, purchases and treaties, the number of Hispanics (primarily Mexicans) and Native Americans increased.

The notion of “minorities” and “majorities” shifts depending on where we stand – or who is framing the discussion. Most of us will find that we are part of both the majority and the minority. From this broader perspective, we can make some statements about being in the majority. For example: The majority of those living in the United States were born in the United States; speak English; have graduated from high school; are employed. A minority of those living in the United States were born outside of the United States; speak more than two languages; have completed a bachelor’s degree; vote.

Quoting Mark Twain, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

Finally, we need to recognize that political correctness and a positive and healthy dialogue are quite often mutually exclusive. We tend to see two extremes: Some of us hide behind political correctness to avoid discussing controversial yet important topics; others use hatred or violence to illustrate our collective ignorance about ethnic diversity.

The turmoil in Ferguson, Mo., and the responses that followed merely underscore the social issues that rage across our entire nation. If we are to resolve this tension between American cultures and move our country forward, we need to initiate a positive and healthy dialogue. We need to learn to listen and we need to learn that everyone has a right to be heard. Maybe then we will begin to learn about inclusion.

Is anyone with me?

NOTE: This post is adapted from one that original ran on my LinkedIn profile.

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