Diversity & Inclusion Is Really About Similarity & Exclusion
In the late 80’s and early 90’s we saw a great swell in business towards affirmative action like policies that brought people together from different walks of life to work together. The idea was meant to open doors to people who had historically faced discrimination by favoring them in contemporary settings. For some, it was a great opportunity to advance through pathways intentionally set aside for what amounted to protected classes of people, women, minorities, etc.. Those people who are not included in the protected classes often feel as though they are being discriminated against now, as these already competitive landscapes seem to be narrowed by setting diversity quotas that meet demographic goals.
What we find more recently is that some groups are creating “safe spaces” for them to air grievances about other groups of people, decenter hegemonic archetypes, and really speak openly without the fear of residual harm. This is very important to a shared understanding of our experiences and a basis for culture, to form and community to strengthen. But if one group is creating “safe space” from other group, particularly as a protected class, how is the dynamic any different? Well, it is not.
The importance of creating inclusive spaces does not stem from the idea that all people are supposed to be able to live together, it is a critique of our reasons for dividing in the first place. Division of people on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, or social class does little to advance our society, because those groups are not reflective of any indepth character of the people within them. A black woman is not inherently a better or worse lawyer than a white man, the point of making sure to include and marginalized people in spaces that are dominated by majority s valuable because of the perspective they bring from their difference as it pertains to their sameness.
The first thing we must do when thinking about inclusion, is think about who we are serving, and that naturally means focusing on a specific group. If you are a law firm, you need talented lawyers of whatever stripe, it doesn’t mean that if all your lawyers are white, you need to hire black people that are not lawyers. The priority of these businesses as communities of intention is that of all the characteristics that people have, this specific community is interested in the intersection of their professional ability, with the goals of the organization, and this should not be encumbered by the other facets of their identity.
So we hire, let’s not think, “can we get more minorities on board” we need to think about developing a firm with the most valuable and robust skill set that we can, and naturally that will embue organizations with a desire for diversity. Honoring the interests of our communities is the way to be sure we are adding members who are valuable in specific ways, and from there we must be willing to understand those priorities are drivers. Like mindedness is a stronger characteristic to identify when working towards inclusion. We must ask, what is the same about us, that we can strengthen, and how can we be tolerant of the differences, understanding that they are trivial incomparison to the value that our sameness brings.
It is a contradictory notion, but it begs us to focus on our greatest outcomes, most valuable, and sustainable gains and collaborate towards those. We build safety by understanding that we are all more than one thing, our identity lables black, white, male, female, transgender do not inherently speak to our ambitions fears, personality types, skillsets, or our worth as people. We must create context for the expression of facets of our identity and be willing to express these facets as habit.
Though what we need is nuance, complexity, and intersectionality, the only thing that makes us feel safe is taking strong binary positions that highlight specific reductive parts of our experience and identify. The paradoxical nature of the problem is the Chinese finger trap of contemporary society.