Yesterday I attended a convention for my job celebrating diversity in the workplace for a specific ethnic group. As events go, it was well-organized and it was appropriately represented by the group of people it was spotlighting. The event, which concludes today with a formal, awards ceremony, will most possibly be deemed a success by its many participants. After going through the ‘goodie’ bag and playing with all the gadgets, promotional materials, free giveaways and numerous writing implements advertising a plethora of services, will I think the event was successful? How do we measure success for these gatherings? As I prep my soapbox and begin to stand on it, so many questions come to mind.
In the light of day are we truly celebrating diversity if we have 98% attendance at an event by members of the same ethnic group with a sampling of other ethnicities sprinkled throughout the room to highlight our differences? Is this truly a diverse group or are we celebrating inclusion by creating an event that promotes exclusion? Would it not be more of a diverse event if it was represented by individuals with different sexual orientations, ethnicities, religious persuasions, colors, races or creeds? When we throw the word diverse around do we truly mean different or are we simply supporting affinity groups who have the same common bond, only to promote them under the guise of being eclectic?.
I truly don’t know but the dialogue begs to be had.
I have not and do not intend to join any group in my workplace highlighting my heritage. I specifically don’t like Hispanic Heritage Month because I think Latinos, Hispanics and all other Spanish-speaking groups are just as important the remaining 330 day of the year. I find inclusion in these groups to put a cap on my possibilities for expansion as a human being (and I’m not talking about my diet). I think people should celebrate my difference by asking me to translate for them if they need to read a Spanish document, by joining me for a meal of Cuban food, by listening to the music of Celia Cruz and by trying to learn the salsa dance rhythms which I have yet to master. Interacting with people who would welcome learning about my culture is where diversity finds its legs. It further finds traction when I reciprocate and learn about my African-American colleague’s cultural likes, needs and wants, when I join my Chinese friends for Chinese New Year or when I sit at a seder during Passover at the home of a Jewish acquaintance.
Celebrating the diversity in all of us is truly important and I applaud that corporate America is making this grandiose effort to promote our differences. I, however, meet this effort with strong criticism and (regrettable) cynicism. I don’t want us to do this because it is politically correct or because frankly, it might open up our market share. I want us to celebrate diversity by eventually getting to the point where these groups will be obsolete and our affinity forums will consist of simply people, with no distinction made by an adjective that more strongly describes and will ultimately leave them compartmentalized: male, female, black, white, Hispanic, gay, straight, etc.
Please don’t misinterpret my words. I love my culture and I have no issues embracing diversity. I love to share my Cuban roots with people all of the time; however, I think we need to stop focusing on all of the things that make us different and embrace the many things that make us one and the same. The more we celebrate difference, the harder it is to forget about inequality and its lack of merit.
Idealistic as it sounds, diversity efforts will cease to be divisive when the dialogue focuses on our commonality and collective strength, rather than in the difference or affinities we’ve pushed so hard to promote and recognize.
The Soapbox is put away and I am done. Happy Friday.