The Diversity Divide: How Two Words Clash and so Do the Worlds They Represent

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Issue 104 — August 12, 2019

I can’t imagine that anyone would be surprised by this August 11, 2019 headline in the New York Times citing research that correlates hatred of women with mass shooters more consistently than any other characteristic.

As the nation reels from the past week’s events, the evidence mounts that misogyny runs deep in the veins of disaffected men most likely to fit the profile of those who perpetrate acts such as last week’s mass murders in El Paso and Ohio. And in my experience, racism and sexism are joined at the head. Where you find one, you usually find the other.

That’s because both are rooted in anger about perceived social slights and fear of “the other.” They focus on divisions among people. Diversity is bad in their view. They see power as a zero sum game, requiring power OVER others, and rather than welcome a more just and inclusive society, they feel they are losing primacy and privilege.

Diversity, in that framework, constitutes a divide that can only be bridged by a more inclusive culture, with example set from the top coupled with systems that enable effective implementation of systems that value the richness of ideas and innovation that diversity can bring.

Both “diversity” and “divide” start with the prefix “di,” meaning “two,” “twice,” or “double” in most dictionary definitions. But it also can mean “split” or “separate.” The leadership challenge is to bridge that split.

The flip side of the diversity divide can be seen in another article, “What Makes an American?”. It profiles an immigrant Filipino family trying to assimilate into American culture in Texas. These are people merely trying to have the “power TO” make life better for their families.

I relate to this story because all four of my grandparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe who settled in small Texas towns two generations ago. I was reminded in all sorts of ways that my family and I were “other.” Aside from my grandparents’ accents which I was asked about frequently, we were the among the few and sometimes only Jewish families in town. My grandparents had escaped oppression and wanted their children and grandchildren to grow up in the bright light of America’s freedom — to look, speak, and act like the predominant culture.

Still, our noisy multigenerational house was different from the cheerful “Leave It to Beaver” nuclear family households of my peers. Their mothers didn’t work outside the home. Mine went to work with my father every day. Another difference. How embarrassing. She wasn’t home baking chocolate chip cookies for us after school in a starched apron she had ironed herself. My friends loved my grandmother’s European fried dough cookies with powdered sugar that she cooked up for us, not in a starched apron but in her old housedress. I was again mortified that the sights and smells in our kitchen were…different rather than pleasantly diverse. As a child and entering my teens, I wanted nothing more than to fit in, to be like everyone else.

Diversity in that sense for me was also a divide. The explicit and implicit bias I experienced shaped much of my behavior. My response was to “cover,” taking on the habits of those around me.

As do many women and minorities in the workforce every day. By and large, they are working in institutions designed by men for men who had the “Leave It to Beaver” moms at home.

But as I matured, the experience of living in more than one culture made me value diversity rather than fear it. It made me appreciate the languages, accents, food, and habits of the many cultures I encountered growing up. I began to feel I had the good fortune of belonging to many tribes and I could move among them comfortably, like a world traveler.

Far from being a zero sum game, diversity enriches as it expands knowledge, innovation, and the mental agility to solve complex problems.

These characteristics, now validated by research finding that diversity, both gender and ethnic, improves the bottom line, are why companies today for the most part say they value diversity, though they execute on it with greater or lesser success depending on several factors.

The culture is the weather.

Former Intel Chief Diversity Officer and President of the Intel Foundation, Rosalind Hudnell, in a powerful keynote speech at the Paradigm for Parity conference, observed that the culture is the weather within which diversity will thrive if it is fully embraced by leadership and intentionally implemented in practice.

With Sheila Robinson, founder and president of Diversity Woman Media (and a Take The Lead board member) at  Paradigm for Parity.

With Sheila Robinson, founder and president of Diversity Woman Media (and a Take The Lead board member) at Paradigm for Parity.

“Strategy is simple,” says Hudnell. “Execution is hard.” She goes on to observe that most of the biases in companies today are not who you’re biased against but who you are biased for. This emanates directly from who has the privilege and who doesn’t, and whether they value diversity or not.

For example, according to research by Payscale

[E]mployees who have a white male advocate often end up with higher pay, and most of those employees are white men. Women — particularly black and Hispanic women, are the least likely to have such a lucrative connection…Some 56.7% of all respondents reported having a sponsor at work. Of white male respondents who said they have a sponsor, 90% said their sponsor was white. Among black and Hispanic women who said they have a sponsor, only 60% said their sponsor was white. A study released earlier this year said that most executives choose protégés who look like them.

And those who do have the privilege, as noted in research data provided to To Take Lead by Hootology, a tech-forward research firm, are less likely to believe that diversity is important.

© 2019 Hootology

© 2019 Hootology

“Leaders who don’t lead diverse lives can’t adequately build and lead diverse teams,” says Hudnell.

Rosalind Hudnell wisdom.

Rosalind Hudnell wisdom.

Similarly, people who don’t lead diverse lives can’t value diversity and will inevitably see it as a divide. We can’t escape the reality that if as a culture, we see diversity as a plus, it is a plus. If we see it as a divide, it will divide us, with potentially disastrous consequences.

In no way does this excuse the violent behavior of any individual. But it does lead us to examine the impact of our own individual and collective behavior with a serious view to whether we want to create and live in a divided or diverse society. I’m betting on the good will of the majority to embrace diversity if for no other reason than we need to realize we are all “other” in some way.

Then, let us intentionally work for the policies and culture most likely to support the positive value of diversity.

P.S. As mental health issues have also been high in the public discourse, be sure to join us for the August Virtual Happy Hour Wednesday, August 14, 6:30–7:30 p.m. ET. “Your Best Self: Make Mental Health A Priority For Your Success.”

Click  here  to register for the August 14th free Virtual Happy Hour.

Click here to register for the August 14th free Virtual Happy Hour.

On this free live Virtual Happy Hour, we’ll be joined by Megan Dalla-Camina, Co-Founder, CEO, Lead Like A Woman, mentor, speaker and author of her latest book, Simple, Soulful, Sacred: A Woman’s Guide to Clarity, Comfort and Coming Home To Herself; and Inger Burnett-Zeigler, licensed clinical psychologist, associate professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and author of the upcoming book, Unbreakable: Trauma, Love and the Emotional Lives of Black Women.


GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker and expert women’s leadership developer for companies that want to build gender balance, and a bestselling author of four books, most recently No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she teaches “Women, Power, and Leadership” at Arizona State University and is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at www.gloriafeldt.com and www.taketheleadwomen.com. Tweet @GloriaFeldt.