Spoiler alert! Nope.
Like many of us who are gluttons for punishment these days, I frequently share information and/or engage in discussions about politics on social media. One of my friends, who shares differing political views than I, made a comment over the weekend to the effect that he was surprised not only that someone who does what I do for a living would have definitive political views, but would express them publicly. I was surprised at his surprise.
When I asked him what he thought diversity is, he replied, “I’m sure it’s evolved into progressive gibberish.” Well, at least he was honest. My response: “The definition of diversity that I use is – any collective mixture characterized by differences, similarities and their related tensions and complexities.” For those of you who know me, you probably recognize that as the definition coined by the late Dr. R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr. Embedded into the definition and process of diversity management that I practice is the ability to have a point of view on ANY topic and still recognize the points of view of others.
One of the diversity management tenets I subscribe to is that sometimes you can agree to disagree, put a bow on it, and call it a day. That was where we were in the point of this particular conversation, so I didn’t further inquire of him why he was taken aback by my definitive stance on a political issue, yet I continued to ponder the question in my head. Does he see ‘achieving harmony at all costs’ as the ultimate aspiration of this work? Does he think that diversity management practitioners, by nature of the work, have to maintain a neutral position on every issue? If that’s the case, then I and my fellow practitioners certainly have more work to do to gain conceptual clarity.
One of the most perplexing paradoxes of this work is the fact that we have so many definitions of diversity. Let me share a couple guiding principles that I try (perhaps not always successfully) to abide by:
Unless there is a specific need to come to an agreement, it’s okay to agree to disagree and leave it at that. Life would be more than a little boring if we all shared the exact same perspectives.
If there is a specific need to come to consensus due to a shared objective, focus on real, mission- critical requirements and validated facts instead of opinions, emotions and speculation.
The aspiration of diversity management is not to eliminate tension and complexity, it’s to make good decisions in spite of said tensions and complexities. Tension and complexity are natural byproducts of increased diversity and are only unproductive when not managed well to achieve a common goal.
Dr. Thomas’ above-referenced definition also includes the word ‘similarities.’ This work is not simply about calling out and harping on differences. Sure, there is a time and place to have honest dialogue about differences, but it’s also about acknowledging and leveraging similarities, which we have way more of.
I doubt that the Internet has EVER been a medium for actually changing someone’s personal opinions!
So, yes, diversity management practitioners have definitive opinions that may not always be middle of the road; don’t be surprised by that. We are human beings (at least all of the ones I know) with diverse backgrounds, life experiences, family dynamics, religions/faiths, ethnicities, genders, socioeconomic backgrounds, military experiences, etc. Sure, those filters impact who we are as individuals, but what we all have committed to is not letting those filters get in the way of making quality decisions in our personal and professional lives and guiding others to do the same.
I am most vocal with my personal views on my personal Facebook page. I very rarely use that for anything work related. And as my very wise daughter once stated, “My Facebook page is not a democracy.” Funny, I share the same perspective where I talk the most politics!
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