"Diversity Questions & Answers" is a column that I have written for Managing Diversity, a monthly publication, since it started in 1991.

The first four years of the column are reprinted in my handbook,
How Diversity Works.

Managing Diversity
Leo Patterson, Editor
P.O. Box 819
Jamestown NY 14702




Q: How does Sept. 11 affect our work?

A: It puts things into urgent perspective. The pressures on everyone have increased. Some of the work should be crisis response and preparedness. A state of emergency continues. The shock waves and ripple effects need to be acknowledged. Naturally this will disrupt any old patterns, any attempt to do business as usual. People will be affected differently. We are reminded that we can't make generalizations about people.
The U.S. is at war all over the world. U.S. government officials have said that one network of antagonists, Al-Qaeda, is in 60 countries. Now we can see why we need a broad perspective. Now we can appreciate why we should value people who speak other languages, who have had different experiences from ours.
We need to be attentive to cognitive diversity. And perceptual diversity. And expressive diversity. We need integrity in our diversity programs, so that the programs don't get lost in irrelevance. We need to look closely at how what we do and how we operate humanizes or dehumanizes other people (and, by doing so, ourselves).
I've been saying diversity is a life and death issue. That's not exaggeration, it's not a figure of speech. We can dramatically reduce deaths by fire in this country by addressing diversity issues-by looking at substandard housing of immigrants, poor people, the elderly. We can reduce deaths from cancer by addressing "disparities" in detection, treatment, and outreach among different ethnic groups. ("Disparities" is a code word for disparate treatment, adverse impact, criminal neglect.) We can reduce the casualties of hostile environments, hostility, harassment, hate attacks by making diversity a priority.
Maybe workplace diversity programs have gotten diverted into awareness exercises because they didn't think the issues are that serious. There's a new book, Race Experts: How Racial Etiquette, Sensitivity Training, and New Age Therapy Hijacked the Civil Rights Revolution, by Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, Norton, 2001. The subtitle alone is worth a discussion.
Diversity seemed too abstract for some people. Not enough bottom line clarity. The bottom line is the survival, the existence, the recognition, of other people who are being ignored, dismissed, marginalized. Sept. 11 and all that has come afterwards provides a framework that we didn't have before. The bottom line is how people treat people, how organizations treat people. It's time to stop dancing around the issue.
It's time to broaden the scope of what diversities and whose diversities we consider important. People killed in the World Trade Center were from some 86 countries: they were typical New Yorkers (more than 40% of people in that city were not born in the U.S.). That's who an Attack on America kills--people from all over the world. That's who we are.
Diversity efforts, whatever they are called, have a new importance. They are our safety net and lifeline. They are our map and compass. We need them to teach and lead us, to inform and connect us. This is a good time to recommit to those efforts and to refocus them.
Among other things, diversity programs are a social wellness and sustainability effort. They should be linked to EAPs (employee assistance programs)--this is an old refrain of mine. It is clear that diversity saves lives. It is organizational CPR. It is survival training, disaster preparedness, conflict avoidance, risk management. It is worth its weight in gold. That's why I have such difficulty with most debates about the bottom-line value of diversity.
The fault-lines are religious, historical, political. There are ethnic groups, tribes, clans, we haven't heard of. News reports are coming from Tashkent and Dushanbe. You know the old line: "war is how Americans learn geography." Let me say again, the U.S. is less than 5% of global population. And America is global in ways we didn't imagine.
Were you prepared for all this? Now is your opportunity to catch up with the rest of the world, and with the America you didn't know before.

(November 2, 2001)

Bonus Columns: Recommended
November 1995 January 1996

You can email me with any questions or comments.