"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.
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
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
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
(November 2, 2001)