"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: What should our diversity efforts be learning from Sept. 11?

A: I'd say the stakes have been raised, wouldn't you? And the bar has been raised. And the scope has been widened. Nobody has to tiptoe around diversity or justify it or defend it these days. It's been done for us, to us. We have had a national and international immersion in diversity issues since Sept. 11, though it wasn't put in those terms.
Diversity work is many things. It's patriotic; for people who didn't see it before, being anti-diversity is anti-American. It's practical; we've got to get good at it.
I'm not confident that people in the U.S. have a worldwide outlook. Diversity awareness sessions in the U.S. have mainly been about the U.S. The United States is involved in the world through immigration, government relations, commerce, tourism, media and entertainment, and U.S. military activity. The world affects the United States in just as many ways. On Sept. 11, the world paid a visit.
Look what it took to get our undivided attention. About 3300 citizens of at least 86 countries were killed by 4 airplanes. Their deaths presented a kaleidoscope of stories and ripple effects. But it wasn't just the number of people killed, it was where and how they were killed and the questions about why they were killed, and by whom, that have made such an impression.
Some places may feel in the wake of Sept. 11 that their work on diversity has been too simple, too limited. Some groups may be ready to redraw their map of diversity, renegotiate their agendas. Diversity has been a marginal and transitory subject with many organizations. What does it take to get people to focus on these issues? How active or passive has your group been?
Too many people have been learning their diversity lessons by rote, through clichés and conventional formulas that were woefully inadequate. Many groups have given little time to history, human rights, the treatment of women, the invisible people in all societies and the invisible parts of everyone, or to how America is viewed in other parts of the world. There are places that have featured some ethnic foods during a Diversity Day event and left it at that. (I know that's hard to believe. It's even harder to explain to people in other countries.)
If you want to be a world-class operation, you need to have worldwide horizons and capabilities. You need a worldview that takes in the big picture. You need to honor your vision of peace and your humanity in your life and work. But those things apply in various ways to any person who lives in the modern world, not only to a "world-class" class.
I figure that most Americans have been exposed to more information about Islam in the months since Sept. 11 than in their whole lives previously. Even though there is no agreement on how many people in the U.S. are Muslims (estimates go from 2-7 million), there are about 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, which is more than four times the U.S. population.
We live in a world in which safety and security and well-being depend on human relations and social policy. What is the social fabric of our world environment? What is the social fabric of our organizations and institutions and our business and political practices? Our lives in the world depend on our mastery of our diversity. We are interconnected by direct and indirect paths, solid lines and dotted lines.
People who work on these issues should be among the best-prepared and best-equipped people to help the U.S. process and learn from Sept. 11 and its aftermath. They are the most knowledgeable, the most skilled and experienced people for this task. Diversity workers of all kinds--those who deal with prejudice, cultural understanding, conflict, hostile environment, harassment and hate, valuing differences--are critical national (and international) resources to make the connection between these events and our lives.
That includes the readers of this newsletter and this column. You are the leaders for helping us move through these times. Happy new year.

November 27, 2001

Bonus Columns: Recommended
November 1995 January 1996

You can email me with any questions or comments.