"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: 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
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.
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