The end of diversity initiatives?

I recently overheard a business person in a leadership position say he was glad that we (referring to a broad collective of business, industry, education, and government organizations) have invested in training and action related to expanding diversity in our workplaces. But, he then said those programs “are kind of all the same” and reasoned that they’re not needed anymore. One could argue that we’ve made great strides in increasing diversity; but I would suggest we have only scratched the surface.

The United States is becoming more diverse every single day (US Census Bureau, 2016). So it’s a valid argument to say our teachers should reflect the look of their classroom students, or the administration (of any given organization) should reflect the composition of its constituents.

But there are much deeper reasons for continuing our quest for diversity. (Our CFAES diversity team outlines numerous examples here.)

Let’s consider problem solving. When faced with a complex issue, would you rather tackle it alone, or pull resources from a number of people who can give perspectives that greatly enhance the number of approaches for solution? The business community has long deployed strategies for looking at problems in diverse ways in order to reach better solutions. It positively impacts their bottom line.

Problem solving is but one example. The principle applies in many, many situations.

So how might we reconsider diversity initiatives? What might we do (personally and collectively) to change our thinking the next time we receive an email announcing another diversity training?

I suggest starting with the iceberg. We have all seen the analogy. Ninety percent of a person’s background, composition, identity, etc. is hidden beneath the water line. We see only 10% on the external surfaces. But here’s the catch:  Even though I KNOW about the iceberg analogy, it doesn’t always come to mind when I’m interacting, or making a decision, or deleting an email. So if we can try being deliberate about remembering the iceberg, it just might help.

You might also endeavor to learn more about yourself. I have taken several of the modules in the free online Harvard Implicit Bias test. They provide hints about our often-unrecognized biases and help us move beyond. They take only 5 or 10 minutes!

Even small steps like these outlined here can make a positive difference. I encourage you to give them a try.


US Census Bureau. Retrieved 9/13/17 from:

Brian Raison is an Assistant Professor and Field Specialist, Community and Organizational Leadership.