Diversity Paradigm Shift 4

In my EA comment Baby and Bath Water http://tinyurl.com/pf4e4dr , I argue that, in making the brave new leap to ‘Diversity’ thinking we should not jettison equality thinking. We need to save the baby when we throw out the bathwater. Let me elaborate.

What movements for social justice give us is a social perspective which identifies the barriers faced by whole groups of people to realising their potential, and to having their human needs met. Those barriers may include conscious and deliberate discrimination. However, more often than not they are deeply systemic – created by a psychologically and institutionally ingrained idea of ‘the way we do things’, which is in turn strongly influenced by the perspectives of who’s historically been in charge.

We must also not make the mistake of blaming individuals for systemic failings: institutional racism or sexism does not mean individual white people must by definition be racist, or individual men sexist – if to be racist or sexist means an intention to discriminate. On the other hand, it may mean that we all (not just the proverbial ‘white male’) inadvertently engage in behaviours which reinforce ideas and experiences of superiority & inferiority, dominance & subordination. Here lies our responsibility to support change, a responsibility which is directly in proportion to the power, or ‘rank’, that we wield within systems and institutions.

The interest in recent years in understanding and undoing unconscious bias is a real attempt to understand the mechanisms creating resistance to progress – and to do so through a paradigm of responsibility, not blame. None of us had personal control over much of the skewed information we have inadvertently absorbed during our lifetimes. We can, however, take personal and professional responsibility for recognising and changing the unhelpful habits and behaviours which have resulted.

An historically informed understanding of social realities, and (both individual and group) psychology is an indispensible part of understanding barriers to equality. This understanding can help lay the foundations for a truly effective equality, diversity & inclusion paradigm – one that can focus on the value individuals can bring to businesses, but does so in the context of a wider, and deeper, equality framework. So don’t jettison equality when you embrace diversity: we need equality because, to put it bluntly, how can we celebrate individual diversity when whole swathes of people (sometimes literally) just can’t get in the door because of poor equality practices (practices which to those who are comfortable with the status quo, just look like ‘the way we do things here’)?