Recent and abundant research on workforce diversity highlights that a diverse workforce is often a more productive one because diversity ushers in creativity, and new perspectives that keep a brand or company relevant in an ever changing and diversifying world. For workforce individuals 40 and under (like me), who grew up in post-civil rights era, it seems we have been exposed to diversity, racial diversity in particular, in two different ways:
1. Either we have cross-cultural friendships and social experiences that help us value diversity and embrace a multi-cultural society;
2. Or we are “colorblind” so as to value the “content of one’s character, not the color of one’s skin.”
As my generation (and the millennial generation) rises into leadership positions, I believe those of us who can find commonalties amongst employees -– and also cultivate equitable workplaces that not only see, but also value difference –– will find a niche and indeed be the leadership vanguard in the 21st century.
Rising leaders who are able to understand ethnic, cultural, gender and other forms of identity diversity, and use this insight to drive diversity leadership –– will more effectively influence corporate cultures that recognize diversity & inclusion as a continuous journey of leadership development. Their lens of self-reflection will drive intentional partnership in the workplace.
Yes, boomer executives face similar to challenges and opportunities. But newer generations have the advantage of growing up in post Jim Crow era; witnessing the election of the first African-American president; and embracing cultural phenomena like the Hip Hop cross-over to “white” millennials, thereby linking them to more inter-personal and inter-racial connections. Even so, regrettably, we are not yet “post–racial.” Opportunity gaps in education and income, the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Gardner (and many other less dramatic, structural inequities) show us systemically, that we have work to do a nation. The rising (and current) leadership in the private sector is in a unique position to drive progressive leadership in organizations that seek to institutionalize equity policies, practices and programs.
Noah is the Coordinator for Race & Equity Relations for Seattle Public Schools