Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Normative Fallacy That Gets In The Way Of Diversity Programming

"Uncle Sam" is an example of an implicit normative figure. 
So is Santa Claus - the Caucasian male against whom others are "different."

The hidden premise of diversity programs is an imaginary figure (the normative figure) who sets the standard.

This is never articulated outright. And we don't even like to admit it to ourselves.

But it is there, and it's why messages around equal employment opportunity are often so out-of-touch and stale.

In the protective sense, i.e. in the interest of ensuring the employee is not prevented from enjoying equal opportunity, diversity messaging should emphasize that:

* Nobody is the "norm" -- we are ALL diverse, even if you can't see it on the outside

* There are endless categories of diversity -- way beyond the protected groups in the EEO statutes

* Within categories, there is substantial variation -- e.g. the Jewish community is relatively tiny, but incredibly diverse

In the productivity sense, i.e. in the interest of enlightening the organization, diversity messaging should emphasize that organizations too often leave money lying on the floor because they don't know how to leverage diversity well.

Here's a great and very simple example. Childbirth and the raising of children, rather than being treated as a "time-out" or "other activity" could be integrated into the workplace with:

* Private wellness rooms not only for lactation, but also for a quiet time-out
* On-site childcare, open to any caregiver of a child
* Community area in the cafeteria so parents can spend time with kids during the work day
* Work/life support group for caregivers
* After-hours care line for referrals to support providers of working parents

To fully do this means to get away from the false dichotomy between "us" and "them," the "regular person" and the "different one," the "able-bodied" and those for whom "accommodations are made."

Long way of saying, in a truly diverse workplace, all of us are "freaks and geeks" -- and none of us are.

* All opinions my own.