Rethinking Diversity

by Sandy Nelson on June 27, 2011

Diversity has historically been thought about in terms of gender, skin color, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, etc. In some quarters, the tradition is to approach these variables from a myopic point of view.

For instance, one well-known resource for supporting nonprofit leaders had (continues to have?) the mindset that the only truly effective match between leader and coach involved pairing almost exact matches on the diversity spectrum. For instance, a Hispanic lesbian executive director could only be coached effectively by a Hispanic lesbian coach.

Yet, we do not lead lives, build relationships, collaborate and conduct business in a totally segregated world. To walk down the street or do business in major cities is to encounter and engage with people from all over the globe and of widely varying ethnicities, skin coloration, religious beliefs, etc.

No doubt it is important to recognize and respect differences. But at the heart of the matter lies perspective and mindset. To make diversity productively actionable, we need to bore down to essence and bring focus, respect and curiosity to how human beings of diverse characteristics think about, relate to and see the world so that we can collectively design and execute successful strategies toward effective engagement, interaction, relationships and, ultimately in life and business, creative collaboration.

The goal in the global milieu we live and do business in should be to discover and leverage common interests / objectives while respecting, acknowledging, valuing, drawing and benefiting from diverse perspectives and mindsets. In a world where innovation consistently trumps competition, those who lead are masterful at synergistically mining diversity of perspectives and ideas to reveal and translate opportunities into possibilities, and possibilities into value-additive innovations.

As a political outsider living and working inside the beltway in Washington, DC, I am continuously amazed and deeply saddened by the current ideological myopia that characterizes those elected to represent the diversity of peoples and perspectives that comprise this great country and far too many irresponsible segments of the like-minded media that tracks and reports their activities.

At a time of tremendous risk and heart-wrenching need, our elected representatives and relentless media establishment seem far more committed to drawing inflexible lines in the sand around extremist ideology than in generating pragmatic solutions to basic human and environmental needs. Rather than expose the futility, short-sightedness, self-serving and desperately inhumane character of this dynamic, so much of our media today relishes in flaming the fires of irresponsibility in service of accruing like-minded audience.

Isn’t it time for us to call a halt to illuminating and selfishly magnifying the differences that distinguish us? Isn’t now the right time to choose to focus on drawing strength and creative inspiration from diverse perspectives and mindsets as a pathway to innovations that will improve the life experience of the living and leave a sustainable future within which our children and grandchildren can thrive?

Diversity, when leveraged as a catalyst for bringing together varied perspectives and mindsets in the service of innovating for the sake of the common good, represents unparalleled power. Diversity as a tool for driving wedges between us is a certain ticket to declining fortunes, competitiveness and well-being.

You make the choice.


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