One of the biggest blind spots in the U.S. workforce today is environments in which one mode of thinking is seen as the “right” way. Lack of diversity in thought and perspectives is one of the most dangerous enemies of achieving company or organizational goals.
When we talk about diversity, we often default to ethnic and racial diversity — which are very important — but really, what we should aim at is something more comprehensive: diversity in thought and politics as well as gender, race, culture, and the multitude of other ways people can identify. We have to look beyond “visual” diversity.
According to a 2016 study from Fenwick and West, the largest 150 Silicon Valley public companies averaged only 14 percent women directors and averaged only 0.8 percent women executive officers. Furthermore, nearly 58 percent of main boards of companies in the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 Index currently have no individuals who are ethnic minorities.
Diversity matters though. According to a McKinsey & Company report on why diversity matters, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity outperform their competitors by 15 percent and those in the top quartile for ethnic diversity outperform their competitors by 35 percent.
Diversity requires from companies and organizations not only sincerity and beliefs, but actually a lot of effort and even money in recruitment and reaching out. Influential and powerful corporate boards pay members as much as $20,000 to over $50,000 a year, plus stock options, but frequently have little diversity. Even the most progressive Fortune 500 boards reflect no more than two white women or one Black male out of 10 or 15 board members.
Asian Americans are often left out of these visible, prestigious, and paid board positions. The excuse often is that there are no qualified Asian Americans. But just take a look at the number of Asian American professors with doctorate degrees at the University of Washington, in both science and arts! You will be amazed at the number. We just have to seek out qualified candidates.
Further, after Council President Bruce Harrell steps down, the Seattle City Council will have one less Asian American perspective — in a city with Asian and Asian Americans as the largest racial minority.
Usually, people of color are at the bottom of the economic ladder. The richest people are statistically white males. With this context, it’s more important than ever to create programs and initiatives that lift up people of color economically.
The leaders that we have in top positions need to lift up people and promote more people of color as well as personally groom people of color to hold top-tier positions.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen. Studies have shown that white people typically promote other white people — they promote sameness in background, thought, and point of view. Also, even the few people of color on top don’t necessarily promote or mentor their own people. Look around. If a leader’s seconds- or thirds-in-command aren’t people of color, then that person is not a champion of diversity at all.
If you look at the recent scandal involving actor Lori Loughlin buying her daughters’ way into college, we get the message that if you are rich, you can buy your way into universities. At top schools, there are not enough Black students, and people who do what Loughlin did take spots away from deserving students of color.
People like to talk a lot about promoting diversity, but we have not done enough. People also sometimes have give up halfway — because it’s honestly not easy to implement.
Think about it. In work, we like to work with people who agree with us. That’s human nature.
But often, it’s the people who don’t look like us, that have the diverging perspective that will challenge us to all grow.
We don’t currently have a culture in which we are taught to fully appreciate dissent and conflict, so we shy away and stick with our “tribe members” only. There is a lot of retraining and relearning to be done, in Seattle, Washington state, and across the country.
We have to do a better job starting now.
You know who is leading by example? We’d like to give a shoutout to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan who, soon after taking office, named two Asian Americans — Mike Fong and Shefali Ranganathan — as her deputy mayors. Ranganathan is also female.
The perks of diversity and inclusion are almost too great to enumerate. Not only does diversity and inclusion foster creativity, innovation, better decision-making, and stronger teams — it also has a long-reaching effect. We spend a third of our lives working, so the people that we are around for those significant hours every day are greatly influential to our thinking and our perspectives.