The Diversity Imperative: Taking Personal Responsibility In A National Crisis

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am not for others, what am I?
And if not now, when?
– Rabbi Hillel

The issue of diversity and inclusion has become all-consuming. Like a knot beneath skin, the number of shameful incidents that we have become aware of over the last few years have put a pointed finger on a painful cultural issue that we’ve ignored. This national conversation has been a good start, but we have a long way to go before we can say we’ve made real progress.
Guilt, sadness, painful helplessness—I feel many things sitting in this privileged chair watching these racial, sexual, and national injustices unfold. Regular donations seem table stakes in such a fraught period, and I’m left wondering how can I make any difference against the great societal injustices of our time.
While I whittle away at my own hopefully more conscious biases, new initiatives sprout across fields of corporate sub-domains that end with the promise: .com/diversityatwork. With these it seems executives are saying “its probably happening here, too” before someone else can point the finger. Apple recently hired a VP of Diversity, D&I courses abound. Heck, even CULTURE LABx, the organization I co-founded, recently hosted a series. But until attending this year’s Great Place to Work conference I didn’t connect what was happening in Ferguson, or Kansas, or North Texas to what could happen at conference tables, on coffee breaks, and in Slack.
In their own response, the leaders of GPTW have signaled that they’re going all in on D&I by appending to the end of their brand the qualifier “for all”. An impressive way to lead the conversation. I don’t want to spend precious pixels listing the speakers. (There were many, all of which you can catch up on here.) The one, however, that made the connection for me was Beth A. Brooke-Marciniak, the Global Vice Chair of Public Policy at EY—the most senior openly gay female executive in America. Her story of the decision to come out to the entire company, and world on video enthralled the room of 1000 HR and culture junkies.
Yet even amongst as she delivered her impressive treatise, one concept resonated louder than any other—and it revealed what I hadn’t comes to terms with—that by sharing with the world this critical component of her being, her colleagues could create the space and acceptance that enabled Beth to bring her whole self to work.
Yes, the moral imperative to deconstruct our biases in order to make space for people to be themselves is important, just work. But bringing one’s whole self to work is what will enable humans to do our best work, and begin to approach the potential of which we are capable.
What can I do about racial injustice, sexual discrimination, and immigrant rights? Help my own team, my students, and my clients create the kind of culture that not only allows but demands we bring everything we are to our work lives. If we don’t, we are implicit in the greatest societal and personal injustices of our time.