I am an immigrant. I am a black person. I am a woman.
I come from a multi-ethnic, multi-faith country in South America. I grew up on a Caribbean island that attracted people from across the globe, where I’d hear at least three languages daily. New York City has been home since immigrating to the United States, and it proudly stands as one of the most diverse cities in the world. Layer that with a 15-year mix of public and private education in this very city, with friendships accumulated along the way that if grouped together would look like the UN General Assembly, diversity is the only norm I know.
I have come to realize this reality of mine, living and breathing diversity as way of life, is indeed a privilege. But it is a privilege that is frequently diminished to a trend of mathematical measure.
In a previous article, I declared my belief that organizations are more impactful than governments in their shaping and response to society’s ebbs and flows, and ought to demonstrate societal leadership as a result.
Lately there are tons of articles probing corporate executives, the appointed leaders, to consider the value of diversity, tossing facts and figures as to why people like me should be encouraged to enter their exclusive spaces. When looking at board diversity, company policies on diversity/inclusion and women in management, fact is, most of corporate America still hasn’t shown enough strides in modifying their white-haired-male-identifying persona, despite decades of studies proving that having a more diverse executive board, for example, is good for business.
Leaders are visionaries. They go to the proverbial mountaintop to look out at the world and establish their place in it, and proceed to radiate the light they want to see, the future they intend to shape.
So from where I sit, if you need extensive research studies to open opportunity for the countless (usually overqualified) people of underrepresented groups to contribute their time and talent, then you may be a great business manager, but you’re not a leader after all.
True intellectuals seek cognitive diversity, and impactful leaders have always relied upon broad perspectives to shape their mission. By highlighting mere economic benefit as the driving incentive, we are gravely missing the mark as far as where human advancements could be credited to in the first place, which is collective, cognitive diversity. Cognitive diversity, by the way, goes well beyond having different taste in after work alcohol consumption. It is a byproduct of gender-identifying, ethnic, racial, cultural, religious, educational, diverse representation.
The driving narrative behind the unique value proposition of diversity shouldn’t be a financial data point to begin with.
At what point was it proven that homogeneity was good or better for organizational growth? Never. Some of the largest organizations in the world were built off practices of exclusion. So it is pompous to be moved by data points, to suddenly now, in 2018, need to be convinced that diversity is a worthy pursuit. Nothing convinced organizations of the inverse. If it wasn’t data then, don’t use data as an excuse now. If you’re reliant upon data points to prove what is minimally just logical, is it because you don’t actually believe it?
Diverse teams naturally generate new ideas and competitive advantages in catering to a world that doesn’t look, sound or feel the same as it did even a year ago.
Technologically, the future is here, taking our hands to step onto a super fast amusement park ride. We are inches away from a world where connectivity will be the way of life, powered by autonomous vehicles, smart machines, and 3D printed goods.
Socially, the past is gripping our feet, keeping us away from the real fun by taunting us with apprehension and doubts. Organizations are entirely too powerful to be crawling towards diversity, only preparing to sprint when they see financial benefit. The industrial era is over. Human beings are no longer just orchestrated figures of an assembly line. Human beings have a plethora of talents that if properly tapped into, would get us to a different, happier (at least for me) world much faster.
In a time when government has embarrassingly strayed away from progressive policy and has turned to simplistic politics that mirror a boxing match, humanity is dependent upon organizations to step up and lead.
I recently gave a lecture at Baruch College, which is the business school of the City University of New York, and I spoke about digital activism, and the demand consumers, particularly Millennials, are placing on organizations to demonstrate commitment to social change with their business practices and profits. A shiny CSR department isn’t enough. Companies have to demonstrate leadership by being in tune with the changing world and be socially responsible. I belong to this generation of knowledge workers that are increasingly seeking employers that give a damn about the future of people and the future of our planet, beyond a press statement.
We can absolutely make this right.
If your organization is not somehow contributing to a more informed and inclusive society then you aren’t a good enough corporate citizen. Acknowledge it and start improving. If you have to wait to see how this diversity thing worked out for others before you try it, then you aren’t a good enough organizational leader. Confront it and level up.
I believe in authenticity. My diversity should be worth way more than a data point. My diversity should be deeply desired and authentically sought out on the intellectual basis of value. The under-representation of women and people of color at the executive level is now inexcusable. The talent is there. The talent has been there. When I look out to the mountaintop, the future I see is one where these conversations don’t need to be had.
There are hidden figures in virtually every sector of society, and it shouldn’t take a data point to urge us to find them.
In June 2015, Harvard Business Review interviewed Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, authors of The Second Machine Age. They identified five areas that would foster an economic environment well suited for innovation and transformative technologies. Among the five areas (education, research, infrastructure, and entrepreneurship), was immigration.
In the United States, we’re currently led by a strikingly non-diverse administration, seeking to curb legal immigration, punishing immigrant families no different than mine, from making valuable contributions to this nation’s economy. The fact is, the number of immigrants with higher education has grown at more than twice the rate of the same population among the U.S. born. African immigrants in particular just take these achievements to new heights, with 40% percent of African immigrants achieving at least a bachelor’s degree, making them 30% more likely to achieve that level of education than the U.S. population overall. Of this group, 33%, have STEM degrees, meeting demands that are only going to increase in the industries of tomorrow.
Immigration has brought us the likes of Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Sundar Pichai, and Safra Catz, but America’s renewed love affair with nationalism will undoubtedly hold us back.
And still, immigrants rise.
Black people have only been legally free in this country for 53 years, upon the abolishment of Jim Crow Laws in 1964, and the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. And historically, whenever black people tried to establish their own centers of economic prosperity, they were victimized by extreme acts of terrorism by the likes of the Ku Klux Klan and other extremist groups, all of whom are allowed to live and thrive in the fabric of American society, even today.
Ten years ago, The American Economic Association did a field experiment on labor market discrimination and found that “Emily” and “Greg” were deemed more employable than “Lakisha” and “Jamal”, not because they were more qualified, but for the extremely simple-minded fact that their names sounded “white”. Being black in America feels equivalent to living in silent rage, every day, seeing the countless instances of injustice and hate plague the quality of life of millions just because of the .01% DNA that determines our skin color.
And still, black people rise.
There is a tendency to talk about women’s rights in this country as it compares to extremist countries around the world. I fundamentally disagree with comparing to the worst to argue things “aren’t that bad”. I’d rather compare with the best to argue that things could be better, right now.
The U.S. is one of only nine countries globally that doesn’t guarantee paid leave for new mothers. And it is the only high-income, developed country on that list. We rank 65th in the world for wage equality, still stuck at 78 cents to the male dollar (64 cents for black women and 56 cents for Latinx women), leaving women twice as likely to retire in poverty than men. Women only hold 20% of the seats on Capitol Hill, where decisions on our bodies, health and safety are being made. Only 32 constitutions around the world do not explicitly guarantee gender equality, and guess what? The U.S. Constitution is one of them. While 52 countries around the world have had a female head of state, we still haven’t.
A Forbes series on women, leadership and vision discussed, among many points, a study that revealed that women’s perceived competency drops by 35% and their perceived worth falls by $15,088 when they are judged as being “forceful” or “assertive”, attributes sometimes necessary in management roles.
And still, women rise.
Let me be clear: this isn’t to say woe is me. Keep the tissues.
This is to say that many immigrant groups, women, and people of color have had uniquely painful experiences in this country, and they continue to rise as strikingly beautiful champions of human potential.
Our stories are magnificent. Our willpower to rise above every adversity is quite literally one for the books. Learn about the world through our lenses and unfold dimensions of ideas. With my identity living at the intersection of all three groups discussed here, I’m triply energized by the possibilities of a world where these groups are empowered to assume impactful roles in organizations across this nation. This diversity is worth way more than a data point. This diversity is, in fact, priceless.