A New Era of Diversity and Inclusion

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From Silicon Valley to Hollywood, the e-Sports arena to the beauty or toy aisles — “diversity and inclusion” are the buzzwords du jour. But the meaning and the benefits of diversity, you could say, have gotten diverse.

In addition to the importance of making workplaces and institutions look like the diverse members of society around them for women, people of color, LGBTQ and other so-called “minorities,” the conversation around the benefits of diversity and even the meanings of “minority” and “identity” are shifting as we speak.

For one, the face of America has slowly evolved. States like California, New Mexico and Texas are already majority minority. That is, people of color now outnumber whites, which shows that the term “minority” is losing its meaning.

The bottom line

The conversation around who benefits from diversity and inclusion has similarly evolved — from hierarchical to holistic.

It’s no longer an “us” vs. “them” binary or dynamic, according to Jennifer Brown, author of “Inclusion: Diversity, The New Workplace & The Will To Change” and a sparks & honey Advisory Board member.

“[W]hen we say, ‘diverse talent’ in organizations, for example, it is meant to refer to ‘minority’ identities or those less represented, whether it be race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or ability. This sets up an ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ dynamic, whereas the reality is more fluid, and becoming even more so, as identity blurs,” Brown told us.

The older conversation around diversity also sets up the idea that the benefits of diversity are one-way, toward the group being included. But it’s becoming clear that diversity is good for the bottom line.

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A 2016 report from the Peterson Institute that analyzed 21,980 firms from 91 countries, concluded that having more women in the senior management ranks of a company increased the profitability of a firm. Companies with 30% female executives, according to the report, took in as much as six percentage points more in profits.

“If you’re a firm and you’re discriminating against potential female leaders, that means you’re essentially doing a bad job of picking the best leader for your firm,” Forbes quoted Tyler Moran, one of the study’s three co-authors, in an interview.

Whose perspective do we see?

At sparks & honey’s Daily Culture Briefing, we comb through culture and, using our trend taxonomy, we group cultural patterns into recognizable categories.

One of the major trends that has proliferated in various cultural guises is what we call “Perceptual Diversity,” or the ability to see or feel from a new point of view.

That POV could be courtesy of technology like VR or video games, so that the viewer can try to understand another person’s experience, like what it’s like to have autism or be transgender.

Hollywood and the fashion industry are making an effort to create a diversity of representation not only in front of the camera by featuring models and actors of color, for example, but also behind the camera. Who is photographing images, writing narratives, creating literal points of view with a camera?

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For fashion and art photographers like Cass Bird and Cindy Sherman and directors like Ava DuVernay, being women and/or women of color behind a camera help diversify what we see on screens and in print. This micro-trend within Perceptual Diversity has been called “the female gaze,” in contrast to the overwhelming POVs of men, and in particular, white men.

And not only did the horror/thriller genre benefit from Perceptual Diversity when African American director Jordan Peele wrote and directed “Get Out,” many audiences who are not people of color were also able to experience what discrimination feels like for black people by identifying with the black main character’s perspective.

Interestingly, although technology advances apace, it may lag behind in stereotypes. Witness the fact that Julie, Cortana, Clara, Amy and, of course, Siri, are all virtual assistant apps with female voices. Technologically advanced on the one hand — yet gender stereotyping who should assist us, on the other.

It’s no surprise that among the 12 co-founders of the companies that produced those virtual assistant apps, only one is a woman. Lack of diversity behind ideas can beget a similar lack of diversity in the ideas themselves.

The ghost in the machine

Algorithms drive much of our lives. They craft the narratives we see online. They determine our credit-worthiness. And they even rate how effective our exercise routine is. We are walking data, and its collection and quantification is gathering behind the scenes.

But the data or input is informed by the perceptions and experiences of those who engineer Artificial Intelligence. Life experiences are shaped by our values and ethics, therefore it’s critical that we are able to adjust AI based on our personal values and apply ethics which reinforce our humanity. The problem is, as Katryna Dow, founder and CEO of Meeco has said, is that much of the AI work “is being developed by predominantly young, white, male engineers.”

“It’s the cultural context of the humans behind the machine who set our expectations of AI,” Bill Welser, director of Engineering and Applied Sciences at RAND Corporation, has said. As such, we need to have access to the point of view — to have Perceptual Diversity — to understand the culture that is creating the algorithms, data and scientific engineering that will feed our future. As AI evolves, understanding its cultural backdrop will become even more pronounced in the face of algorithms and the data fed into them. We need to build Perceptual Diversity into AI, in other words.

Either/or, both, and neither: identity on a spectrum

One of the more intriguing challenges to honoring diversity and inclusion is the deconstruction of identity itself — most striking in the gender revolution we’ve been witnessing and in new ideas of what a family or a relationship are. Identities are fragmenting and growing more complex, a trend we call Blurred ID.

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How do institutions handle a workforce or student body that doesn’t identify within the gender binary, but rather as Agender or genderqueer? What are their unique needs? Or brands that want to understand their audiences? There’s a new language of gender, one that Gen Z and Gen Alpha speak as a first language.

Blurred ID extends not only to identity, from Gen Z who don’t identify as male or female but rather gender nonconforming or genderqueer, to pansexuals who don’t identify as straight or gay, but also to relationships: some people aren’t single or monogamous, but rather polyamorous or “monogamish.”

There are even nuances within categories we assumed were solid. A straight cisgender man (someone who was assigned male at birth and who identifies as male) might love knitting, wearing makeup and taking care of the kids. He’d fall under the trend we call “New Masculinity.” As a result, a beer company might want to take into account that not all beer-drinkers are conventional Alpha males. They could even be “female bros,” like Instagram star Violet Benson who likes swearing, sports, and gross-out humor.

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“Inclusivity is more part of the conversation than it has ever been before, but it goes far beyond black and white,” Ghana-born UK Vogue editor Edward Enninful said about a recent Pirelli calendar he styled that featured an all-black cast for an “Alice in Wonderland” themed shoot. “It is about all creeds, all colors, all sizes and people just living their truths.“

We couldn’t agree more.

Curious? Join our Special Edition: Diversity & Inclusion Daily Culture Briefing on August 3rd.

Contact us for details on Our Diversity Diagnostics, a three-week research sprint to benchmark your diversity activities and evaluate areas for improvement. Or, explore the future of diversity with our Now, Next workshop, a one-day session that arms you with a baseline knowledge and framework for incorporating diversity into all you do.