Diversity not a mere tick-box exercise – corporate optics 1 of 2

There may be no other country on earth, where diversity and inclusion – at every level, but more so the corporate and political spheres where power and influence are vested in the hands of a privileged and powerful class, are as contentious as the USA.

The white vs. colored and diversity-at-the-workplace debates continue unabated in the USA. Is this a problem unique to America, and for the purpose of this blog, corporate America?

Are all the eggs the same? What do you want me to perceive and why?

Well, not really. The diversity, participation and inclusion discourse pervade contemporary corporate history. Opposing arguments on the subject have been put forward amongst communities and get seamlessly extended to the corporate world. It has become a necessity, just like corporate-social-responsibility, for organizations to practice diversity and inclusion. Without the latter, they cant be certified, good corporate citizens. Corporations may disregard matters diversity and inclusion at their own peril.

Unfortunately, quite a bit of the talk about corporate diversity and inclusion is about ‘political correctness.’ Corporations have mastered the art of only doing certain standard and minimalist things – appropriately named diversity and if lucky a bit of inclusion – purpose: to be placed in the ’okay’ bucket when it comes to diversity.

After all, there is not much that is asked of companies than to show that they are doing certain things – like hiring minorities and to message appropriately (read: politically sensitive) when talking diversity, both internally and externally. That is as far as corporate accountability may go on this matter

In effect, diversity and inclusion best-practice can be met via deception and if you want to extend this further, insincerity

We are getting ourselves into the realm of corporate optics here. The manner in which boards of directors and organizational leadership plus certain rank and file, want their organizations to be perceived and rated, by the judging public, on matters diversity and inclusion.

Does the organization hire and integrate others that aren’t like its majority? Are safe spaces created for them to engage? Is it window dressing and to merely meet targets – but continue doing what the organization believes in? Are diversity and inclusion a leadership performance matter with a clear reward and reprimand framework?

At a personal level, I have always been and still is everything Ugandan and African – and I have a positive story to share on diversity and inclusion. I am lucky to have worked for an organization, American in every OD. aesthetic sense – that took me, I hope not as an ‘object,’ on its corporate optics transition journey. I still believe that I wasn’t used as a piece of chess in this corporate optics board game.

But that this wonderful organization that I will forever remain indebted to had genuine intentions to transform itself on matters related to diversity and inclusion and that I and others like myself, were with all good intentions called upon to partake in that journey.  At the Effectiveness lab, we are also very aware that we are discussing a complicated matter, convoluted at times, that isn’t always black and white; this subject can have its grey and at times, even darker shades.

Now, my story – albeit, very brief. Straight out of college I started work as a junior officer at a leading global charity, based in the Uganda office. Intentionally or not, I apparently was on the leadership fast-track and quickly got ahead of my peers. The long and short is that I became a deputy country director before turning 35. The latter wasn’t prevalent for a person of my profile, in an organization whose leadership, until the mid-1990’s was mainly white male and in their mid-late forties, many in the fifties and all the way to sixty. I left the organization for about four years – but was headhunted back and soon after my return and 40th birthday was appointed a substantive country director.

I don’t want to believe for a single moment that because I am African, Ugandan and black, I was promoted to senior positions, and at a young age, for presentational and PR purposes. That it was optics – the organization tricking the world that it was genuinely mindful of its diversity and inclusion responsibilities

Yet, it’s also true that in many organizations diversity is all about optics instead of authentic practices aimed towards diversity and inclusion at work.

The chilling story by Uganda human rights blogger – R. Kagumire is a poignant example of optics at its worst:

Working as an African woman/Black woman in a majority white and male organization, I would later learn that I had arrived at a time when there was a push for diversity, not inclusion. From the way my supervisor showed me off to management, it was about him getting a qualified African woman in — something he wanted to be recognized for, instead of this being required practice.

In fact, a few months after my arrival in an all-white communications department, we were joined by two brilliant recruits — one Kenyan and another South Sudanese. To keep getting his credit from top management, one time my supervisor stopped the only African top manager in the corridors and called the three of us to show him his African recruits.

Welcome to the diversity and inclusion dichotomy – the authentic half that appreciates the need to give up something in order to gain the significant value-addition that such an approach brings to any organization; and the opposite half, that considers diversity a mind game to accrue some positive brand perception – while keeping status quo; this is the optics school of thought

See you next week – series 2 will explore the power and class dynamics behind each approach



Categories: You, the Leader!

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4 replies

  1. Great story and conclusion, work don’t see colour but the ethics of a person. Dedication towards work and culture makes one stand out and shine.
    There will be always something new, to work for and to move ahead, leaving foot prints to be followed.

    Liked by 1 person

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