30 Nov Caribbean People Should Be The Diversity Experts of the World BUT…
Culture in the Caribbean is like watching the beautiful scenic confluence of the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi Rivers in Devprayag, India. All seemingly disconnected bodies of water, landscapes, topography, vegetation and structures but when placed next to each other presents an astounding masterpiece of fluidity and harmony. However, despite having the advantages of rich cultures and immigrant history, we as a people are sorely lacking in diversity expertise.
Over the past decade, there has been a rise in the ‘Chief Diversity Officer’ position in a number of Fortune 500 companies around the world. The main function of this role is to be the organisation’s executive level diversity inclusion strategist. Examples of diversity strategy include implementing comprehensive programs to boost diverse recruitment or diversity training. From my brief research, it seems that most Chief Diversity Officers are either human resource professionals or lawyers. So why did global companies see the need for this position? In 1987, the Hudson’s Institute’s landmark Workforce 2000 study forecasted that the American workforce would become much more diverse in the new millennium – and companies that couldn’t adapt would risk losing their competitive edge. The report holds true today, with experts stating that women and people of colour will constitute 70 percent of new entrants into the workforce.[/vc_column_text]
Maxine WilliamsWith the Caribbean being the melting pot that it has become, you might expect to look to us for diversity expertise; however, a Google search for the top Caribbean diversity experts proved futile, recognising only one woman. Trinidadian, Maxine Williams is the foremost Caribbean authority on diversity management. She is Facebook’s Chief Diversity Officer. An excerpt from an interview with Forbes Magazine revealed that Ms. Williams did not intentionally seek out a career in diversity but rather just stumbled into it:
I ended up in diversity because, maybe I wasn’t good enough at gigging, but I didn’t feel like I was getting enough smart work. It was more like “Go to Aruba and interview Chaka Khan for us.” It was what I call “Hey, hey, hey!” work. “Hey, hey, hey — here I am again!” There was a magical moment where I could interview Paul Kagame, and they said “But where would we put it?” And that was it. It was over. And right around then, someone from White & Case, a law firm, called me and said, “Will you come and start our diversity efforts?” And I said, “What’s diversity?” And he said, “Read up on it over the weekend and come in on Monday.” So I came in on Monday and met with 13 people and they gave me the offer that same day. I was there for seven years. When I joined, we were ranked the 42nd most diverse law firm in America. When I left, we were No. 2, and then became No. 1.
The Caribbean should be one of the foremost authorities on diversity management. The Caribbean consists of an estimated 43 million people, spread out in 28 countries, speaking 6 languages, in 13 currencies. It’s a very fluid and fragmented region with linkages all over the world (diversity per capita is extremely high). I complain bitterly that, since the world is a global stage, the Caribbean should have been at the forefront of diversity training and management. Our history shows that even with the muddling of various ethnicities and religions, civil war is not our 1st recourse to solve our differences.
We are sorely behind. A scan of our tertiary level institutions looking for diversity awareness or diversity training courses did not yield any positive results. A cursory glance at our laws would paint the picture of us still hating the homosexual community when in fact it is becoming more visible and accepted in our communities. We should be exporting our skills and respect for diversity across the world helping to unify the human race to see beyond race, religion and creed. You know, just like it is stated in our mottos, pledges and anthems.
The Caribbean consists of an estimated 43 million people, spread out in 28 countries, speaking 6 languages, in 13 currencies. It's a very fluid and fragmented region with linkages all over the world (diversity per capita is extremely high).
Studies conducted at prestigious research institutions, ranging from Rutgers University to MIT’s Sloan School of Management, show that workplace teams that comprise staff members from a variety of different racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds function more effectively than work groups that are homogenous, or comprise mostly staff members with similar backgrounds. In the Caribbean, we could have as many as 3 different religions coupled with persons from 4 various racial backgrounds at any point in time.
We are the perfect region to lead the way in diversity expertise, since many Caribbean countries produce diverse work environments. Some of the most striking divergences can be seen in the areas of problem-solving, conflict resolution and creativity. In these three crucial skill sets, diverse groups have been shown consistently to outperform their homogenous counterparts. Although researchers are still working to understand the why and how of these results, most agree with the preliminary theory that diverse groups perform better because they bring a wide variety of perspectives, experience and attitudes to the table.
If most of the research shows that diversity yields positive results for problem solving and collaboration, why is the Caribbean behind in almost every aspect of its development?
We are not tapping into our diversity.
We have a general lack of appreciation for our culture and customs. We much rather do everything the American or European way. We are still victims of colonialism pretending that we are not.
Little to no collaboration in the region
One word: Caricom
If that didn’t convince you,
Three words: West Indies Cricket
I think I have made my point.
We are not open to new ideas.
Even the most diverse team won’t be able to inject innovation and creativity into your organisation if they sense that new ideas aren’t welcomed. Our traditional, hierarchical structure and culture make it difficult for persons to get to the point where they feel comfortable exercising their creative problem-solving skills.
We are not critical thinkers.
Critical thinking is not encouraged in our education system and in our workplaces. Our predominant leadership style is autocratic, which stems directly from our colonial past. It is hurting us more than helping us at this point of our development. Our curriculums are designed for conformity and not exploring individualistic thinking.
We are still of the opinion that people from other Caribbean territories are foreigners from a strange land who must not be integrated into the society.
We are unwilling to have the necessary uncomfortable conversations around ethnicity and race.
This will teach us how to be effective communicators and also how to plan for conflict and overcome it. The workplace diversity research tells us that great new ideas are often borne out of the clash of different perspectives. On a surface level, this collision of different worldviews and attitudes can often result in conflicts between parties. However, we need to start learning to take a proactive approach to address the unique challenges of a diverse society.
We do not push past the herd mentality and embrace individuality.
We tend to gravitate toward people who share our views, opinions and backgrounds. It’s human nature to seek validation in others who are similar to us. But, in order to truly reap the benefits of workplace diversity, it’s important to shake things up a bit. We must be able to cut across cliques and various cultural groups to connect with others different from ourselves.
The last time I wrote about “Where Are The Great Caribbean Leaders” (click here) I was told that I shouldn’t look for great leaders. I should become the leader who I am seeking.
I guess the response to this blog will be the same. Be the change that you wish to see in the world. However, I cannot do it alone. It is impossible for one person to make the long-lasting impact that is required to move the Caribbean from a facade of blended cultures to a people who truly understand that embracing diversity is our only step forward.