The most mundane experiences can often leave a remarkable impact. My husband and I recently went out to see one of his new favorite comedians. We arrived at the outdoor music theater where thousands of people from various races, ages, genders, and cultures were in attendance. The comedian, who was white, took the stage and did something I was not expecting—he talked about diversity in a meaningful way.
His stand-up routine was based on the relationships he had formed with these people from various backgrounds. He had invested time in talking with, learning from, and simply interacting with others who were different from him. The comedian used his craft to educate the audience about his experiences. He observed that people often go to great lengths to avoid socializing with people outside of their race. In fact, he joked that some of his relatives would watch the local news to “learn” about other races and cultures. He intertwined these observations to joke about politics, dating, raising children, and growing old. The audience was captivated by his storytelling despite the thought-provoking dialogue about race and his many theories on intolerance and the need for interaction.
It was refreshing that the comedian purposely focused on the differences between people stemming from their different cultures, backgrounds, or beliefs. But his acceptance of those differences, coupled with his conscious sense of humor endeared him to everyone in the audience. That’s when it hit me. Corporations have heightened their focus on diversity and inclusion for the same reason that this comedian may have: to provide better customer service by appealing to all people and not just particular segments of society.
Businesses, much like the stand-up comedian, realize that diversity helps expand their client base. Diversity simply means bringing people of different educational backgrounds, cultures, races, genders, and ages to the table, while inclusion is about encouraging people of all races, ethnicities, genders, ages, and sexual orientation to work together to achieve a common goal.
The comedian’s standup routine showed that diversity and inclusion can add value to any organization. The appeal to a wide and diverse audience attracts more clients and customers. Businesses would not be able to achieve this diversity if their decision-makers all thought alike. Moreover, many successful organizations, just like this comedian, realize that for diversity to be effective in accomplishing change, we must also accomplish inclusion by engaging everyone’s perspective.
Diversity and inclusion are not as difficult to achieve as it may seem. The comedian didn’t make any remarkable observations in his stories. He just made an effort to surround himself with different people (thereby accomplishing diversity) and to embrace the differences and to use this information to reflect on the way he looked at life (thereby accomplishing inclusion).
As an African American woman, I need to have the opportunity to offer my perspective based on my experiences and background in order to feel like I’m contributing to an organization. Diversity is sometimes used a synonym for race, gender, or sexual orientation. As a result of this narrow definition diversity and inclusion events or seminars are often offered only to people who belong to certain protected groups. Consequently, the opportunity for inclusion is lost. For example, a diversity event geared at helping retain or promote women in an organization is less effective if the only people who are invited are women. Even though the female participants will bring different perspectives to the discussion, it is imperative that men are included in the conversation in order to implement any organizational goals or changes.
The concept of diversity also encompasses individuals’ differing educational backgrounds, geographic locations, experiences in the armed services, or familial status. Therefore, organizations that want to accomplish inclusion have a pressing need to cast a wide net to reach people who are different and who can interact, cultivate, plan, strategize, learn, and bridge gaps. A broader segment brings more variety of ideas and concepts to the table than what may otherwise be offered.
No one wants to lose his or her true voice for the sake of fitting in. Because the practice of labor and employment law is based on human interactions, diversity and inclusion play a key role in its success. Since attending the comedy show, my plan is to offer my true perspective when invited to do so, as well as to interact with others with different backgrounds so that I can make assessments using a wider lens.
This post was written by an associate in the Detroit Metro office of Ogletree Deakins.