Here at the YWCA OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, we have been working hard to discover an “organizational voice” in the space of diversity and inclusion. It’s not a huge stretch for us. We are a multi-dimensional organization serving a broad cross section of women in New York City. From our employment programs serving unemployed women to our YW Academy of Women Leaders (also known as the YW Academy) for leaders in the corporate and public sectors, we are indeed a “YW for Every Woman.” Our mission is Eliminating Racism and Empowering Women because we understand the intersectionality of race and gender and how they shape women’s political, social, and economic experiences in our country.
After a great YW Salon with the authors of the new book The Color Bind: Talking (and not Talking) About Race at Work a week ago (pictured with the authors above!), one thing is clear: many people, regardless of their race, have developed a genuine skepticism about diversity training. After years of workplace investments in trying to understand diversity, many people are not sure if there is a Return On Investment anymore and it isn’t hard to understand why. So many diversity efforts are couched in “safe” language and a level of cautiousness about the truth of our experiences in diverse workplaces. In these cases, we risk nothing and we share nothing of significance about the challenges and opportunities that come from working alongside people whose experiences we may not understand or have not been encouraged to value. The American business model has been led and defined by white men for so long that the narrative around what constitutes a good work ethic such as teamwork, leadership, intelligence, process, production, and results has been internalized by all of us in a way that makes it normative and inflexible. This collective mindset has shaped how everyone who is not white and male understands the American workplace so much so that even imagining what a new American work paradigm might look like is challenging, even for me.
As we continue our organizational journey toward opening up spaces for meaningful conversations on race, diversity, and inclusion, I want us to think about a new work narrative that embraces what I will call expansive diversity™. This concept moves the needle beyond visual and physical diversity. It calls us to acknowledge that organizations are not authentically diverse simply because we see and experience people who are diverse within their ranks. We don’t want to see the rainbow, we want to distinguish that each hue positively impacts the rainbow. Expansive Diversity™ is an approach to diversity that is intentionally devoted to making room for different cultural norms, values, and perspectives that do not reflect the normative paradigm. It is rooted in what I call a Diverse and Thriving™ paradigm. The dictionary defines the verb thrive as “to prosper, to grow and develop vigorously, and, to be successful.” So, what does it really mean?
In an expansively diverse organization, people of color don’t just exist in organizations. They have opportunities to be nurtured and developed. The value placed on their contributions can be measured by their rates of promotion and the degree to which their compensation equals their more privileged colleagues. Diverse and Thriving™ colleagues have access to resources and information, meaningful and developmental feedback, and influence and power. Diverse and Thriving™ colleagues are successful, and non-diverse colleagues recognize their success as the natural outgrowth of their intellectual capital and production – not as some patronizing result of any so-called diversity effort.
Ultimately, organizations that are committed to a Diverse and Thriving™ workplace are willing to risk something. These organizations are willing to hold themselves accountable for how people experience the workplace. They are willing to hold themselves to a high standard and to work diligently to communicate the monetary and performance impact of being a Diverse and Thriving™ workplace. Finally, these organizations are willing to rethink and reimagine the workplace so that they are positioned to fully leverage the gifts of all team members, accommodate different world views, and to be dynamically responsive to the evolving needs of all employees (i.e. the need for work/life balance; flexible work time; transparency around the criteria for advancement; etc.). I know what you’re thinking. Danielle, that’s a pretty tall order! To which my reply is, in the words of Poet June Jordan, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”