Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

Archive for April, 2013

Top CEO’s in Touch? By Enrique Ruiz, CDE

Rick Ruiz

Corporations make claims every day that embracing Diversity is a way to improve the work environment, spawn creativity, improve efficiency and reach new markets. In parallel, it is also touted as a socially responsible behavior. Intuitively we know that Diversity practice is a people business that touches each of us in a very personal way and will ideally percolate into the realm of our customers. We know it when we see it. We feel it.

To illustrate a personal touch that can be felt… have you ever flown Southwest Airlines? I have flown hundreds of thousands of miles across the continent (mostly on major air carriers) and across continents. Southwest’s flight attendants have a way of letting you know that you are welcome and that they enjoy their job, and as a customer I feel it and like to give them my business. It makes me feel good. Why is there a buzz at this corporation? Are the employees “happy” because of the stories we have heard over the years of the CEO on the tarmac loading luggage on the plane in his shorts, engaging with the crews or defending his employees against unruly passengers? The Southwest Airlines CEO has clearly demonstrated a consistent personal touch that resonates at a human level.

When I saw this article this month on the 5 methods top CEOs use to illustrate their commitment to diversity and inclusion within their organizations* I was expecting something profound that included stories of a personal touch. Instead, I was left with more “check-the-box” remote engagement practices from top leaders that puts the onus on someone else to get the message out, hoping for the best, instead of our leaders walking-the-talk we so often expect to see after hearing their communiqués. Leading by example spreads our words & desires like wildfire amongst the ranks but it appears we would rather have everyone read what we publish (or hope that it gets read) and get some metrics in place which most do not even really appreciate.

What do you think? Are these the best methods – illustrative of the personal touch and reach that the CEOs of our top corporations can muster – to really spawn efficiency, teamwork and creativity? You be the judge.

5. Provide Annual Updates to Employees
4. Provide Yearly Updates to Board of Directors
3. Meet Regularly with Diversity Executives
2. Publish CEO Diversity Statement
1. Require Diversity Leaders to Report Metrics

Diversity Best Practices 2011 assessment and benchmarking

Enrique ‘Rick’ Ruiz, MBA, PgMP
www.AmericasDiversityLeader.com

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Is There a Skill-Set Gap in the Diversity & Inclusion Field?

 

 

 

 

In your opinion, what skills are necessary in order to be effective in the field of diversity and inclusion?

 

 

 

The reason I ask this question is because there is a lot of movement amongst diversity and inclusion professionals.  Diversity executives are getting promotions or better job offers at other companies; quitting due to conflicts of interest; terminating to start their own consulting firms; and getting fired in record numbers.

 

 

 

What is often paradoxical, is that some people will teach diversity and inclusion (D&I) skill sets such as conflict resolution, communication, leadership, etc., but these same individuals will terminate from their positions because of a conflict, or a lack of communication, et al.

 

 

 

The latest figures from Diversity Officer Magazine suggests that a Chief Diversity Officer has an average salary of $225,000 and an average of 4 years in their position, although they may have been with the organization much longer. Of course, salary depends on the type of organization and the efficacy of D&I to the organization, but generally, practitioners are paid fairly well.

 

 

 

There have been some early stars in the field that attained outstanding and consistent results, and accordingly, CEO’s have paid attention. As the new generation of D&I practitioners come on board however, and the field of diversity and inclusion continues to evolve and create new jobs, today’s CEO’s expect every diversity practitioner that comes through the door to obtain the same outstanding and consistent results as the early stars. And they don’t give you a lot of time to do it anymore.

 

 

 

Several individuals have enrolled in the Institute for Diversity Certification’s program, but were unable to complete the 8-week online preparation courses because they were terminated. In almost all of the cases, a new diversity practitioner was immediately hired to replace these individuals. I believe this recent trend signals that the field is maturing.

 

 

 

Mary Frances Winters, President of the Winters Group, developed a report that details some of the trends that have taken place in the field of diversity. Not only do practitioners need to know what these trends are, but they also need to know how those industry developments impact their employer.

 

 

 

Additionally, I wouldn’t be Leah if I didn’t give a shameless plug for the Institute for Diversity Certification. When the individuals who terminated first enrolled in our program, it was already too late. But you, you have an opportunity to enroll, acquire new skills and knowledge, and adjust your course of action. Our designees report fantastic outcomes that are in line with CEO expectations. And, we introduced 3-day, classroom-based preparation courses that can help get professionals up-to-speed much quicker.

 

 

 

What else can be done to address the skill-set gap for this next generation of diversity and inclusion practitioners? Or, is it your opinion that the D&I industry is facing another, bigger hurdle?

 

 

By Leah Smiley, CDE

Leah Smiley is the President of the Society for Diversity, the parent company of the Institute for Diversity Certification. For more information about the Society for Diversity, log onto http://www.societyfordiversity.org. 

D&I Leadership Competency: Conflict Management

conflictConflict is an inevitable aspect of diversity and inclusion. Whether we are in it personally, or resolving it for others, managing conflict effectively is a key leadership competency. The issue is not IF conflict will occur; the question is WHEN will there be another conflict?

 

Conflict can be defined as: “an expressed struggle between at least two interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, scarce resources, and interference from the other party in achieving their goals.”1

 

We can have internal conflict, such as endeavoring to stop procrastinating. Or we can have interpersonal conflict with another individual, or group, when the need arises to work together. And finally, we can have social conflict, where we are striving to make an impact on the world through diversity and inclusion, and societal rules and institutions work against us. The reality is that you may be experiencing varying levels of conflict in each of these areas.

 

Here are some simple tools to manage conflict in the workplace better, and achieve your goals.

 

1. Explore your ideas about conflict. There are a lot of misconceptions about conflict, such as:

  • Conflict, if left alone, will take care of itself
  • Confronting an issue, or person, is always unpleasant.
  • Anger is always negative and destructive.

 

Many of our ideas about conflict stem from our upbringing. It’s easy to fall into the trap of avoiding conflict because we think that it may have negative consequences, as evidenced by our past. However, in achieving emotional maturity in this realm called conflict, we have to go beyond our experiences toward perfection. This means that we may have to look at conflict as an opportunity—an opportunity to build relationships, an opportunity to air grievances, and an opportunity to make more informed decisions.

 

Further, anger can be good. It’s alright to get mad because sometimes, there are things that warrant and justify our anger. The key is not to hold onto the anger—this can be destructive, not only to your health but also for your morale.

 

Discuss issues that concern you after you have cooled down, but it doesn’t hurt to let others know how you feel once in a while. I’m not promoting the “angry diversity executive”, but I am advising you to share your constructive feelings. This means that you may have to say, “It made me angry when you challenged me in that meeting and kept interrupting me. Why did you do that? How can you and I avoid such a nasty, public confrontation in the future?”

 

2. Know when to fight. Some battles are not worth fighting. We have to pick and choose our battles. If we decide to engage, we must have a strategy for victory. There’s nothing like picking a battle to fight and losing. Therefore, you have to be conscientious about your decisions and tactics once the engagement begins.  On the other hand, some things can be quickly resolved by apologizing—even if you are not wrong. During the 2012 Presidential Campaign, some pundits tried to exploit “apologizing” as a weakness. However, if you have ever done it, you know that it takes a strong leader to make amends with opposing groups—especially when you are the one who is right.

 

3. Choose what tools to use. The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) is a great tool for understanding how different conflict-handling styles affect interpersonal and group dynamics. It’s also a fast and powerful tool that can go beyond conflict management to support your team-building, leadership, coaching, and retention goals.

 

Depending on the person(s) and the situation, you may find that the TKI helps you to use different tools at different times. For example, some situations may require collaboration, while others need you to compete, avoid, accommodate or comprise. The more tools that you have in your arsenal, the better off that you will be when conflict arises.

 

Today, you can start thinking about conflict differently. Conflict can be a wonderful opportunity for you to validate your leadership skills, as well as your decision-making abilities. It can also present an opportunity for you to build positive, stronger relationships!

 

By Leah Smiley, CDE

 

Leah Smiley is the President of the Society for Diversity. For more information about the Society for Diversity, log onto http://www.societyfordiversity.org. 

 

______________________________

Hocker, J.L. and Wilmot, W.W. (1991). Interpersonal conflict. Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown.

The Business Case For Diversity: The Need, Application and Training (NAT) Triangle by Anita Nahal, Ph.D.

The chicken came first or the egg?  Is it because a company’s products or services are geared towards a diverse buyer demographic or global diverse missions, thus the need for the business case for diversity OR because today’s world is increasingly becoming diverse, therefore, the need for the business case for diversity?  Either way it becomes pertinent for diversity officers to make a direct case between diversity and business profit or benefit, without which the business case for diversity is going to be a hard sell. Thus, the NAT diversity triangle (Need-Application-Training) approach to pitching and securing the business case for diversity.

It goes without saying that diversity is an intrinsic value component in any organization, the benefits of which are culturally measurable, such as greater knowledge and awareness of those different than self; motivation for improved personal and professional relationship with those different than self; and an elevated cohesive work environment bringing the set goals to profitable fruition. Yes, indeed diversity has its own “…social expectation and value” (Kochan & et all).[i]   The more diverse individuals in an organization, the more diverse ideas might emerge. And when diverse ideas are combined and managed well, creativity soars, leading to benefits for both the individuals involved and the organization. (Johansson).[ii] As a bottom line of societal-cultural value, it’s a win-win situation primarily because the world today is becoming more and more multi-cultural, with more individuals who are willing to acknowledge their multi-layered identities (such as American, gay, liberal, Protestant and so forth to give one example).  Therefore, it preempts the necessity for diversity comprehension and tolerance and therefore organizations make a case for diversity training.

Without digressing from the topic at hand, many research studies have shown that while companies spend millions of dollars each year, training itself will not improve the diversity culture of an organization (Dobbin & et all).[iii] And even though we are in the 21st century “world is flat” mode as Thomas Freidman[iv] said, without a direct connection between the goal of diversity and end result of profit, the word “diversity” might remain a catch phrase or a mode to simply increase the number of diverse employees to create an acceptable image. In today’s world of shrinking resources, jobs and socio-economic opportunities, diversity as a societal & cultural value is a declining commodity. Many organizations today have diverse individuals.  But what are those companies doing with the diversity among its ranks?  Are they utilizing their ideas and suggestions in product or services development? Are they utilizing their cultural skills in reaching out to larger or different market demographics?  Thus the interconnectivity between diversity and profit. As Hubbard says, “Measuring the results of diversity initiatives will become a key strategic requirement to demonstrate its contribution to organization performance.”[v]

For the NAT to be successful as a pitch for the business case for diversity, two key elements have to be stressed at the onset: leadership buy in and employee, supplier diversity/student, faculty or staff (also referred to as stakeholders) buy in. Leadership buy-in is the main key to successful acceptance of diversity because as Andy Brantley, President & Chief Executive Officer of the College & University Professional Association for Human Resources says, “leaders…set the tone…their positions on diversity, equity and inclusion are reflected every single day through their actions, through their words, through the things they chose to do or chose not to do…”[vi]  And second, along with leadership buy in, all the stakeholders in the industry/organization/university, including external contractors and diversity suppliers is also indispensable. This leads to a sense of, “shared responsibility” by all the stakeholders.[vii]

Three charts follow delineating each element of the NAT diversity triangle. First, a chart showing the need for diversity and the quantifiable end results that can be compelling reasons for organizations to say yes to diversity.  The second chart shows the areas in which diversity can be applied.  And the third chart shows the likely stages of diversity training and follow up measures to ensure the business case for diversity is not left hanging after the training stage.  Without the follow up, comprehensive benefit and profits (essential end result) might slip through the fingers.

Chart 1—NEED:  Why the Business Case for Diversity? The chart below shows the link between the need for diversity and the various quantifiable and profitable end results that are likely to bring leadership and employee/student, faculty or staff buy in. The chart uses slashes to indicates private, non-profit, government OR educational institution scenarios. Throughout the article the slashes carries the same meaning.

Chart1

Enlarge Chart1

The increased buying power of diverse demographics for companies and increased admission and graduation rates by committed students will be the bottom line in making the business case for diversity.  Speaking specifically about the changing demographics of the buying market in the U.S., Marcus Robinson, Charles Pfeffer, and Joan Buccigrossi said that, “According to research done by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia, the buying power of people of color has grown dramatically over the past decade. The combined buying power of people of color in the U.S. grew from a base of nearly $600 billion in 1990 to approximately $1.4 trillion in 2001.”[viii] Such a scenario, for example, can be a major contributing factor in calculating the ROI (Return On Investment) while making the business case for diversity.  It is important to keep in mind that depending upon the business/services of the company, the measurable profit markers can vary. And of course a Cost/Benefits analysis would need to be conducted to sell any business case for diversity.

Chart 2—Venn Diagram on Application— shows the elements that would need to be addressed to achieve a diverse organization that in turn will ensure it achieves its diversity target of profit/other benefit markers ( as discussed later in Chart 3). Chart 2 provides these elements at companies/organizations and educational institutions.  The analogy of the Venn Diagram is employed to stress that all elements in the application chain process are inter-connected and can lap, and overlap, lending to the success of each other and everyone in that chain.  The bottom line here is that in the chain management process, everything is related to the central point: making a business case for diversity.

Chart2

Enlarge Chart2

 

The final element in making the business case for diversity is to ensure that not only is the training provided but more importantly the follow up aspect of diversity training is formally in place and implemented.  The diversity chain management process as it seems to exist now does not pay too much emphasis on stages 5 & 6 in Chart 3 (especially stage 6—the follow up stage) which are essential to the success of any diversity training program in an organization and in turn translate into quantifiable outcomes. Chart 3—Training-Trapezoid list, provides the likely stages in the diversity training process management.

 

Chart3

Enlarge Chart3

 

The NAT—Need—Application—Training Diversity Triangle approach is a likely combination that individuals can pitch to their managers and leadership when recommending a business case for diversity.  Research has raised some “…painful questions for companies that pour money into diversity programs and for the diversity industry that supplies them with a dazzling array of diversity products…. But despite the astonishing number of products and services–ranging from the worthy to the banal–one item is in very short supply: hard metrics for measuring performance results or the return on diversity spending.”[ix]  In today’s world with increasing diversity challenges, it might not be sufficient to say we need diversity or that we need training in diversity for our employees/faculty, staff or students.  It has to be directly connected to profit and other tangible business measurables.

 

One has to establish a connection between those aspects and profit or business success.  I believe that depending on (1) where organizations are located; (2) what their goal and mission is; (3) what services or products they provide or produce; and (4) who their  buyers are, will ultimately make for the level of diversity that organizations will have and support.  Thus the more diverse the buyer demographic, the more global the organizational mission, in turn the more diverse an employer will be to ensure that the products and services reach the buyers and employees/students, faculty and staff, in the best way possible.  Keeping all the stakeholders happy and the financial state in incline, is what makes for great business.

 

By Anita Nahal, Ph.D., a diversity practitioner, educationist, writer, poet, dancer and chairperson/founder of www.diversitydiscover.com

 

 


[i] Kochan, Thomas, & et all, (2002). Diversity in Business Performance: Report of the Diversity Research Network. Retrieved March 31, 2012 from  http://www.shrm.org/about/foundation/research/Documents/kochan_fulltext.pdf .

[ii] Johansson, Frans, (2004). The Medici Effect. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press.

[iii] Cortazar, Ryan Z., (2006). Diversity Training Fails To Boost Minorities Into Management. Retrieved March 31, 2013 from http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2006/09.14/25-dobbin.html .

[iv] Freeman, Thomas. (2007) The World Is Flat. New York, NY: Picador

[v] Hubbard, Edward E,. (1999). How To Calculate Diversity Return-On-Investment. Petaluma, CA: Global Insights Publishing, 3.

[vi] Gray, Katti (March 8, 2013). Interview with Andy Brantley. A Challenge to Leaders.  Convergence, 33.

[vii] Dodson, Angela, (March 8, 2013). Interview with Kevin McDonald. Who’s in Charge: A dialogue about how the support systems for diversity, inclusion and equity efforts contribute to their success. Convergence, 9.

[viii] Robinson, Marcus, Pfeffer, Charles, & Buccigrossi, Joan,. (2003). Business Case for Inclusion and Engagement. Retrieved March 31, 2013 from http://www.workforcediversitynetwork.com/docs/Business_Case_3.pdf .

[ix] Kochan, endnote I.

One of the Greatest Movies of All Time

By Leah Smiley, CDE

Tonight I watched the movie “Remember the Titans” for the first time. Honestly, I never expected the movie to be that good, that’s why I never watched it before now. But as I made dinner, my husband and oldest daughter turned the channel to ABC Family. I started to turn it when they weren’t looking, but my oldest daughter, who watched the movie in school, kept saying that it was so funny.

 

In my snarky Generation X style, I started to question what they were teaching her in that high school; but instead I watched the movie.  Suddenly, it became crystal clear.

 

Besides the fact that I absolutely love Denzel (and my husband too -:), two things about the movie stood out to me.

 

1.  It illustrates a great point about the role that education can play in facilitating diversity– when there is commitment to equity, fairness, teamwork, and excellence. Think about it, initially most of the townspeople had never been exposed to different individuals, and when they were, their experiences were negative. This included both the black and white families.

 

But something happened when the football team went away to camp; because when they came back to the town, they were a unifying force in the school, the community and their families. They not only grew as individuals, they matured as a group.

 

Like diversity in many workplaces and campuses, it was forced at first. But as the team became more competent and the right pressures were applied (i.e., interventions), the dynamics changed and the players became Champions–not only on the field but also for diversity.

 

2.  Furthermore, it demonstrated how systemic change has a trickle-down effect. The leadership demanded excellence and the team delivered. No excuses and no exceptions.

 

In addition to leadership, this true movie proves that it takes courage to risk your own reputation for the inclusion of others. This same courage is the driving force needed to win—beating out the competition and finishing strong.

 

To me, “Remember the Titans” is one of the greatest movies of all time! It was an inspirational movie about diversity, inclusion, teamwork and winning—in spite of hate, challenges and fear. I hope it inspires more people to move beyond external appearances toward achieving goals for the greater good.

 

 

Leah Smiley is the President of the Society for Diversity. For more information about the Society for Diversity, log onto www.societyfordiversity.org

The Institute for Diversity Certification Rolls Out Classroom-Based Instruction for Its Diversity & Inclusion Credentialing Program

The new diversity certification preparation course offerings will accommodate
different learning styles and expand IDC’s national presence

 

 

Plainfield – April 10, 2013: From leading events-based diversity initiatives to building a high-performing global team, the role of diversity and inclusion is ever-changing. The Institute for Diversity Certification (IDC) launched an online credentialing process in 2011 that has also evolved in order to meet the demands of today’s diversity and inclusion professionals. This year, IDC will introduce a classroom-based preparation course for its Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) and Certified Diversity Professional (CDP) credentialing programs. The courses will be offered in Plainfield, Indiana and McKinney, Texas for the September and November exam windows.

 

The Institute for Diversity Certification was formed for the sole purpose of providing diversity and inclusion management preparation courses and materials; administering diversity certification exams; and designating diversity and inclusion credentials to Certified Diversity Professionals and Certified Diversity Executives. IDC is a subsidiary of the Society for Diversity, the #1 nationwide professional association for diversity and inclusion with members in 34 states.

 

Diversity and Inclusion are still hotly contested topics—especially in today’s workplace and on college campuses. Yet, a properly functioning diversity and inclusion program will benefit all employees and students, and not just certain groups. It will also allow for improved business performance by linking diversity and inclusion interventions directly to corporate goals for improving revenue, cost savings, and innovation. Additionally, diversity and inclusion enhances competitive positioning and ensures that long-term objectives are viable.

 

Leah Smiley, IDC founder says, “Diversity and Inclusion really works. Look at Xerox, Chrysler, Sodexo, General Electric, American Express, McDonald’s, and other corporations where you have diversity, inclusion, and cultural competence. The key is getting your staff trained so that they know how to achieve better business outcomes through diversity and inclusion. You also want to make sure that your diversity and inclusion team takes a strategic, and systemic, approach to facilitating cultural change. And this requires specialized knowledge, and skills.”

 

The IDC diversity and inclusion certification exam is a uniform test that assesses a candidate’s knowledge of 16 broad competencies. IDC also assesses a practitioner’s skills through the Candidate Project evaluation. The entire program consists of a 300+ page study guide; a classroom-based or online preparation course; and a 170-question multiple choice exam. The proctored exams are offered in partnership with pan, an Experian company, where candidates have access to 800 testing centers around the world.

 

More than 100 candidates have enrolled in the online preparation course since 2011. La Toya Smith, CDP, was one of the first candidates to complete the program while she worked at the University of Evansville. Smith says, “I feel that by undergoing this process I was forced– in a good sense– to refresh my memory and learn for the first time some of the most important information for me to know as a diversity and inclusion professional. I have undergone another diversity certification process, and I feel that this one is much more legitimate and structured. In addition, I feel that the content was more thorough and useful.” Today, Smith successfully transitioned to work in Diversity and Inclusion for a Fortune 1000 corporation. She recognizes that her credentials played an invaluable role in her transition.

IDC candidates represent the corporate, nonprofit, education and government sectors and include diversity and inclusion practitioners; employee resource group and diversity council members; Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Officers; human resource professionals; marketing and communications staff; senior level executives and line managers; as well as consultants. Smiley adds, “Turnover in the Office of Diversity is a huge problem right now. Promotions, resignations, and other terminations, have stalled some terrific diversity and inclusion efforts. That’s why it is important to equip more than one person to lead diversity and inclusion efforts at an organization.” Employers such as Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, Missouri Department of Transportation, the University of Alabama in Huntsville, U.S. Air Force Academy, Indiana State University, and more, have sent several people through the program at a time.

 

IDC’s credentialing process is driven by Diversity and Inclusion industry best practices and generally accepted business principles. A team of diversity and inclusion, human resource, and organizational development experts created the study guides and test questions. A testing consultant, Dr. Howard Mzumara, Director of the Testing Center at Indiana University Purdue University of Indianapolis (IUPUI), provided testing guidelines and reviewed each of the exams. And an international group of diversity connoisseurs first piloted the program in the beginning of 2011. Since then, IDC has implemented many quality-improvements to ensure that its program is geared up for international expansion and accreditation, which is a worthwhile but lengthy process.

 

All IDC designees must pass the exam with an 80% or better. Currently, the exam competencies include The Business Case for Diversity and Inclusion, Generational Intelligence, Empowering Women in the Workplace, LGBTA Employment Issues, and Measuring the Impact of Diversity and Inclusion, to name a few. The curriculum includes case studies and real life examples of impact—not theoretical tenets. Also, much of the content addresses management expectations, linking diversity and inclusion goals to organizational objectives, and getting quantitative results. The CDP program centers on day-to-day operations, while the CDE exam centers on the global diversity and inclusion strategy.

 

Diversity Certification can be very expensive. An organization can pay $8,000 to $14,000, plus travel, for professional credentials.  In contrast, IDC’s program is both high-quality and affordable, averaging $2,000 per Candidate. It is also available from anywhere—ensuring consistency in instruction and application. Further, the program design assumes that learners retain information best when they have multiple educational resources. IDC’s study guide, preparation course, Candidate Project and exam all lead to more confidence, transformative organizational outcomes, and third party verification of excellence as a diversity and inclusion professional.

 

The Plainfield and McKinney preparation courses are intensive 3-day, hands-on learning sessions instructed by individuals who have passed the CDP or CDE exams. These industry experts will share best practices, as well as test-taking techniques.  Registration is available online on a first-come, first-served basis–space is limited in the classrooms. For more information about IDC, call (317) 837-4961 or log onto www.diversitycertification.org.

The Silent Minority by Enrique Ruiz, CDE

Rick Ruiz in High School

I was born in Colorado yet my name, Enrique Ruiz, implies a more Hispanic origin. As a child it was inconsequential with a nickname of “Ricky.” At the age of eight I went to live in Mexico City and stayed there for another eight years becoming a teenager, fluent in two languages (with no foreign accent in either) and adept with at least one culture. Then, I returned to the United States to live in Southern California and continue with my education.

Culture shock hit me in my home country. I had never seen so many African-American boys up close and personal. Their physical size was daunting compared to the more typical smaller framed Mexican. I then met “Chicano’s” who touted Latin identities with their dress, accents, tattoos and unmistakable “low rider” cars. This was a foreign sight to me even though I travelled extensively throughout Mexico. Chicanos did not represent the Mexicans I grew up knowing.

The cliques of skin heads, gangs, whites, Asians and multiple “birds-of-a-feather” groupings had their own unique way of communicating with you through visual snares, graffiti, the pounding of a bat or the shimmer of a switchblade to name a few tactics. The country of my birth, a country known for its melting-pot opportunity, was not what I thought it was going to be as an impressionable youth. We had insults, fights and stabbings between various groups all clamoring for survival, presence, recognition and identity.

Fighting for identity is something that is very much in my life.
Ang Lee, Taiwanese born American Film Director (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)


I am Hispanic American with a naturalized father from Mexico. My mother is from Virginia. Life brought my parents together yet in the background lurked smears for people of my kind as ‘spicks,’ ‘wetbacks’ and other sundry names. My “kind” had a reputation for being hard workers but we were directly, or indirectly, classified at the bottom of the social ladder in America.

 

Migrating across countries and cultures has an effect on your self-esteem and your identity. You want to fit in but you don’t want to be told what “bucket” you should be in. You feel you have something to offer but you don’t want to spend your time arguing why you deserve to be treated right. ‘White privilege” for the many seemed palpable, “reverse discrimination” rhetoric was disheartening. What does a young aspiring youth do?

 

I became a “silent minority.” I contemplated changing the name given to me at birth to something more American to avoid being classified by others. Instead, I did other things to keep myself “American looking.” As I entered the workforce after High School for example, I didn’t let the world know that I could speak another language. I silenced my voice more often than not to avoid critiques. I was very pleasant but usually ate and worked alone. I did not want any racially pejorative words to be associated with my name. I was an American, or so I wanted to believe.

 

Stereotypical dialogue provides ample fodder to pigeon-hole people into “buckets.” The number of people who change their name (from any culture) to fit in America indicates that this is not an isolated scenario; it is just one symptom of a larger problem, suppressed engagement. One day, after a dozen or so years of silence with regard to my Spanish speaking ability, I was asked to be a liaison between a manufacturing firm in California and a maquiladora in Mexicali. Finally, my long repressed language came back to life. I have since used this skill in every position held since then leading up to the massive 2010 Census data capture operation.

 

Racism continues to exist in America impairing the rate of progress we can collectively sustain. Whether it be for a presidential race wanting either “black” or “white” representation to the diatribe last month from the Republican Representative Don Young (a Congressman for 41 years) who stated in a radio interview that when he was a boy in California, his father “used to hire 50 to 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes on his farm.” We continue to persist in misinformed, derogatory racial undertones to define a populace.

 

Many individuals are afraid to speak out, and share their thoughts or their backgrounds. Humiliation and slander is painful. How many individuals in your organization have repressed skills, or backgrounds, and are walking the hallways? Being bilingual is an asset for most organizations but I didn’t advertise this skill, and others. “Silent Minority” individuals are everywhere and they have different identifiers depending upon their culture, background or persuasion (i.e., “closeted”). They withhold, yet they are on your payroll. They do as asked but don’t expose all of their thoughts. Your organization may have hidden intellectual capital that has not been exploited for a win-win outcome.

 

Human nature can be divisive. Denigrating others to uplift us can be a quick elixir of “feel good” rhetoric but all too often our ideas, norms and ‘facts’ are outdated. We have an obligation to stay informed and dispel “old thinking” which impairs social progress. Diverse people offer an unparalleled diversity of thought. We revel in the advances of Mexicans, Asians, Africans, Europeans and yes… Americans. In this country, we are all Americans!

 

By Enrique Ruiz, CM, CDE, MBA, PgMP

Enrique ‘Rick’ Ruiz, is President of PositivePsyche.Biz Corp, a Washington DC based consulting and training firm (www.AmericasDiversityLeader.com). He is an accomplished Program Manager that has led large scale IT operations over the past decade involving teams up to 15,000. His credits involve Census Operations in the UK, Canada and the United States plus military/commercial manufacturing (including a maquiladora in Mexico).
He serves on the Society for Diversity board and the worldwide Institute for Certified Professional Managers (ICPM) Board of Regents. He is the author of four books.

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