Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

I fear the term “demographics” has become a buzz word in the field of Diversity and Inclusion. It’s a buzz word because it gets you in the door for that nice big contract or great new Diversity Officer position. But very few people in this field actually use this so-called demographic information, or other statistical data, when designing diversity and inclusion interventions.

According to Wikipedia, a buzzword is a word or phrase used to impress, or is fashionable. Last year, Forbes Magazine published an article entitled, “New Studies Show Buzzwords Aren’t the Problem– We Are”. The writer asserts, “Don’t hate the game, hate the player”. Accordingly, I am going to assert that we have to take this word “demographics” seriously in order to be more credible and effective as professionals.

Case in point:  A few years ago, I talked to an organization that had two different diversity practitioners come in and deliver great training sessions. The problem was, nothing changed. The elephant was still in the room drinking up all of the water and eating all of the food. When they spoke with me, our conversation centered around how demographics had shifted. And without a single training session, they got more help in one hour, than they did in 8 hours of learning with two different diversity practitioners. Generally, our discussion addressed:

  1. Demographic changes and its link to the School Corporation’s goals, while taking into account (a) past, present and projected population changes; (b) changes to the family structure; and (c) competitive benchmarking (e.g., how other similarly situated schools are performing)
  2. Challenges for Students related to (a) achievement; (b) harassment/bullying; and (c) exclusion
  3. Classroom Leadership Expectations and Skills pertaining to (a) identifying stereotypes; (b) handling conflict effectively; (c) fostering inclusion; and (d) the personal belief system (e.g., I CAN be GREAT with ALL students)

Of course, I had to do research and connect that research to my discussion. Such research may include first-hand reports of students who experienced bullying in class while the teacher did nothing. Or parents from another country who did not understand a certain process. This is significant when you have a huge immigrant student population. From an administrative perspective, they can understand who they need to have on staff, what the staff needs to do, and why there must be accountability for certain actions.

Now, let’s bring it home– to your place of business, of course. How have your customers changed in the last 20-30 years? Let’s consider a nonprofit or healthcare organization that serves HIV/AIDS patients. In the 1980’s, intravenous drug users and White men who had sex with men were the fastest growing groups of people who contracted HIV/AIDS. Recently the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that while “Blacks represent approximately 12% of the U.S. population, they accounted for an estimated 44% of new HIV infections in 2010”. Yet by 2015, experts estimate that almost half of HIV-positive Americans will be over the age of 50. What a shift– from gay men to blacks to older individuals.

Do you see where I’m going? This information has to be used in order to help our organizations develop a proper perspective about diverse groups in the workplace, as well as foster skills that will be useful in better serving our customers, students or constituents.

Speaking of which, every diversity practitioner should do some kind of research on a weekly basis. Yes, there are many activities to do but not every activity has the same value. Using the example above, conducting and utilizing research would be much more meaningful than a full day of training or some other  activity that has little impact on your organization.


By Leah Smiley, President of the Society for Diversity.  Learn more about this topic when you become a member of the Society for Diversity, or get diversity and inclusion credentials from the Institute for Diversity Certification. Log onto for more information.




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