Diversity and Occlusion

No, that is not a typographical or grammatical error. The word occlusion could be seen as one of the results of inclusion because occluding indicates a shutting off, obstructing or blocking something in favor of something else. Diversity indicates an organizational condition that is composed of a population of different individuals with the objective of recognizing the value of each individual. Inclusion is an individual characteristic that represents being valued and respected. For some reason we have smooshed the terms diversity and inclusion together so tightly that they are often used interchangeably when in fact they are distinctively different concepts. Since diversity is an organizational concept and inclusion is personal in nature, there is a built in paradox already present. Leaders can create diversity through organizational composition, but they cannot force individual tolerance to the included groups. Adding insult to irony, to dictate inclusion is to in fact create an occlusive atmosphere where effectiveness is measured by prevention of perceived negatives rather than promoting positive values. Somebody’s thoughts and ideas have to be excluded in a culture where everyone is supposed to be treated with value and respect.

It is an uphill battle to justify diversity in the first place because it seems not to be the natural tendency of human beings to be tolerant of other human beings. Most companies declare that they have made diversity a key business decision, but often it is not a top priority. Other aspects of the business that come prepared with empirical evidence and a positive calculable ROI number offers more tangible evidence. Even if diversity is a top-down edict, lip service notwithstanding, many human resources executives defend their efforts by declaring it “the right thing to do” and then wonder why nothing changes. A solid business case to support diversity needs to be defined and communicated in order to improve commitment to compliance by managers and employees.

Ask the question “why?” about diversity and inclusion programs and it will often be answered with legalistic gobbledy-gook not backed up by hard facts. But is there clear research that diversity works and is necessary? Absolutely! Researchers had to study years of data from successful companies to arrive at a conclusion, but that data is too important to our future to ignore.

Demographic Changes in the Population – Organizations must be as diverse as their operational environment. Today more than half of the U.S. workforce is composed of what was defined to be minorities during the “affirmative action” era. Thirty years ago, the excuse was used that it was the job of society to implement changes in human relations. Years of governments failing to learn that legislated morality doesn’t work, it now falls on industry to lead the charge and cause that change. With an employee and customer base that is diverse, survival depends on adopting diversity.

Global Economic Conditions – It is not coincidental that early global success stories like IBM, Pfizer, P&G, Xerox and Corning were also early adopters of diversity initiatives. “Innovation is about looking at complex problems and bringing new views to the table.  Diversity has allowed IBM to be innovative and successful for 100 years and to work across lines of differences in 172 countries, among 427,000 employees.” (Source: Forbes) Companies that want to compete globally in today’s world need to hit the restart button if they are only giving lip service to diversity.

If we seriously intend to be inclusive and respect everyone in the diverse cultures we are creating, we cannot inadvertently (or intentionally) allow occlusion of anyone. The constant vigil to fight intellectual discrimination means keeping a keen eye on institutional perpetuation of stereotypes on generational, educational, and geographical differences as well as the traditional focus on affirmative action era classes. Walking in the other persons shoes, ask “Do I feel excluded because of company policies and procedures?” If the answer is yes, then diversity fails.

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