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Sep 25, 201410:02 AMMinority Biz Report

with Sam Owens

Madison doesn’t get it: Businesses need to rethink their approach to diversity

(page 1 of 2)

In the interests of full disclosure, let me state that I am an entrepreneur who values multiculturalism. Not simply as a marketing strategy but as a fundamental cultural value. So I take issue with the Greater Madison business community’s common use of the term “diversity and inclusion.”

Rest assured, I am a good old Madisonian; accordingly, my skepticism has nothing to do with the social justice theories underlying diversity and inclusion. It arises from local business’s tendency to implement diversity and inclusion as a strategy for grooming cross-cultural markets without actually changing any internal policies.

As a result, companies fail to disrupt written policies and unspoken codes of cultural assimilation that create glass ceilings for diversity candidates. To the diversity candidate, the cross-cultural message is that the company values the marketability of your culture more than it values your potential for expanding the business’s cultural breadth. It’s as if you are only there for show-and-tell and not to contribute to the development of the business culture.

The new face of an old problem

Part of our difficulty with creating diverse and inclusive workforces in Madison is a collective aversion to confronting our city’s cultural baggage. In Madison, we want to genuinely believe (or to affect a genuine belief) that workplace inclusion and excellence will organically flow, simply through the hiring of diversity candidates. Our city suffers from this Pollyannaish belief that a workplace — already dominated by a particular culture — will somehow choose to promote inclusive excellence without making any substantive cultural or policy changes.

Companies are merely importing minorities into (often hostile) work environments, while the dynamics of these work environments aggressively reward cultural assimilation by minorities. Hence, companies have succeeded in implementing cosmetic changes to their workplaces, which are more likely to produce tokenism and cultural appropriation instead of inclusive excellence and equal opportunities.

Investing in diversity versus spending on diversity

As a business owner, I know that any genuine stakeholder will engage in due diligence prior to making an investment. If a company wants to promote diversity and inclusion as cultural values, then it needs to understand how to meaningfully do so; it should avoid adopting pro forma policies that fail to get at the root cultural problem within the company. A one-size-fits-all approach fails to consider the particular cultural shifting necessary to create an internal business environment in which diversity can prosper.


Oct 1, 2014 06:19 pm
 Posted by  Gregger

This is disconcerting.
I’m taking this as a suggestion this be added to the list of things Madisonians need to feel bad about? I’m sure most here were hoping that we’d gained more ground in the last 50.
O.K so I may be way off base here…..but would it be fair to question whether there is a core responsibility of the company "to place you in an environment in which you can succeed"....while "facilitating genuine cross-cultural exchange"? Really?
I think it’s possible that some might say.....that it's the company’s responsibility to make a profit, stay in business, and accomplish that with the best available talent.....regardless of race, gender or sexual preference……but I suppose that can’t be right.
Anyway, glad for you, that business is booming.....It sounds like you've chosen a good town to locate your practice.
On the “booming” however…could one ask, how do we quantify “booming”?
Are we able to secure comparative data for other cities of our approximate size? Is it possible that Madison is actually doing well?
Or, should we “take (your) my word for it”…..that this (Liberal) city & county has fostered “unspoken codes of cultural assimilation"....and that it's well past time that we all wake up, take notice, and deal with this serious problem for which we, apparently, all are responsible.

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