Corporate Policies: The Problem With the Word Diversity
We are proud of the ongoing global efforts to ensure all spaces create room for all people. We also recognize the challenge associated with navigating these waters. Hence the importance of listening, learning and growing. Claiming a diverse workforce requires each of these groups to be recognized and not lumped into one group. Similarly, it is marginally diverse if only 10 percent of the population was female and the 90 percent were male.
As corporations work to become inclusive, the challenges involve creating change on every hierarchical level of the company. It is easy to hire more junior level people from different backgrounds, it is harder to include that change at the top of the company. Still, as corporate transparency is always under scrutiny, even for those who are slow to change, consumer and market forces are making such demands of them.
When we at INCMMN met all our creative partners, we told each one of them that we regarded them as our equals. That they should provide constructive criticism to keep us in line so that we keep leveling up. On our website, we used the term diverse people, to outline just how different each of the creatives working with us is. Merriam-Webster defines diverse to mean ‘the condition of having or being composed of differing elements’. Following this definition, our little slice of corporate heaven ticks every box.
Diversity as Understood in Different Societies
In South Africa, the meaning of a colored person evokes a different emotion to the same term in America. Diversity in Kenya would include different ethnicities, diversity in Japan includes a different composition of people. We work with creatives from all of these places and more. It is important to us that all documents, policies and practiced language makes them feel at home in INCMMN.
Every change to our website is accompanied by an email to all of our creatives alerting them to it and inviting constructive feedback. This time, the communication was on the understanding of diversity. Here is when the term diverse is used to refer to all people of color and setting white, more predominantly a white male, as the default while lumping everyone else into the same category. There are many mishaps that led to these assumptions or promoted this interpretation.
When CBS said it would shoot a Nancy Drew TV show whose heroine would differ from the past popular image of Drew in a crucial way. “She is diverse, that is the way she is written,” president Glenn Geller told The Hollywood Reporter. “[She will] not [be] Caucasian … I’d be open to any ethnicity.”
Similarly in the press release announcing changes in response to the outcry over the fact that all 20 Oscar-nominated actors were white for the second year in a row, the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences said that its board was committed to “doubling the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020.” Doubling the number of diverse members. The Academy didn’t say in that sentence that it wanted its membership to be more diverse. It said it wanted a higher number of diverse members. Which implies that a sole human can be “diverse.”
We could argue that is simply how language works and taxonomy and categorization are an easier way of communicating, not intended to offend. Especially where the offense is in reference to the mainstream understanding of the word and not the wording itself. First, we were happy that this person felt comfortable enough to communicate this and walk with us as we learn to navigate these waters.
We did our research and found that this sentiment was shared widely. The term diverse being a depersonalizing term in reference to a large and often unrelated people. Du Verney, the director of Selma also brought up the conceptual weirdness that leads to some people referring to others as diverse. Other terms such as underrepresented people was suggested, but not applicable to the variety of backgrounds that all of our people came from. Multicultural was also suggested, but it did not quite include members of the LGBTQIA community.
Framing Diversity on a Corporate Level
The founding team at INCMMN are themselves black, brown and white. The larger, and rapidly growing, INCMMN family includes every shade, every economic status, and gender. Despite this, we do sometimes fall into the language traps. We do however learn and keep ahead of the curve.
So while we agree that it is definitely not inclusive to refer to an individual of color or a member of the LGBTQIA community as a ‘diverse person’ in direct reference to them. We also agreed that it is simply not enough to claim to have a diverse community where only 10 percent of the group is different from the other. In doing so, we would fall into traps other high growth companies have fallen into.
As is the wish of every person, it is important to be seen and not be made to disappear into a group. Diversity is not about fulfilling a quota. The hiring of a token person to dissuade the press. It should be a norm. We are a diverse workforce, but we go further, we name each of our creative partners, we show their pictures. We state their nationality and we celebrate each one equally. Diversity means that we strive to have people from all over the globe working with us, every shade of the human race, every gender and every economic background. We hope we can continue to do more in our own little ways to ensure that all our partners are seen. Everyone hates having to share a spotlight, even worse is being hidden away in a dark closet with many more people whom you may or may not have something in common. Instead of one spotlight, we believe there is room for multiple stages and multiple spotlights. We are capable of celebrating every single person.
Grace Guyatu Diida
Growth and Strategy, INCMMN