Diversity is a Mindset, Not a Formula

by Soo Bong Peer, author, The Essential Diversity Mindset

Diversity and race relations have reached a boiling point that has become the central focus in America today. Race-related police shootings, white nationalist protests, violent riots, college demonstrations, killing of police officers, and the stifling of free speech are just some of the many symptoms of our divided country. It is alarming to witness the extent of racial divides spurred by the injustices and conflicts that are spreading through the fabric of our lives in America like a malignant lesion.

We should ask ourselves: Why is America’s racial divide getting worse when there has been so much attention on promoting diversity? Why are we still living with racial divides, anger, and distrust after decades of diversity efforts? How can we better accept and live among all our differences in a society that is increasingly becoming more multiracial and multicultural?

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Determining the best way to nurture inclusion is one of the most vexing issues facing every organization and our nation. How can we see diversity in a different light — beyond our programmed ideals, paradigms, entitlements, and compliances? When current policies and approaches do not produce the desired results, we owe it to ourselves to search for alternatives even in the face of potential disruptions, discomforts, and fears.

Diversity cannot be forced; it must be voluntary. When behaviors and mindsets are forced, we cannot expect genuine or sustainable change. The way I see diversity being promoted today has mostly been through righteousness, moral judgment, and negative reinforcement. We see terms such as racist, bigot, sexist, and snowflake being thrown around as commonplace, which only incites more anger and divide. If we were to raise a child this way, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see either overt or silent anger and rebellion that would most likely yield undesirable consequences. We can anticipate a different outcome of rearing a child between a parent who judges, shames, and enforces their expected behaviors onto their child and a parent who guides their child toward positive results with empathy, open-mindedness, and understanding. This same logic applies to advancing diversity and inclusive cultures. We must foster, not force.

Diversity is a mindset, not a formula. Every person brings with them a unique history and background that shapes the way they see and interact with others. Unconsciously, from birth, we develop an attachment to the world that has been presented to us that creates the foundation for the way we perceive, behave, and react. Regardless of race, religion, or social class, we are programmed to see, judge, and make assumptions within seconds of meeting a new person. When cultures and individuals start to develop biases and prejudices, it’s hard not to fall into that mindset. We must accept our flawed nature and sympathize with those who are unaware of their own prejudices. However, the more that people can broaden their mindsets beyond their current ideologies, beliefs, and biases, the better chance we have toward building a unified world.

The core challenge of diversity lies in reconciling our internal and external realities. While individual mindsets affected by the environments we inhabit. Culture, social climate, government policies, and systems are shifting the way individuals see their place in society. In order to change our mindsets and associations, we need a combination of personal and systemic change. Many may believe that formulas, programs, and training can solve our diversity challenges, but diversity is not quantifiable; it’s intangible. The current analytical framework and mentality is the same that we employ to government policies such as health care, education, and tax reform, and yet we are still nowhere close to solving any of these issues. When we deal with individual feelings, it’s unrealistic to assume we can solve our intangible diversity intricacies with a formula, an ideology, or rules.

Successful diversity is about comfortably connecting to people who are different from us, expanding what we are willing to be open to, and cultivating an inclusive culture in which people feel at ease with being themselves. Diversity does not just entail race and gender, it also includes diversity of perspectives, beliefs, and opinions. While we can stay true to our core beliefs, we must also be able to acknowledge difference of thought without passing harsh judgment or denouncement, no matter how contrary they may be to our own. I don’t believe there is a simple, analytical, or all- encompassing solution to solving diversity. However, we must consider policies and programs that infuse human emotion, behavior, and psychology. We must nurture those elements that connect us, and reduce those that divide us, through leadership, individual growth, and system changes.

I am not black. I am not white. I am not Hispanic or Native American. I come from an Asian culture with a global perspective and see the racial divides that the United States is facing through a unique lens. In the forty-eight years in which I have lived in this country, I have never been more worried about where we are. Although my label may be along the lines of an Asian- American woman, this does not define me. Just like everyone else on this planet, I am far more than my skin color, gender, or label. I am a mother, a wife, a writer, a daughter, a sister, a friend, an executive coach, and a consultant.

As we navigate our unhealthy atmosphere with intensifying ruptures that are tearing our country apart, I hope this book will resonate with those who are concerned about the current social climate, whether they be on the left, the right, or somewhere in the middle.

Adapted, and reprinted with permission from Career Press, an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser LLC, The Essential Diversity Mindset by Soo Bong Peer is available wherever books and ebooks are sold or directly from the publisher at www.redwheelweiser.com or 800–423–7087.

Imprints include Red Wheel, Weiser Books, Career Press, New Page Books & Hampton Roads. Books to live by.