The Shame of Diversity

Что такое гашиш: как делают, состав Diversity training is a problem, not a solution.  Don’t think so? You’re going to have to take it up with three highly-qualified researchers. Alexandra Kalev (UC Berkeley), Frank Dobbin (Harvard University) and Erin Kelly (University of Minnesota) recently published their 2013 findings: Diversity training does more to emphasize differences than to bring people together. It identifies people by categories and groups. It focuses on their labels rather than their humanity. It neither eliminates prejudice nor reduces biases. Diversity training serves to emphasize them. “Those people are gay.” “Those people are women.” “Those people are black.” “Those people are Muslim.” “Those people” are defined, labeled, and identified by the very categories we are asked to forget!

Don’t think of a white horse.

Peter Bregman of the Harvard Business Review advises that we “Stop training people to be more accepting of diversity… Instead, train them to do their work with a diverse set of individuals. Not categories of people. People.” And I agree. He suggests that we appreciate people as people, not as parts of a category. Bregman’s perspective breathes fresh air into the difficult problem of building diversity in the workplace. But Mr. Bregman doesn’t go far enough.

His solution misses the one motivator that can move people to act appropriately. As the maxim goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Why? Because the horse needs an internal motivator. You can lead the horse to water, but that’s not enough.

The horse must be thirsty.

So how do we make our employees thirsty? Not through diversity training. And you’re not going to like the answer.

It’s shame.

“Treat others as you’d like to be treated.” It’s the Golden Rule. But without shame, it’s only a maxim, a mechanism. It’s only leading the horse to water. To fully appreciate prejudice and desire a remedy, one must know how it feels to be rejected, criticized without warrant, or to have one’s own self-esteem crushed by another. Then he/she truly appreciates the deep, seeping wounds of prejudice.

When one can empathize with the plight of others, the Golden Rule takes on deep meaning.

Experiencing directly or vicariously the pain of prejudice, people are better equipped to empathize with others who endure it. Empathy is a significant goal in building diversity in the workplace. And empathy reaches an apex when it comes as a result of shame.

No one should live in a state of shame. Nor should people ever be shamed into any behavior. But like touching a hot stove, our intrinsic recoil from shame should be enough to keep us from doing it again.

Diversity training is too frequently mandated by administrators, or implemented simply to avoid lawsuits. But as our researchers have discovered, this can make things worse. Raising awareness of how prejudices hurt both the giver and the receiver builds acceptance of diversity from the inside out.


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4 Responses to The Shame of Diversity

  1. Kelly Vandever says:

    Interesting perspective Jeffrey. Are you advocating for a “shame” experiment in the workplace to replace diversity training and help make a point?

    • Jeffrey Tobin says:

      Kelly, Thanks for writing. Shame is a powerful, and often incapacitating, emotion. Certainly I’d never try a shame “experiment” in the workplace, but I don’t think that’s where you’re going with your question. Recognizing prejudice, and associating it with our own feelings of shame can be a powerful deterrent to prejudice. The challenge is in connecting the two. I am working on a workshop on this topic, but here are a couple of thoughts that may help to connect the two.

      1. Have an individual write down some occasions in her life when she felt shame. The trigger for the shame is not as important as identifying the feelings and emotions she felt at the time
      2. Walk her through those feelings in order to bring them toward the surface
      3. Watch a movie, or a longer segment of a movie, or use a book or anecdotes which deal with prejudice and shame. (I plan to do some more research on this to create a resource for people)
      4. Discuss the actions of the person who acted with prejudice, and the resultant feelings of hurt (not anger) on the part of the person upon whom the prejudice was projected
      5. Finally, associate the feelings of her past shameful experience(s) with the feelings of the person who was hurt (above)

      This is early in my thinking process for a workshop, and ideas are certainly welcome here. Shame can be a dangerous place to dig, yet it has so many lessons to teach.

  2. Jonathan Roberts says:

    Good article Jeff, cuts through the fat of quotas and affirmative action. Remember

    • Jeffrey Tobin says:

      Jonathan, it is a complicated topic full of political, socioeconomic, religious and many other divisive potholes. Quotas and affirmative action may well be a part of the problem not because of their intent, but because of their mandates. Dobbins, Kalev and Kelly note that mandated actions tend to make diversity issues worse. My perspective is to spark an internal drive that will reduce friction and increase appreciation of others. Some of this must come from 1) increasing one’s self-awareness of personal biases, worldviews, experiences, even language that can be perceived by others as prejudice, and 2) associating with this personal feelings of shame for having done so.

      The song in your link, “People Are People” by Depeche Mode has some intriguing lyrics. i found the following to be most appropriate:

      “I’m relying on your common decency
      So far it hasn’t surfaced
      But I’m sure it exists
      It just takes a while to travel
      From your head to your fist”

      I have a preference for the word “heart” rather than “head,” in the last line, but the sentiment is true.

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