3 Ideas to Address the Diversity Crisis in 2016

by Sandra Diaz January 12, 2016
January 12, 2016

We end 2015 with multiculturalism in crisis. Just look at the diversity crisis in the headlines: case after case of police vs. young black man, Muslim terrorists vs. ordinary citizens, and another Donald Trump remark. And the commentary on social media, even among my own friends, is strongly polarized in favor of one side.


The issue at stake in our diversity crisis is that strong bias toward one point of view will inevitably lead to less than ideal results. Unfortunately, leading, selling, and living in a multicultural society means working through the real conflict that is created by the diverse and sometimes opposing needs of each of its subsegments. As we know from negotiation theory, adopting a positional approach to achieve one’s goals generally results in a smaller pie than adopting an integrative approach. This means that if we leaders get caught up in the herd mentality, we will not be able to optimize outcomes for our brands or communities.


To aid us in remaining unbiased, here are three ideas to consider as we work through our plans and diversity crisis for 2016:


1. Make diversity everybody’s business. Technology and travel has made it almost impossible for anyone to avoid crossing paths with people that have beliefs and experiences that are different than their own. Therefore, solving for multiple cultural needs in conflict can’t be left to “the experts” or by simply relying on diversity quotas.


In organizations, that means that multiculturalism is not the exclusive domain of a few people with diversity or multicultural titles, or employees from a specific ethnic heritage. In fact, those point people can’t physically be a part of every conversation or process that is impacted by diversity nor do they have the depth of expertise to truly optimize every issue. As all employees across a firm develop their own level of cultural fluency they will be able to create better solutions to win in the marketplace.


2. Avoid “all or nothing” thinking. In this era of information, it is simply unacceptable to say “all police are racist” or “all refugees are dangerous.” We need to insist that the news editors, politicians, and our colleagues define problems based on specific facts, like the percentage of cases in which certain assertions hold true. One of the cardinal rules of productive conflict is to avoid the words “always” and “never.”


Similarly, we must avoid defining cultural groups using a one-dimensional approach when marketing. For example, for many the fact that “most Hispanic Millennials speak English” usually leads to the conclusion “we do not need targeted marketing to engage them.” Rather than defining Hispanics based on language, we must look at Hispanics’ experience with the product or service category and awareness levels versus other targets to determine whether a focused effort (even in English!) is needed.


3. Address cultural conflict with big data strategies. To best serve people, governments and brands must make optimal decisions that take into account not only the different needs across groups but also conflicting interests inside one person. Analytics models could be of great help on this front, though their application to the public policy arena is debatable. For example, some cringe at the idea of using a religious test or other predictive data to identify Syrian refugees that can be safely welcomed to the U.S. However, I do not think we are better off closing doors to all of them based on the threat of terror


In business, though experts predict that big data strategies will be a main vehicle for driving growth in 2016, leveraging data for targeting and personalization is tied to available data assets and specific hypotheses. Unfortunately, most brands currently ignore cultural, racial, and other diversity variables in modeling assuming they can’t be easily addressed tactically. My experience is the contrary though embedding cultural needs upfront in status quo processes does require an initial resource investment.


Let’s make it our New Year resolution for 2016 to proactively encourage broader thinking among our colleagues and friends. Avoiding a diversity crisis and the conflict generated by multiculturalism is not an option and attacking those who are not exactly like us is costly. As we seek integrative solutions to meeting diverse needs we will see more social and economic wins than losses.


Do you have any other ideas on how to best address the current diversity crisis?

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