When looking at metrics to support training for communicating to people from different countries, it’s easy. There’s a very clear cut set of rules. You learn specific customs (e.g. don’t show the bottom of your shoe when sitting with legs crossed in Pakistan, exchange business cards with two hands in Japan, etc.); you go to the country, do your business and come home. For anyone involved in or hoping to get involved in international trade, the concrete benefit of intercultural training is obvious: more money from international sales.
With ‘intra-cultural’ communication, or what’s thought of as Diversity Training, however, it’s more complex. It’s less about learning a set of habits or customs and more about sensitivity and understanding power structures-it’s not just about how to communicate with people who might be of different race, ethnicity, orientation, ability or other ‘line of difference,’ it’s about how to identify unconscious biases and to work toward fair hiring and promotion practices.
While Diversity Training continues to be a multibillion dollar industry, studies abound on both sides as to its effectiveness, depending on the companies studied and metrics used. Is it measured by the amount of loss that was avoided by complying with legal requirements? Is it measured by the total dollars or percentage of total dollars spent on minority suppliers? Is it measured by statistics on minority advancement? By only tying diversity outcomes to the bottom line of the company, however, ultimately there’s no change in the paradigm of the power structure.
Which leads to the question, where is the intersection of measuring diversity as relates to the bottom-line, and embracing diversity in the sense of social justice such as anti-prejudice or anti-racism?
The arts have long worked to define business metrics to attract support and funding. There’s the value of cultural tourism, tangible dollars spent on tickets and admissions, and a newer idea of cultural capital…that it benefits business to establish itself in a city with a thriving cultural community, as a means to attract the best talent.
In the area of diversity, however, it would behoove us to look beyond the bottom line, or to cast a broader net to define the value. Jon Stewart and Daily Show correspondent Larry Wilmore jested that with the election of Barak Obama to the presidency, racism as we know it is over in the United States. Yet just 15 minutes later, on the Colbert Report, guest Kevin Johnson, former NBA star and new Mayor Elect of Sacramento, cited high school graduation rates across the US (available also from the Manhattan Institute) at only 70% overall, and the graduation rate for African Americans and Hispanics hovered at only 50%.
For diversity ultimately to work, there needs to be systemic change, and for dramatic systemic change, it needs to come from the bottom up as well as the top down. For that to happen, inclusion needs to move beyond isolated management training to include staff at all levels, and institutions need to reach beyond their walls and into community.
So whether you are employee or executive, offer to set up education and mentoring programs with schools under the program title “Diversifying Our Future Workforce.” Volunteer at a nearby community organization, or set up on-site job-shadow days, defined in business terms as connecting with your customers. In the world of fitness, the saying is that it takes about three weeks of action to form a habit. Why not form a habit of promoting diversity and social justice with your every day habits to promote an inclusive workplace?