Diversity and Being Less Exclusionary

Diversity programs are really hard to do well. An awful lot of them are done in a manner that evokes that saying about "Going to war to preserve the peace..." AKA you can't get there from here.

Most diversity programs basically don't do anything to cure the systemic issues that are the real problem. Instead, they tend to operate on the assumption that you can just make a lot of noise about wanting to invite a broader audience and claim they are welcome while you do the same awful stuff that's always been actively problematic for some people, which is the real reason such people are underrepresented.

The way to improve diversity is to identify the actual barriers to participation for some demographics and remove those barriers. It has been my observation that when you actually achieve that, people will flood in and you are left with a new problem: Trying to catch the deluge in a paper cup.

One example of this being done somewhat successfully is The Rooney Rule. In short, the NFL identified a particular step in the hiring process as a bottleneck and they made a rule to address that pain point.

It had a fairly big impact on staff diversity for a few years. However, that diversity has not persisted, which suggests there may be other issues that need to be addressed to really resolve this issue.

You also need to handle things delicately, discreetly and respectfully and not make people of the target demographic feel like zoo animals that are being gawked at. This comment on Hacker News gives a nice run down on what that looks and feels like on the receiving end. (The article under discussion is also surprisingly good.)

It is generally counterproductive to say something like "We need more women" or "We need more people of color" and then target those folks directly. It tends to go weird places and have poor outcomes.

It is generally much better to figure out how to remove barriers and be less exclusionary. One way to do that is to be thoughtful about how you handle language.

In a nutshell, you should use neutral language that is as general as possible while still being accurate for what you are trying to communicate (such as "people" rather than "men and women"). But you will also need to educate yourself about certain topics pertinent to the demographics in question and figure out what kind of language works for the people you are addressing.

There are no shortcuts here. In order to be culturally sensitive to people of various ethnicities, etc., you need to educate yourself to some degree about their lives, their language, their culture, etc.

I recently watched the following video because I'm doing a project about my home state of Georgia. This video really tickles me for various reasons and I've watched it repeatedly.

Southern Grandmas Know Everyone

I'm including it here because they are trying to gather information on a man who has a date coming up with a friend of theirs. The friend is male and there is no point at which anyone comments on the fact that it is two men going on a date and it doesn't play to any of the usual LGBTQ stereotypes.

It is treated like a normal relationship in myriad subtle ways, starting with going through normal courtship phases of chatting each other up, getting to know each other a bit and now they have a date. The final scene implicitly assumes that the goal is to find someone who is "marriageable material."

That is what you need to be shooting for. If you don't know how to treat the underrepresented demographic as "normal people" while also being sensitive to their particular issues, you need to work on that or find someone who can.

Ultimately, doing diversity well is dependent on having someone in the program who is comfortable with various demographics and capable of being diplomatic and respectful to people. Without real respect, the rest is just window dressing and won't do much to move the numbers in the long run.

If you are doing economic development, you need to be sensitive to the needs of poor people who are trying to improve their lives.

This was an issue I ran into in my small town: I was probably the poorest person in the room at economic development meetings and rather than seeing me as their target audience and trying to help me achieve my financial goals and improve my income, I was treated like an unwelcome outsider who was never going to be taken seriously or get any respect.

This should have been exactly where I could go to network, show off my skills and impress people with them in spite of how I was dressed and get some help with some things that were a barrier to my success. But that's not at all how that went.

If you are comfortably well off, you may need to get over being judgy about how people dress. You may want to help them access programs that will help them dress appropriately for job interviews or similar, but YOU shouldn't be one of the people for whom they need to "dress to impress."

The poorest members of your community will need help establishing a better income so they can afford to "dress to impress." If people need to already have the money and knowledge to pull that off in order to participate, you are de facto excluding the people who most need your help.

If they are having trouble physically showing up for certain things, you need to figure out why that is. If they do not own a car and are walking or dependent on public transit, you need to take that into consideration when planning when and where to hold meetings and consider providing transportation if you need the meeting to be at a particular time and place for some reason.

The internet can be a huge boon to making programs accessible any time of the day or night without any need to dress for the occasion or physically show up. If you have limited resources, make sure you are leveraging them with wise use of the internet as a means to do outreach, distribute information, etc.

When done well, this can be especially valuable for not only poor people but other marginalized populations. The internet can be used to reduce barriers to participation for a variety of demographics, such as handicapped individuals, single moms and seniors.

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