After Election, Diversity Trainers Face A New Version Of ‘Us Versus Them’ : NPR

Interesting story on how some US diversity consultants are assessing the impact of the election:

[Dorcas] Lind is a diversity consultant in the health care industry. It’s her job to go into companies and help them create inclusive environments for their employees.

For consultants like Lind, the election’s polarizing nature, which especially divided the nation on issues of race, is two-fold. While it means some of their business will almost certainly boom, a new set of challenges emerges for the professional peacemakers. Now, they say, they have to work harder to tamp down heightened feelings of us versus them; they have to hear the concerns of people usually thought of as privileged; and they have to navigate a language minefield where the wrong word can ignite conflict.

Studying the maps of how people voted, Lind was disturbed by the stretch of red in her district, a New Jersey suburb, which she said had once been celebrated for its diversity. Like many others in the business, Lind equated a vote for Trump with a vote for intolerance.

“I thought that my whole career had blown up in front of me,” said Lind, who has worked in the field for more than two decades and is founder and president of Diversity Health Communications. “I felt so absolutely overwhelmed with the depth of how much work had to be done. And on the other hand, I felt like I didn’t even want to do the work. … Given the results and how the map looked, I felt my work would be futile.”

“There’s a whole toolkit of language we need to create [in order] to talk about this polarization,” Lind said. “It’s those who voted for Trump or support Trump — and everyone else. And that’s a really difficult dichotomy to address.”

Luby Ismail is the head of Connecting Cultures, a diversity consulting business in the Washington, D.C., area. She said one of her biggest tasks is to break down any feelings that people are on warring sides. Ismail, who’s an Egyptian-American Muslim, has worked with companies including The Walt Disney Co., Nike Inc. and Sodexo to lead sessions that help employees better understand Arab-Americans and American Muslims.

The Department of Justice uses one of Ismail’s training videos on identifying anti-Muslim bias as part of its cultural competence curriculum. She’s updating the DOJ training now, but she said she’s not sure what will come of it after Inauguration Day.

That “us-versus-them” sentiment Ismail mentioned is particularly tough to manage now. Doug Harris heads The Kaleidoscope Group, a diversity company in Chicago. He said that he has to help people of color deal with “historical garbage” — he means racism — while also helping white people who, he learned during this campaign, feel strongly that they’re “out of the power base.”

Usually, Harris uses an exercise he calls “insiders and outsiders” to get people to self-reflect. In this exercise, employees list who might feel like outsiders in the company. Maybe it’s new workers or people at lower levels or people who have English as a second language or introverts, Harris said. Inevitably, the list turns to women and people of color.

White people as a group, and particularly men, don’t typically make that list. But the presidential campaign, Harris said, unearthed the strong sentiment among white people that “they don’t feel like the lead group that’s been privileged, and if you look at their lives, they’re not.”

Those who do diversity, he said, have a responsibility to address everyone’s concerns. “It’s not about a special effort toward white men,” he said. “That’s not the effort I’m talking about. It’s more-so that … if you honor everybody’s challenges, they’re more likely to own their privileges.”

Lind adds an amendment to that thought, one that underscores the tension diversity consultants, like the rest of the country, are tasked with resolving. Longstanding racial discord, fueled by the “historical garbage” Harris mentioned, collides with the idea of honoring everybody’s challenges when some of those challenges spring from racial ignorance and racism. Thinking of all challenges as equal, she said, is a problem.

“I think the backlash we’re seeing is people who work in the diversity space — and also civil rights folks in general — are saying, ‘We are not going to be inclusive of ideas and values that are explicitly detrimental and harmful,’ ” Lind said. “Because the rhetoric is, ‘One side has lost, one side has won, and everybody needs to get together and move forward for all Americans in the country.’ ”

Walking that line of competing interests is made even tougher by the language of diversity, including the word diversity itself. Leah P. Hollis, president of Patricia Berkly LLC in Philadelphia, said she actively avoids language that might be polarizing so she can keep everyone in the conversation. After all, in a swing state like Pennsylvania, where nearly 6 million people voted and Trump won by fewer than 70,000 votes, she has to assume that half of the employees she’ll be working with voted for Trump, half for Clinton. So figuring out what tone to strike is important.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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