Why Diversity Isn’t the “New Black,” but the “New Mosaic"
The numbers don’t lie. Today’s U.S. demographics, and the country, are changing. In brief, the U.S. population is getting browner. In fact, most Americans under the age of 18 will be “minorities” of one kind or another within the next 10 – 20 years and will become even more diverse.
But what exactly does this mean?
Brookings Institution demographer and Diversity Explosion author William Frey is a good source to lead us to a clear, propaganda-free understanding of what diversity is. (1)
He describes diversity as “the decline—in both population and vitality—of America’s European-descended population, and its replacement by more recently arrived population groups from everywhere in the non-European world.” This concept has been described as “the browning of America.”
Another emerging adjective is “majority-minority” nation, which means a population in which more than half represent social, ethnic, or racial minorities, and in which fewer members of the more socially, politically, or financially dominant group are represented.
Whichever catch phrase you prefer, today’s changing demographics and all of its complexities will soon lead us to a deeper appreciation of its advantages.
In many circles, including ours at the Community College of Denver (CCD), we view this phenomenon more like President Obama who said, “We believe our diversity, our differences, when joined together by a common set of ideals, makes us stronger, makes us more creative, makes us different.”
But this is just one outcome.
Embracing this change in demographics and incorporating more inclusive practices in our places of work, schools, worship, and social circles is also good for business. Diversity and inclusion leads to more innovation, more opportunities for all, better access to talent, and better business performance.
Studies have shown that companies embracing diversity gain higher market share and a competitive edge in accessing new markets. In fact, according to CEOs worldwide, 85 percent not only have a formal diversity and inclusiveness strategy, but also they say it has improved their bottom line. (2)
To be sure, organizations that do not manage diversity properly get left behind. Today, workplace equality is crucial for businesses, governments, society, and the vital talent that they strategically employ for their future success. So, workplaces that don’t focus on diversity aren’t just at risk of being out of date, they already are. (2)
But best of all, the benefits of inclusivity as an expression of diversity in every aspect of our lives teaches us to live more fully.
It teaches us that aside from the corporate ledgers and political maneuvering, we now have an opportunity to think about and experience what it means to eat dishes from other cultures, explore new musical genres, and incorporate the culture, values and intellect of the U.S. into a new mosaic that honors everyone’s sense of who they are, from first nation descendants to the most recent arrivals.
This is why as Community College of Denver president I view diversity and inclusion as co-ingredients to performance success. There is another aspect of diversity and inclusion that we take completely to heart. Because our student population is made up of a myriad of ethnic populations and cultural backgrounds from 23 countries around the world, we actively seek out and celebrate our shared differences and similarities. We discourage international students from “Americanizing” their names because we live in order to communicate our acknowledgement that family names and given names matter and need not be discounted or simplified to suit American tastes.
Over a century ago, many a European immigrant found his or her name shortened or completely changed as they made their way through Ellis Island’s gateway to America. Others changed their names voluntarily to presumably integrate more smoothly into the teeming melting pot of the United States in the 20th century. Those days are no more and we at CCD have the intellect and the sensibility to meet and greet every student, faculty member and staffer by his or her name without abbreviating or changing it.
The images students see on campus matter too. Although I am African American and have a wonderful piece of painting by a young African American artist in my office, I also have a of Diego Rivera print and a hand painted print of pear in bloom international students from the University of Jinan made for me during a visit to our sister institution in China two years ago. Throughout our campus, students see images that reflect a mosaic of cultures, people and places.
This is critical because our mission is to nurture, prepare and place a qualified, diverse workforce for today’s economy. What better place to start than educating, empowering and employing individuals in an atmosphere that honors their differences, as well as their similarities?
But this does not mean that embracing diversity is always easy. That is why we all need to show leadership in these areas and hold ourselves to account.
As president of one of this nation’s prestigious post-secondary institutions, I pledge to lead the charge here. And I am confident we will all continue to break new ground and blaze the trail for others to follow.
(1) Caldwell, Christopher. “The Browning of America". Claremont Institute/The Claremont Review of Books. March 9, 2015: Online Article
(2) Nally, Dennis. "Five reasons why diversity and inclusion matter to every business – and every employee." PWC. June 15, 2015: Online Article