Diversity?

The theoretical idea behind diversity in the workplace is that the workforce for any given organization should reflect the race, gender, ethnic group, age, personality, cognitive style, tenure, organizational function, education, background, and other possible differences that makeup of the community in which that organization operates (I found this information on the internet so that I could ensure I covered all the things that are considered important to creating a diverse workplace environment.)  As you can see from this information, trying to ensure your work environment meets diversity requirements is almost impossible since every group has its own understanding of what constitutes diversity.

So, in our efforts to create an environment where diversity in the workplace is lauded as truly the only manner in which a company can successfully operate in today’s global market, we have little programs that remind us to embrace this utopian culture.  The problem is, we forget one very important fact.  You cannot create a program that puts focus on one group without discriminating against another group and thus creating an adverse consequence for the ignored group.  Let me give some quick examples.

? We have a “Take Your Daughter to Work” We even have a “Take Your Pet to Work Day.”  We DO NOT have a “Take Your Son to Work Day.”  The supporters of this say that men have dominated the workforce and therefore a day for our sons is not necessary.  The result?  In the first quarter of 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of men age 16 and over unemployed was 4.6% and the percentage of women age 16 and over unemployed was 4%.  And these figures only cover those who are actively engaged in seeking employment.  Those who are not seeking employment fall through the cracks.  The result, according to Wikipedia, in 2013 there were 213,700 women in local jails or state and federal prisons.  In the same year, there were 2,092,400 men in local jails or state and federal prisons.

? Some schools have created mentoring programs to help teenage girls be successful in school so that they can attend college thus increasing their ability to compete with men in the workplace. The same type of mentoring programs for teenage boys has not been put in place.  The supporters of this say men have always been encouraged to go to college so no programs are needed.  The result?  Today, teenage girls graduating from high school are 33% more likely to attend college then teenage boys who graduate from high school.  Additionally, in 2015, 6.3% of all males 16-24 dropped out of high school while in the same year, 5.4% of all females dropped out of high school.

? Finally, in many companies and in many local, state and federal government agencies, diversity requirements are used to make hiring decisions, therefore, in many cases, we no longer hire the very best people. We hire to meet specific race, gender, ethnic group, age, personality, cognitive style, tenure, organizational function, education, background, and other possible differences.  The result?  Our government agencies have become bureaucratic nightmares, customer service at companies is notoriously rated as poor, products that used to last for 20 to 30 years now fail in 5 years and we feel good that we got “one of the good ones,” and recalls have become so normal that we are no longer alarmed by the lack of quality control.

Now before you start labeling me with all the different insults that are hurled at someone who would dare says we have a problem BECAUSE of diversity, let me reassure you that I believe that diversity in the workplace is important.  As a Marine, both as an enlisted Non-Commissioned Officer and then as a Commissioned Officer, I had a diversity of men and women working for me and treated each as an individual who deserved my very best leadership efforts to help them achieve their goals as a Marine and to be the very best person they could be both in and out of uniform.  If you have followed my articles for any time or read my book, Leadership Matters: Advice from a Career USMC Officer, you will know that I once had a team that consisted of a Vietnam veteran with a bullet still lodged in his back, a Marine with cancer, a Marine charged with murder, a Marine charged with rape, a Marine charged with child molestation, and two Marines charged with selling drugs working for me.  Now, you don’t get more diverse than that.  And, to the surprise of all, I turned them into a functional auditing team that was respected by our Supply Department.

The point of this article is not to denounce diversity, but to see if there are better ways of achieving it so that diversity does not become another one of the many “buzz words” we toss around to make ourselves feel good but nothing ever changes.  So, in my opinion, here’s what we need to do to get back to the basics.

✅ Parents, they are your children so you are responsible for raising them. Teach them respect for others.  Teach them that they, and only they, are responsible for their actions and that there are consequences for not following the rules set down by parents, schools, and society.  Teach them that education IS important.  Teach them to focus on their strengths and to build dreams based on their proven capabilities.  Teach them to set goals and that the hard work that goes into achieving those goals will always pay dividends.  Teach them that failure is not fatal IF you learn from your failures so that you never make the same mistake again.  Teach them how to succeed and contribute to the society in which they live.
✅ Our public schools need to get back to the basics of teaching reading, writing, mathematics, and the sciences. Schools are not a vehicle to build your child’s self-esteem, they are to prepare your child to be successful at the things that will make them productive and capable of supporting themselves in the real world.  Several years ago, my buyer came to me really upset because the local school board was considering a major change for grades one through three.  In the basic math classes, the teacher would now have to give the child full credit for a problem if the child had set up the equation properly even if they did not get the correct answer.  She asked me my thoughts and if I could help her with a solid argument to have them not make this change.  I told her to go to the public meeting and ask this one simple question.  If your doctor prescribes a medication that must be mixed on-site at the pharmacy, do you want your pharmacist to just be able to set up the problem correctly or do you want the pharmacist to also get the right answers so he mixes your prescription correctly?  The school board did not adopt the change.
✅ Our colleges and universities need to stop teaching ‘group think’ and once again become the place where young adults are introduced to new ideas and learn to debate issues respectfully and openly. We should never all agree with each other – that would create a very boring world where no new innovations would come about because we would never have anyone challenging the status quo.  Debate and discussion are critical to helping us accept the differences that make people unique.  So, don’t shut down debate and discussion, encourage it if you want diversity to become acceptable.
✅ Our workplaces need to hire the very best person for the job. You owe that to your fellow employees, you owe that to your bosses, you owe that to your shareholders, and most importantly, you owe that to the very best person.  Excellence should always be our goal and if the first three item I addressed above are in place, you will naturally create a very diverse workplace.  I remember recommending the hiring of an exceptional young woman for a department head position in a job normally associated with a male department head.  When the boss said he could not hire a woman for that job, I gently reminded him that now he would have to hire her because he had now broken the law.  He reluctantly hired her and then bragged later about being insightful enough to “go against the status quo.”
✅ Finally, political leaders, business leaders, educational leaders, military leaders, religious leaders – in other words, everyone who holds a position of leadership – must work with families so that they are raising children ready to face the challenges of the world by getting involved in programs that allow you to mentor both parents and children (An example with be the Big Brothers/Big Sisters programs) – must work with our schools and colleges to create learning environments that reward and encourage excellence instead of creating “cookie cutter” students (Run for the local school board, get involved in the local PTO program, or be an active alumni who demands your college prepare young adults for real world competition) – must seek to surround themselves with the very best people who can be shaped and molded into the leaders of tomorrow who view people as talented assets (Work with your Human Resources Department to clearly define job requirements, responsibilities, and educational needs so that you get the very best candidates).

If we are ever going to get to the point when we do not need to talk about diversity in the workforce, then we need the exceptional leadership that admits we are on the wrong track and begins the process of steering this country back to the fundamentals that naturally bring about excellence at all levels.  Be an exemplary leader and lead the change.

Len Bernat
Len Bernat
LEN is a leader groomed by 20 years of molding and shaping by some of the finest leaders in the United States Marine Corps. Their guidance helped Len realize his full potential as he moved from an enlisted Marine to becoming an Officer of Marines. Len became known for being the leader who could turn any lackluster organization into a strong, functional unit. Upon his retirement, Len worked in several positions before finally starting a second career in governmental procurement. His experience and leadership skills enabled him to be recognized as the 2011 Governmental Procurement Officer of the Year for the Governmental Procurement Association of Georgia and opened doors for him to teach at many of the association’s conferences. Len was also called to the ministry and was ordained at Ashford Memorial Methodist Church in November of 1999. Today, Len is the Pastor of Maxeys Christian Church in Maxeys, Georgia. Len has been married to his wife, Hazel, for 36 years and they have three daughters, three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Grab your copy of Len's new Book – Leadership Matters | Advice From A Career USMC Officer. Using his life experiences as examples, Len takes the eleven principles of leadership and the fourteen traits every leader should possess—which he learned during twenty years in the Marine Corps—and teaches the reader how he was molded and shaped by some of the best leaders the Corps had to offer.

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  1. Just when I thought we had beat the leadership debate to death, you bring up an important new angle. Len, thank you for having the courage to voice a thought on many minds today. Forced diversity is discrimination by another name. As you point out, it is not okay to discriminate against any group, even those who may have enjoyed power or privilege at some point. (Old white men still matter!)

    • Christine – Thank you for adding your thoughts to this very important discussion. As an “old white man,” I did not write this for me. I wrote this for my great-grandson who will be seen as ‘the problem’ because of our country’s past even though he is a great kid and deserves a level playing field. If we just try to create kids who are equipped to succeed in this world through outstanding schools, vocational/trade schools, and colleges, we will soon see the diversity we tried to create come about naturally. Great to get your feedback.

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