While stuck in rush-hour traffic in Omaha the other day, I remembered some advice taught by one of my old gurus. “Whatever you intend to do, you should pave the road wide enough so that everyone is capable of traveling upon it.” The corollary being the implication that a narrow, restricted path may not even be suitable for oneself to walk. As my eyes skimmed over the multi-lane, Interstate highway, westbound traffic was jammed. It looked like the entire world wanted to leave Omaha.
Of course, the guru’s advice was in the form of an allegory, not exclusive advise to highway planners. Naturally, civil engineers would benefit from it too, while drawing up blueprints for highways. The gist of the advice refers to inclusivity. In the worlds of education, commerce, industry, and entertainment, having a “wide road” ensures that people have equal opportunities, equal pay, and are not discriminated against. The “wide road” allows people of diverse backgrounds to work and play as equals. The practice of inclusivity encourages equal participation and advancement for anyone willing to work and strive in their fields of endeavor.
Regardless of whether you are the hiring manager of a company or the person in charge of college admissions, having females, people of color, and LGBT will be of benefit. Any organization that discriminates against minorities will miss out on the hidden talent and motivation that are found in minority populations. The organization with the “wide road” has better odds of beating the competition and serving the public.
There is a world of difference between grudgingly allowing people to participate versus valuing the diversity of anyone willing to work as part of the team. Smart, diverse groups can do amazing things and are able to take on improbable things. People from various backgrounds see challenges from different perspectives so they are able to contribute to strategizing, risk management, discussion, planning, and outcomes. This disproves the notion that claims diversity is a matter of political correctness. In actuality, diversity has been shown as key to growth and productivity.
Despite more general awareness and openness about diversity, the topic remains uncomfortable in many circles because dialogue about less familiar people is often difficult. However, once we get past these mental roadblocks it becomes easier to promote the culture of acceptance and inclusion. Every capable leader has the responsibility to do so. An inclusive dialogue brings about more comfort and less fear about saying the wrong things.
Regardless of corporate environments or social circles, treating people equally, regardless of their background and their roles is important. This is key because we don’t always know who we’re talking to and their past experiences. It’s just sensible to engage people equally on a level playing field.
We shouldn’t need to rehash this subject in this modern day and age. However, there are powerful, voices and organizations that advocate rescinding past gains. Some are laying the groundwork to destroy the “wide road” of inclusivity. They are raising the spectre of restricting voting rights, gender inequality, and reestablishing cultural divides. They feel threatened by the progress society has made during the past several decades. The “us versus them” mentality is a deadend road. It behooves us to remain alert regarding efforts to abridge freedom and liberty for all.
After all, diversity is akin to being invited to attend a party; inclusion is being asked to dance to the music.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes engineer and industrialist, Soichiro Honda. “If you hire only those people you understand, the company will never get people better than you are. Always remember that you often find outstanding people among those you don’t particularly like.”