The Future of Diversity and Inclusion Work

My hope is to help diversity and inclusion work continue to evolve.  I think that our understanding of and approach to this work has not changed much in the past 30+ years.  Some of the issues have changed and some of our tactics have changed, but I do not think there has been much evolution in the guiding principles, logic and practices of this work.

We have no shortage of passion in this work.  We are certainly blessed in that way.  I am always amazed by the heart and soul that people bring to this work, the personal stories and differing perspectives.  Despite the passion, I see us as a profession stuck in neutral.  Incremental progress continues to be made for sure, but (not unlike other disciplines such as HR, education, and management) there is great and transformational change all around us…leaving us behind.

I think that we need desperately to start having some new conversations.

This is conference season and I have been and will continue to be on the road.  I am at a diversity conference right now and will be at another conference tomorrow.   I cannot help but notice that there is little conversation about what is next…there is little conversation about where we go from here…there is little conversation about the future of this work.  So, my next several posts are going to focus on this, and specifically the following issues.  Would love to hear from you as well as I work through these topics.

social media

Everyone on the planet is talking about social media, except for diversity and inclusion practitioners.  This is reckless at best.  Not only are we being left out …there might not be a discipline that social media is more ideally suited for than diversity and inclusion work.  Social media is uniquely applicable to every single aspect of D&I work.

understanding of human behavior / human nature

We still spend waaaaaay too much time talking about intentions. We still approach this set of issues as if it is about whether you have the right intentions or not, whether you are a good person or not.  It is far more complex than that.  After all, it is human beings that we are talking about.  The fields of social psychology, social cognition and neuroscience have produced powerful new insights regarding human nature, how we make decisions  about each other, and some of the underlying principles that guide our behavior…regardless of what our intentions are. Unfortunately, very little of this has found its way into diversity and inclusion work in an actionable way…or for that matter HR work or how we develop and support managers.

relational competencies / conflict management

Unfortunately, we have not helped people learn how to work together…we have taught them how to not offend each other.  I am not interested in politically correct workplaces or workplaces that are appropriately “sensitive” or “tolerant;” I am very interested in honest, courageous, and authentic workplaces with highly engaged employees.  This means that we are going to step on toes from time to time.  This means that we will make some mistakes and be hurt or hurt others in our interactions.  We have to be able to deal with that, not avoid it.

new way of work

Much has changed and much continues to change about how, when and where we do business.  Whether you work in the for-profit world, do not for profit work, work in education or government change is all around you.  Seemingly endless change related to technology, the global market place, changes in the employer-employee relationship, the changing demographics of the workforce and the consumer population, a lot of things are changing.  We must stay on top of this, so that we understand the evolving significance of diversity in a constantly evolving business environment.

new way of leadership

Because so much has changed about how we do work, there is also a growing need for a new way of leadership.  In many ways, we still approach “management” and “leadership” in much the same way as we did 50 years ago.  As this conversation unfolds about what a new way of leadership looks like, are we as diversity and inclusion practitioners contributing?  Are we writing, thinking, talking about what leadership means from the perspective of diversity and inclusion?  As some good friends recently clarified for me, diversity and inclusion is the platform, leadership is the plug-in…not the other way around.

language & logic + multi-dimensionality

Personally, I am not a big fan of standards.  There is a growing conversation about standards for diversity and inclusion work, and I do understand the argument.  As a full-time freak flag flier, standards are the kind of thing that make me a little scratchy.  I think that the lack of consistency and uniformity regarding diversity and inclusion work is one of its great strengths…though I also understand that it is a great weakness as well.  Whether we do put standards and certifications in place or not, I do think that clarity and consistency of language is incredibly important.  It is important for us as practitioners and it is important for the folks in our organizations that we are trying to bring on board.

diffusion of involvement & leadership

If we truly want to put ourselves out of business, we have to be working towards making sure that regardless or role, department or level within the organization everyone is an advocate for diversity and inclusion.  How do we do that?  How do we make this set of issues a part of the platform (rather than the plug-in or the app.) for marketing, for finance, for training and development, for security, etc.?

  1. Tweets that mention Joe Gerstandt | Keynote Speaker & Workshop Facilitator | Illuminating the value of difference --

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  2. Andrew S. Dungan


    I am wondering what opportunities there are for experiential learning in the area of I&D?

    For those that still work in homogeneous work areas (I am speaking ethnically) or that live in homogeneous living area such as I grew up in (rural Nebraska), there is a huge need for immersion, ie. experiential learning opportunities.

    Speaking to individuals and teaching concepts are at one level, trying to get individuals to wrap their minds about the many layers of D&I is another level, but getting an individual to really BEGIN to believe it and live it is a whole other step all together. For this to occur I think it takes immersion and a genuine experience of “otherness.”

    I don’t like doing this, but I will give a plug for Desert Ministries for a moment because we recognized this. We recognized that simply TEACHING CONCEPTS to our volunteers probably wasn’t going to help them become adequate volunteers or assets for those working inside of long-term care facilities.

    Furthermore, we also recognized that the individuals that were donating to Desert Ministries were those with a “little skin” in it: these had been hit smack dab in the face by the reality of long-term care. They had a friend or a family member in it and they had experienced it. Therefore, when these recognized what Desert Ministries had been doing for so many years, they gained a deep respect for us and began either starting volunteering or began donating.

    I wanted to tell you about these two examples because they have taught be a valuable lesson. Both of these examples have taught me that EXPERIENCE is essential if we are going to help individuals envelop anything new; whether a new concept, a person of a different nationality, etc.

    I remember back to one of your previous posts where you were talking about the guy that wanted to burn all of those Qu’rans. I remember how you felt this fight inside of yourself. You were angry, yet you knew that you had to let it go otherwise you were no better than him.

    Truth is, we all have demons and the sooner we come face-to-face with those demons the better. Essentially, Joe, there are a ton of people out there in this world that need to confront those demons, including myself. And that confrontation has to occur each and every day.

    The question is: how do we immerse individuals in such a way that they are confronted with those demons? Because talking about it helps, but having an experience and then talking about ourselves and our demons would be whole lot more powerful and a whole lot more healing.

    Wouldn’t it?

    I appreciate very much the battle that you wage.
    Wage on!

  3. Joe Gerstandt | Keynote Speaker & Workshop Facilitator | Illuminating the value of difference

    […] to making sure that this work is an integral part of what we do to architect the future.  In my last post, I mentioned some of what I see to be key trends regarding the future of diversity and inclusion […]

  4. Joe Gerstandt

    Great thoughts Andrew, thanks for taking the time to read the post and share your perspective and your questions. I think that you speak to one of the very challenging aspects of this work…there tends to be a gap between what we say and what we do, and it can be hard to help folks pay attention to that gap. Sometimes it is hard to even acknowledge that the gap exists.

    This work that we do is at its very core activist. Our intentions are meaningless if they are not informing action. I think that if you are not facing your fears and wrestling with discomfort, you are probably not actually doing anything. So, I agree. Honesty, courage, accountability, advocacy are all really, really hard things…which is why they are really quite rare.

    I guess we have to do our very best to lead by example, we have to share those stories and we have to support others in stepping out of their comfort zones which are likely different than our own. We are just a big sloppy work in progress, am I right?

  5. Joe Gerstandt | Keynote Speaker & Workshop Facilitator | Illuminating the value of difference

    […] started considering the future of this work in a recent post and identified seven conversations that are critical to the future of D&I work, conversations […]

  6. Uxio Malvido

    Hi Joe,
    Thank you very much for this great post. I’m really thrilled to find you and see there is some people out there questioning what we do in the area of Diversity and Inclusion.

    I just attended a conference in Washington DC and was a bit dissapointed of how much familiar all the topics seemed to be. There were great speakers but the approach, the key topics, the key messages sounded kind of already heard.

    I do think we need to reinvent this field, reflect and act on the topics you mentioned, assess effectiveness and efficiency of our tactics, and also rethink our relationship with other organizational areas like HR or Corporate Responsibility.

    Glad to join the conversation!

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