The past several decades have displayed a focus on diversity in the workplace throughout the corporate environment. Questions remain: has the effort been at all impactful – or, due to its symbolic nature, has it only been a distraction? What behaviors would have been better emphasized to achieve full participation and opportunity by all actors in a firm?
Considerable research has revealed that attempts at diversity are clumsy at best; and spurious at worst. [i] The challenge for firms has been to develop a “business case” for why those contributing groups represented by women and people of color should be promoted to levels of leadership within the corporate environment. The unfortunate result, after decades of trial and error, are policies designed to tighten the grip of white males on business through the creation of artificial glass ceilings beyond which only a few from the affected groups can reach, with a tenuous hold. Cutting-edge research on symbols and symptoms tells us that the refusal to examine in totality the history of discrimination and racism allow us to perpetuate a mythology that prohibits any real growth. [ii] That mythology, of white male supremacy, is enhanced through impotent diversity programs replicated throughout corporate America.
Race remains one of the most hotly controversial and highly complex issues in our society. In American society, race is politically and socially defined. Race has been used to reinforce already powerful groups, while weakening those groups with less power; prior to and even into the twentieth century, race determined a woman’s political rights and social status. [iii]
Traditional approaches to diversity learning are remarkable in their consistent gaps when it comes to addressing historical inequities as an avenue to understanding future opportunities for business when inclusion is emphasized. The current environment of changing demographics, not only domestically but globally, requires, indeed deserves, a more focused approach to addressing this multicultural landscape as the majority/minority language takes on a different shape. This case provides the background and substance to educate the reader in that regard.
This case examines the implementation of symptomatic thinking in a corporate environment with an aim towards encouraging authentic leadership in a world of changing demographics. The point of view is that of a primary protagonist, an African-American woman, and the venue is a major commercial and investment bank based in the United States. For the purposes of confidentiality, all names are changed.
[i] See Caryn J. Block, Sandy M. Koch, Benjamin E. Liberman, Tarani J. Merriweather, and Loriann Roberson, Contending with Stereotype Threat at Work: A Model of Long-Term Responses, The Counseling Psychologist, 39(4) 570-600, (2011).
[ii] Edgar J. Ridley, The Golden Apple: Changing the Structure of Civilization – Volume 1 (Africa World Press), 2008, 105..
[iii] Ella L.J. Edmondson Bell and Stella M. Nkomo, Our Separate Ways: Black and White Women and the Struggle for Professional Identity, Harvard Business School Press, (2001), p. 17.
RIDLEY, LINDA L., "Symptomatic Leadership: The Impact of Changing Demographics on Global Business" (2016). CUNY Academic Works.
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