I often think that the standard ‘diversity and inclusion’ discourse that floats around companies is a bit superficial. It stops at saying that ‘diversity and inclusion’ is good in itself without exploring a bit further the inclusion of what, or the diversity of what. Are we talking about diversity of ideas and opinions? Or is it race and gender? Or any diversity as long as it is diverse? Similarly, inclusion of what? Everybody? Some not represented bodies, types of people, tribes? Race and gender again?
I could go further in this, surely for many, irritating push back and ask, in the case of exclusion, do we really know why we are excluding? Do we know about the magnets (to include) and the antibodies (to exclude, to reject)?
In the absence of a deeper understanding, the solutions to inclusion are, as it frequently occurs, simply numerical: let’s have more women or black people in leadership positions. Diversity and exclusion ‘solutions’ (professionals, consultants, departments, functions) become then the replacement of empty shelves in the management supermarket.
I have found some fascinating anthropological insights to borrow from Simon Kuper’s article in the Financial Times ‘Barack Obama: anthropologist in chief’. Kuper’s proposition is that Obama’s mother, anthropologist Ann Dunham, may have had significant influence on him, more than it has been written, which as far as his mother is concerned, it is not a lot. Obama may have grown to learn to detach himself from the observed world, as a good anthropologist does. That is why, the Obama anthropologist within does not see the US as ‘exceptional’. In its own words, American exceptionalism is not different from British or Greek exceptionalism, an assertion that irritated many at the time.
The birth certificate saga is interesting. The potential charge is foreignness, not blackness. Race, undeniable factor, may be at least coupled with foreignness. This is how an anthropologist would see it. For ‘detachment’, read no appetite for invading other cultures, and no sense of ‘my culture is superior’ (anti exceptionalism). Kuper also quotes Obama’s reaction to the Charleston mass shooting: ‘You don’t see murder of this kind of scale, this kind of frequency, in any other advanced nation’. ‘He was talking about the US – Kuper says – as just another country, something almost taboo in American political discourse’.
Kuper’s article made me think about how superficial our assessment of inclusion/exclusion, adoption/rejection, in/out often is. The blackness/foreignness is a good analogy and example of how one has to go deeper, beyond the obvious, applying some critical thinking.
If Obama’s magnetism/rejection is more complicated than blackness, I want to go deeper in the understanding of what makes people adopt and reject, include or exclude, count or discard. I am not convinced that the standard narratives of diversity and inclusion consultancies, internal or external to the company, go far enough. It is also a sensitive area in which I have seen many challenges ending in accusations of political incorrectness. Don’t talk about it, say yes, it’s all good, or you will be seen as a dinosaur.
Again, another area where corporate anthropologists could come to the rescue, unless they themselves live in Management Platitude Planet: diversity and exclusion is good for you. Full stop.