Independent Thinking Blog

Diversity Isn’t a Rainbow Coalition

The #OscarsSoWhite discussion once again put the topic of diversity front and center.

The focus of the Oscars was on the nominations. However, as The Guardian pointed out, “it is not the Academy that is cheating minorities, it is the film industry itself.” The Economist stressed that this year’s slate of white nominees wasn’t “a statistical glitch.” The editors write:

These years are far from the first whitewashing in Oscars history: no actors from ethnic minorities were nominated in 1995 or 1997, or in an extraordinary streak between 1975 and 1980. Throughout the 20th century, 95 percent of Oscar nominations went to white film stars. It is an embarrassing anachronism that the prevalence of white Academy electors has been allowed to continue into the 21st century, a trend that the Academy’s (black) president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, has vowed to end.

It’s a systemic problem.

The film industry’s “white people problem” makes it easy to tag diversity to racial makeup. Sometimes (as in this case) it clearly is a big issue. But having a check-the-box approach to addressing diversity often misses the point.

Lands’ End has a different kind of diversity problem.

Lands' End has a Diversity Problem

Case in point: Lands’ End.

You might have heard that the Wisconsin-based retailer decided to feature Gloria Steinem in its latest catalog. I’m all for women’s rights, but couldn’t they have found someone less polarizing?

Predictably, the faux outrage was immediate.

Predictably, Lands’ End backed down almost immediately, apologized, and pulled all mentions of her from its site. As the Chicago Tribune wrote, Sorry About That Whole Gloria Steinem, Women-are-Equal Thing.

Predictably. Except at Lands’ End. Who was in the room when they decided, “Let’s feature Gloria Steinem. Great idea!”?

The decision makers at Lands’ End clearly didn’t understand that they are not their customers. Nor did they have enough diversity among them to question their own filters and biases.

Avoid the diversity trap.

I’m not an expert in workplace diversity and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I can tell you that it’s not enough to “look like” America or assemble a rainbow coalition in your office. You could check off every box, but it’s still not enough if everyone you hire comes from an Ivy League school or is a political liberal (or political conservative) or grew up in a small Midwest town. Unless that’s your audience — and your only audience in perpetuity — your business will likely suffer from missed opportunities. And that’s if you’re lucky.

Photo by Nicki Dugan Pogue (Flickr).

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