The trouble with global diversity

Emotional Justice

Global diversity. It’s a new entry point that’s gaining ground in international corporations and organizations. It’s a buzz word and term that is popping up across the Continent too. As the focus on Diversity and inclusion faces backlash in the US and the UK, organizations are expanding internationally, and the world of global diversity is new space to enter, flourish, or, indeed fail.

With diversity, the critique has been that too many companies are happy to tweak – make a little change here and there – but studiously avoid making real change. No real progress comes without real change. With global diversity, there is both challenge, and opportunity.

The challenge.  Diversity isn’t particularly global in these international spaces. That’s because true global diversity is about power. And power includes a willingness to be challenged about our worldview.

Worldview is one of the four types of diversity. The other three are: internal, external,  and organizational. Worldview is about how we conceptualize the world differently, and ideally how new experiences shape or change that worldview. Worldviews require we reach beyond who we are and what we know. So much of global diversity is still an American or European export into the Continent, with all its complex, colonial, unhealed history.

Therefore, the trouble with global diversity Is this worldview is rooted in a history of Africa as beggar and the West as benevolent. It is rooted in Africa as needy and ill-equipped, and the West as resource-filled and drowning in expertise.

Global diversity is about cultural monogamy. It is married – and wholly committed to – the danger of the single story as told by Nigerian powerhouse author Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie. That worldview is part of colonialism’s legacy, and feeds a narrative of Africa that shapes this global diversity. Right now, cultural monogamy needs to become about cultural humility. Cultural humility is the gift to global diversity. It’s a term that should replace the term current widely used in diversity, ‘cultural competence’.

Cultural competence isn’t diversity, its imperialism. Its assumptions about becoming fluent in a culture – in this case an African culture – about which there is contempt as taught by colonial history.  I love cultural humility, it’s a term I recently learned from Africa Transitional Justice Legacy Fund Program Manager, Nyamal Tutdeal. Such cultural humility would require some truth-telling that would transform world views and turn global diversity into probability, rather than the illusion it is currently.

What shapes our worldview? Political beliefs, moral compass, outlook on life and philosophy. Each of those things is shaped by a colonial legacy that dominates to protect power-holding by a tiny number of people. And it works. We Africans believe we are indeed the problem needing fixing. Black people globally are being – have been – taught that they are the problem needing fixing. The major challenge is not just that whiteness absolutely believes it, it is that we as global Black people, across the Continent and in the Diaspora do too.

The trouble with this brand of global diversity is it treats Africa and Africans as if we are the problem needing fixing, and that fixing us would resolve everything. This approach makes Blackness a problem, and whiteness, a solution. It is one that is about power, not diversity.  It is one that is about history, and not the future we must build in order to thrive. It is one we too as Africans have swallowed. And it is one that needs challenging, and dismantling.

Now, here’s the thing. Of course, we all can – and should – make change to how we work, how we learn, how we engage in order to grow and thrive. That’s about becoming better humans with and for one another, our communities, our organizations, our nations. The issue with the global diversity worldview is that it limits the work of – and need for – change to those harmed by oppressive systems. That’s an equation that ignores structure. This lack of  structural understanding is one of the missing pieces that makes global diversity…err not global.

To be clear, there may be intellectual and philosophical understanding of the need for structural change. But as I have previously argued, it is our emotional worldview that is shaped by these systems. That worldview clings to this mentality of ‘we – global Black folk – need to be fixed.’ It is a mentality Black and white share, often without realization of its power and presence in our work and world. This mentality maintains global diversity as a cultural monogamy that fails a future that better serves us all. we claim we seek, and indeed need – one where progress doesn’t privilege or profit a tiny number.

The opportunity. We need to grapple with an emotional worldview that intersects individual and institutional identity. That’s crucial for leadership of organizations, and personnel within those organisations in order for global diversity to be more than a buzz word, or an opportunity for European and American organizations to scoop new lucrative contracts on the Continent. It is the combination of institutional and individual change that must occur – and that change is specific, and must be intentional. Without it, global diversity is doomed to follow the failures of national diversity in the West.

Power is about hard change that enables the kind of  transformation enabling an organization to flourish rather than flounder. True global diversity doesn’t privilege and profit a tiny number. Such diversity means that, for example, all male leadership – such as we have in Ghana when it comes to our media houses would welcome women in leadership as an opportunity to transform what happens on the mic, in the newsroom, and on air. Those changes lead to narrative changes. Narrative changes can lead to mindset changes within the audience citizenry. That’s because the audience gets to hear unheard perspectives. It would not just mean token hires, but the kind that come with real support for advancement, for lesson learning, to stretch beyond fear and to make real change. That’s one example.

Another is with global organizations on the Continent – especially the NGO and diplomatic sectors. In the world of NGOs, leadership is often white and connected to how grant funding occurs – especially because the foundations’ leadership is predominantly white too. In the world of diplomacy there is a navigation between two cultures – that of the home nation, and the country setting up its Embassy. Real global diversity honors that these two cultures are fraught due to the complex histories, colonial legacies and lingering narratives about Africa. Here is where the opportunity lies.

Real global diversity is the kind that changes the power structure within an organization, and actively practices cultural humility. It is one that challenges these deeply colonial legacies that still support centering ‘whiteness’, and treating whiteness as if it is savior and civilizer; and Africans as people still in need of saving and civilizing.

Power, whiteness, and worldview. It is the threesome the world of global diversity avoids engaging at all costs.  It is an engagement that would transform global diversity in ways that are truly beneficial for us all.

COVID led to ‘The Great Resignation’ – a mass exodus from the labor market with people abandoning jobs. One of the highest number of those leaving were Black people seeing new opportunity, deserting work environments where they had put up with microaggressions, lack of advancement and glass ceilings. They chose change after the upside down, uncertain terror that was COVID, the murder of George Floyd and the global protests that followed.

This gives global diversity fresh opportunity to do better, to engage in a cultural humility that reckons with a global worldview that is really mono-cultural. This is hard change. It is the kind that is transformative. Global diversity can heed lessons from the failures of a diversity that focused on protecting power for the few, and providing privilege for them too. It can be a game changer, but to become that requires a reckoning with power.

Global diversity means becoming the change we claim.   Are we willing to reckon with power, and an emotional worldview, to make the kind of change that changes structures, benefits us all, and no longer profits the few?

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