Diversity and inclusion is an evolving field. As a learner and practitioner, I work to embrace the expanding definitions while respecting the importance of the historic diversity topics of race and gender.
How we approach conversations about difference can determine how we embrace new definitions of identity, and the “agility” needed to learn, grow, and support all people in organizations.
Multiracial people are one of the fastest growing groups in the United States. As Andrea Williams mentioned in her article about multiracial students in the April/May 2012 issue of INSIGHT Into Diversity, “the 2010 Census marked the second time in the survey’s history that responders were allowed to check more than one box regarding their race; the first was in 2000. And as a result, demographers now have access to data that allows for comprehensive comparison and charting of the mixed race population. The results are remarkable: from 2000 to 2010, the number of multiracial American children – who will soon be attending colleges and universities across the country – rose by almost 50%, to 4.2 million.
The changing demographics have inspired people to create language like “the multicultural generation” and “ethnically ambiguous,” among others. Williams’ article presents some important reflection about creating schools and universities that support multiracial students.
Not-for-profit organizations and corporations will also need to update their language, understanding, and awareness to include multiracial employees, and employees with multiracial families.
A June 2012 Fast Company article talked about the importance of “cultural agility.” They defined “cultural agility” as “the capacity to recognize, understand, and respond appropriately to various cultures, and to work within those cultures to achieve business results.” The language of “agility” is also highlighted in the Center for Creative Leadership’s recent newsletter. They talk about flexibility and agility as a key to leadership. Agility is an important part of the learning and awareness in diversity and inclusion. Multiracial identity is not new, nor is the presence of multiracial families in our organizations.
There is a global history of multiracial people. There is a substantial scholarship focusing on the role of multiracial people in our history, media, etc. What we have not seen at the same level is the inclusion of multiracial people in diversity and inclusion dialogues and programs. As a multiracial global diversity and inclusion practitioner and coach, I have learned that, as with all diversity topics, there are varying levels of awareness about what multiracial identity means to employees and to diversity and inclusion initiatives.
One of the first times that I was part of a professional “group” of multiracial individuals was while attending a Working Mother Media Women’s conference. I remember feeling the uniqueness of the experience.
Participants in workshops or present at some of my speeches would approach me and talk about their “invisible diversity,” which for some meant their multiracial identity. For others, it meant their partner, spouse, or child of a different race. Often they swapped tales of not having a place to share their diversity stories.
The presence of multiracial individuals and families can challenge our notions and comfort around talking about race and history, race and families, and race and racism.
Multiracial individuals and families are part of the changing workforce. In the spirit of learning agility, I would suggest that organizations learn to incorporate language and programs that include multiracial individuals and families.
We can continue to be “agile” in our learning about multiracial identity by:
- Assessing data collection that does not allow for identifying as multiracial individuals and families;
- Including multiracial groups as part of the growing affinity/ERG/Networking groups within organizations;
- Allowing multiracial people to self-identify – and not identify employees based upon what we observe;
- Updating our language and communication to include multiracial identity and;
- Learning more about national groups (SWIRL, MAVIN, etc.) that address multiracial identity and families.
Our learning and growth continues as long as we remain “agile.” The inclusion of more stories, experiences, and identities makes the journey even richer.
Tanya Odom, Ed.M, is a part-time Senior Consultant with The FutureWork Institute and a member of the INSIGHT Into Diversity Editorial Board.
Published in September/October 2012 issue.