What that means is that young, white Americans have traditionally benefited from the availability of mentors to help hone their talents, while minorities, even to this day, suffer from a lack of mentors to identify with and learn from. There is a logical progression: a lack of mentors equals a lack of learning opportunities, equals a lack of advancement, and equals a lack of certain high level positions being filled by minorities. With time, this sort of arbitrary sorting of high and low level employees comes to be regarded by many as the natural way of things.
Fortunately, there are some very practical things we can do to change that, beginning with educating employers on what the shifting ethnic and racial composition of the national marketplace means for their bottom line. Consider: the ability to conduct negotiations with suppliers in their own language, or tailor production elements to their specific expectations can provide a critical strategic advantage. On a design and marketing level, being in touch with the cultural and behavioral norms of a diverse consumer base can go a long way toward distinguishing your message from the cacophony of other sounds in the marketplace.
Within an organization, facilitating ethnic, racial and gender diversity represents a strategy for opening the company to new members and new ways of doing things. From this perspective, celebrating diversity is more than a mere act of political correctness, it is a way of cultivating dynamic new ideas in the work place. It is a way forcing employers to think outside of the box. It is a way of preventing your corporation from becoming a slow, stodgy, monolithic bureaucracy where everyone thinks and acts alike. Plainly, this is a good thing. As French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin observed, progress is "the friction of diverse minds working together."
Of course my critics would be quick to misrepresent what I've written above as an endorsement of affirmative action. That's what happened in 2003, when I organized a series of meetings between the Republican House leadership and several prominent black Republicans aimed at increasing ethnic diversity within the Republican Party. After one of the meetings, we resolved to hire 200 new black republican staffers. The Washington Post promptly pounced. In a Jan. 30 editorial, "But Don't Call it Affirmative," the Post editors ridiculed those Republicans in attendance for implementing a form of affirmative action. Basically, they called us hypocrites.
I shot back a letter to the editors explaining that while our efforts were related to race, they did not constitute affirmative action. We had no intention of pushing certain candidates ahead of other candidates by virtue of their skin color. Rather, we resolved to broaden our recruiting practices by increasing our presence in underserved communities. We wanted to give ourselves access to job candidates who may have been overlooked in the past. Plainly, this is not affirmative action. This is simply understanding the value of diversity. The manner in which we achieve this goal is of great importance - and not a mere matter of semantics, as the Post editorial insinuated.
My letter to the Post editors - gasp - went unpublished. But my point remains. We need to convey the importance of facilitating ethnic and racial diversity. Not by toting diversity as an extension of political correctness, but by showing corporate and political entities how their assumptions are costing them.