ICA’s commitment to diversity addresses systemic contradictions
Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies. In the natural world, the more genetic variety within a species, the higher the likelihood of resisting disease. The odds for survival are thereby increased. When organisms breed with close relatives, genetic makeup becomes more uniform and genetic flaws become increasingly more common. Everyone knows that inbreeding results in expanded vulnerability. In the natural world, monocultures do not do very well.
Social diversity focuses on healthy inclusion of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin, physical and mental abilities, etc. The benefits of diversity are widely rehearsed. It enriches social experience as we learn from those whose beliefs and views are different from our own. It encourages critical thinking and helps citizens to learn to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds in an increasingly complex and pluralistic society. It helps build communities whose members are judged by the quality of their character and the value of their contributions. Businesses recognize that diversity can enhance economic competitiveness by making effective use of the talents and abilities of all workers.
ICA promotes diversity among its staff, board, and within its programs for many of these same reasons. The intent to have internal diversity within ICA represents the kind of society that ICA intends to participate in building wherever it works in the world. In many ways, however, ICA is not really much different from many other organizations that encourage diversity within their operations. Such rhetoric constitutes conventional wisdom.
Yet there is a dirty little secret about diversity that is rarely acknowledged but persistently true: many organizational diversity efforts are motivated by a desire to project a positive public persona while subtle strategies and actions are put in place to maintain the status quo. Their purpose is to manage potential complications and the eventual impact that successful integration of the disenfranchised into the main stream might mean. They’re generally not seeking to promote or release the full power of a diverse population, due to the largely unspoken reality of privilege, typically white and male, which has been historically engrained deeply into the fabric of society. Indeed, it is so deeply engrained that it is almost invisible. Instead, it defines “normal.” This is so powerful that most people who benefit from the system often do not have the slightest understanding of how it privileges them. When pointed out to them, many are very quick to deny it. This is the culmination of a systemic monoculture that has grown over many generations.
It is within this state of affairs that ICA’s approach to diversity is primarily a confessional one. It strives to ensure that its staff, board, and programs fully reflect the diversity of the world at large but it does so as an organization that is self-consciously wrestling with underlying contradictions of systemic privilege and is aware (or tries to be!) of its own shortcomings.
In doing so, it calls the organizations with which it interacts to confront and address their own internal challenges when it comes to engaging the multifaceted gifts of all people and releasing the creative latent power of diverse communities. The difficulty and importance of such steps should not be underestimated in the task of building a just and equitable society.