Marketing content shared with Michigan Business Network by:
Bonnie J. Knutson, PhD
The School of Hospitality Business
Broad College of Business
Michigan State University
When I tell people that I took Latin classes all through high school, they look at me with a puzzled expression like “huh”? Why would anyone ever study a dead language? Well, Latin is a very logical and organized language that hones your critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. But aside from the mental alertness aspect, the biggest reason to study Latin is simply the fact that about two-thirds of all our English words are derived from Latin. Deconstructing a word into its true or root meaning can give you a fresh perspective on an issue.
It is no secret that, like society itself, business is in a cultural shift – some would say upheaval – that had its genesis in the early 1980s when Lewis Brown Griggs coined the phrase diversity and inclusion.i Forty years later, these words have been encapsulated into the acronym DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion), and often shortened to just the term, Diversity. But just what does this cultural shift mean for your business in 2021 and beyond?
Here is where my countless hours of studying Latin help me think about this question.
When I began writing this article, I Googled (Who did we ask “BG” - before Google?), Definition of Diversity, and got about 1,220,000,000 results. Yikes. With that many definitions or interpretations, it is no wonder that we are all grappling with DEI. So, to the Latin root I went and discovered that, at its core, Diversity simply means “facing or turned both ways.” This gave me a fresh perspective, i.e., the need or ability to see, understand, and value ways other than my own.” In other words, my thinking must face both ways to see both sides of the issue.
The word Diversity is thought to have merged into the English language during the 1300s. Like many words or terms, its meaning has changed over time so organizations tend to define it in their own terms – in their cultural milieu. Today, there are probably as many variations as there are people and organizations. Or to paraphrase an 1878 quote from author Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, “Diversity is in the eye of the beholder.”
Leaders – managers, owners, boards -- are the stewards of their organization and must, therefore, be at the forefront of any shift in its culture. But this charge begs a deeper issue – the diversity of the organization’s leadership. In general, leadership should reflect the composition of its customer base and/or workforce which in turn reflect the composition of its community. But what if the community is not diverse? Herein lies a challenge.
In thinking about this whole conundrum, memories of my Nonno (Italian grandfather) popped into my mind because he belonged to a private club. Officially called the South Side Civic Club, it was really an Italian Social Club. It was in the heart of a community of Italian immigrants; all the members’ last names ended in vowels; there was a lot of wine and pasta on the menu, and of course, bocce ball and cribbage were the glue that held the community together.
Nonno’s club was not diverse, at least not as we define diversity today. Yet it was diverse in two important ways. First, the Table (the club’s name for its Leadership) reflected its membership, which in turn mirrored its community. Second, members of the Table had what we now call Cognitive Diversity, reflecting a variety of immigrant backgrounds, of professions, of skills, and of perspectives on issues that were pertinent to the success of the club. In other words, they went back to the Latin roots of facing or turning both ways.
So perhaps our organizations should think about Diversity not just in terms of race, ethnicity, or gender but also in terms of cognitivity to bring varied backgrounds, experiences, skills, and perspectives
to the context of its culture and future. Make no mistake about it, the diversity conversation ought to and will take place in every business, non-profit, and government entity. Not only is it the culturally right thing to do, but it is increasingly becoming the mandatory thing to do – especially at the leadership level. For example…
Blackrock, Inc., a major asset management firm, sent letters to companies on the Russell 1000 Index that had few women on their boards asking them to justify this lack of diversity. In 2018, California became the first state to pass a law mandating all public companies with executive offices in the state to have women represented on their board by the end of 2019. And on December 1, 2020, the Nasdaq Stock Market filed a proposal with the SEC to require all companies that list on its exchange to annually report their board diversity statistics and/or reasons why they do not have at least two diverse board members. This one proposal elevated the issue of leadership diversity to a new level for all organizations – including yours.
The DEI train has left the station and your business does not want to be the caboose. Worse yet, you do not want to be left back at the station.
Your Bottom Line Will Thank You!
i Lewis Brown Griggs, President and Executive Producer of Griggs Productions, is a renowned expert in the fields of diversity issues, relationship dynamics and cultural differences.