Multiplicity – The Complexity of Diversity

Diversity is the practice of ensuring representation of varied social or collective identities such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, disability, etc. As common sayings teach us:

  • Diversity is counting the numbers.
  • Diversity is being invited to the party.
  • Diversity is being counted.

Although highly contextual, the common notion is that if you have enough diversity–if you include a wide range of individuals representing the different social identities that make a difference in your setting–you can then focus on inclusion.

Inclusion builds a culture of belonging by actively encouraging and embracing the contribution and participation of all:

  • Inclusion makes the numbers count.
  • Inclusion is being asked to dance.
  • Inclusion is being counted on.

And if we get it right, underrepresented or marginalized groups are not solely dependent on being counted but are rather empowered to actively engage by being counted on.

Ultimately, while both diversity and inclusion are important, an effective diversity strategy is a crucial first step that is not sufficient on its own.  Here are three tips to improve your diversity strategy.

  1. Demographic data matters

When creating teams, it is important to adequately represent the social or collective identities of the communities served by the organization and their clients, focusing on race, gender, language, abilities, ethnicity, geography, etc. Creating the space and safeguarding the practice of intentionally seeking specific demographic profiles or social identities that may be underrepresented in teams is, in fact, a pivotal step in reaching the objective. Leaders must start by asking who will be impacted by the decisions, programs, and processes in question and how to get a rich assessment of their perspective. Those perspectives must be sought and openly listened to, no matter how uncomfortable or foreign the message may seem.

  1. Cultural competence is a defining factor

Often, when creating diverse teams, you can face some significant challenges. If there is no context and cultural competence, this strategy can be perceived and operationalized as an exercise in pure demography–check the boxes and move on. When this occurs, diversity initiatives are seen as ineffective and short-lived tokenism that can prove meaningless or worse, doing significant damage to the underrepresented groups in question and the organization at large. It is important to increase your cultural competence and encourage those around you to do the same. You need to improve your ability to be a good ally of those who may not be in the room. You need to become aware of the limitations of your opinions and experiences and the possible blind spots that can lead you to make decisions with negative, yet unintended consequences to underrepresented or marginalized groups.

  1. Consider the role of multiplicity

What happens when the population you are trying to represent is so diverse and their identity so undistinguishable that it’s not clear how to proceed? This requires leaders to think of diversity in a more complex way. Younger generations that may be more mixed in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, national origins, etc. are helping us understand and better address this challenge. The growing cultural push for self-fashioned, non-binary identities demands that leaders operate with an in-depth understanding of the complexity, nuance, and fluidity of individuals’ social identities. While having multiple identities sounds chaotic, the truth is that none of us can be defined by only a few rigid social identities listed on a demographic profile. While we may identify more with one or more specific identities, those indicators may prove to be inadequate and insufficient. Each of us cannot be defined solely by our gender, our race, our ethnicity, or our age. Our identities are so much more complex and can even seem contradictory. Because identities are not static, certain, or compulsory, it is important to be cognizant that many of us are often best represented by multiplicity. As a concept, multiplicity pushes the singular identity construct beyond the binary framework, creating some structured ambiguity while exploring flexible, complementary, and multifaceted identities that change with experiences, context, and time.

The DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) world grows increasingly complex and more difficult to navigate competently and successfully.  For example, we are seeing different acronyms such as DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion, anti-racism) or REDI (race, equity, diversity, and inclusion) with important differentiations between them. If you’re having a hard time keeping up, would like to discuss your DEI strategies, increase your personal or organizational intercultural competence, or address the growing multiplicity in your organization, let us know.  We’re here to help.

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