Why This Matters Now
The relevance of culture and diversity awareness in the world of business can’t be overstated. Two recent headlines underscore the value of understanding differences and how we perceive them. More recently, employees of Google parent Alphabet Inc. teamed up with investors for a push to tie executive pay to progress on workforce diversity – holding top management financially accountable for prioritizing a diverse workplace and all that entails. Last month, there was Starbucks. Two African-American men arrested for “loitering” at one of the coffee chain’s stores in Philadelphia that sparked outrage over what many considered racial profiling on the part of Starbucks employees.
It is important for students to understand the meaning of diversity and inclusion, as well as recognize the strengths and challenges that diversity presents in the business world. Embracing diversity and inclusion in life and in work not only makes you feel better about yourself, it also leads to greater group creativity and improved organizational innovation. Students need to be able to articulate diversity awareness as a strength to future employers. And perhaps more importantly, they need to understand more honestly how they see the world and begin to build skills that appreciate differences and enhance their ability to work with and for all kinds of people from diverse races, cultures and ethnicities.
Learning to Be Color Brave
The unfolding of the recent Starbucks story opened the dialogue and discussion around the charged issue of racial bias, which is when you prejudge someone based on their race. Starbucks went so far as to close 8,000 of its stores to deliver anti-bias training to 175,000 employees. The training, wrote the New York Times, was “part social justice crash course and part self-reflection exercise” and was “at the core of a well-choreographed effort by Starbucks to improve its corporate image after a backlash over the arrests.”
This article introduces the Starbucks story and, with the help of academic experts, takes a deep dive into the value of diversity awareness and helping us understand how unconscious bias works. “Because we live in a society that is consistently sending us implicit messages about different groups of people, these social stereotypes get ingrained within us,” notes Haley Pilgrim, a sociology PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania who teaches at Penn’s summer Social Justice Research Academy for high school students. A great way to start the conversation around bias and help your students become more self-reflective and, ultimately, inclusive.
The Strength of Diversity Awareness
This lesson engages students in reflecting upon themselves as diverse individuals and encourages them to view diversity awareness as a strength in doing business. After considering the definition of culture, they collectively brainstorm about companies, products and services that they believe overlook diversity as a business strategy, as well as those that are doing a good job at it. It is a powerful partner resource to the article Learning to Be Color Brave.
An important aspect of overcoming personal bias is to widen your circle of relationships. “Step outside of your comfort zone and get to know people who are different from you in some way,” advises Stephanie Creary, a Wharton assistant professor of management who researches identity and diversity. “Let them know that you are interested in learning more about them.”
Students may think they are doing this already, but in reality they are often staying safely inside their group of contacts. In this hands-on learning, they must venture into new territory, by either pairing with a classmate or someone else whom they have never met. Ideally, that person should be from a different culture or even school sub-culture. For instance, an elite athlete pairing with a student who is deeply involved in theater. Once students have been paired up or have selected their “diversity partner,” they must spend time getting to know that person face-to-face. As part of this assignment, they should develop questions to ask and know that they will be evaluated on the richness of the information they gather. In the end, they will submit a written report detailing their time together and articulating what they learned from the interaction, not just about the other person, but also about how they perceive the world.
Provide an extra layer of learning for your students with our video glossary. Here, Wharton professors define terms: Chief Diversity Officer, Diversity and Inclusion.
KWHS Quote of the Month
“A lot of people lack social awareness and how their actions could offend someone.” – Victoria Reznikov, Senior, Lawrence High School, Lawrenceville, N.J.