by Matthew Whitaker, Ph.D.
Originally published: March 5, 2017
The business case” was rarely if ever mentioned by activists, educators and politicians, while calling for our national holidays and heritage months, such as our current Black History Month, but corporations have found ways of leveraging these moral imperatives on behalf of profitability. How many of you saw the recent barrage of culturally conscious Super Bowl LI commercials? Corporate America didn’t spend 4.5 million dollars for each, elaborate, thirty-second Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) statement, to boost their “street cred” or increase their chances of getting into heaven. Goodwill had to factor into the equation, but altruism no doubt took a back seat to analytics that confirmed that culturally sensitive imagery and messaging touches hearts and loosens purse strings.
The frustrating aspect of this “make the business case” merry-go-round, as I alluded to at the outset, is that it reflects, at worst, an amoral approach to capital development. The moral implications of D&I are “pinched nerves” on the spinal cord of the business world, because many leaders view them as threats to their comfort zones, autonomy, privilege, and power, not as opportunities to, as Ronald Levy argues, embrace their civic and principled duty to “fully realize” all of the “potential” in our midst. The latter requires far more courage and leadership than the former, because it’s predicated upon openness and selflessness, which are often allergens to titans and type-As. A senior VP once told me, for example, “we want to hire a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) and do more of the ‘D&I stuff,’ but we have to wait until the market improves.” I said, “I don’t recall your diversity ‘statement’ tethering your ‘commitment’ to market conditions.” This shouldn’t have surprised me, however, as President Calvin Coolidge said it best, “the business of America is business,” not freedom, justice or equality for that matter, or the people, our employees and consumers, who drive them and give them meaning.