WESTERHAUS-RENFROW: Diversity still has bad rap in Indiana

Keywords Forefront / Opinion

What “D” word is used most sparingly or avoided altogether by Hoosier political, business and civic leaders when sharing how to position Indiana for growth and success? a) debt, b) deflation, or c) diversity?

Here’s a hint.

Last fall, Indianapolis Public Safety Director Troy Riggs’ stance for hiring and retaining a more diverse police department to counter historical discrimination and disadvantages gave rise to vehement and widespread howls of public indignation. Moreover, Riggs was accused of instilling a liberal agenda that favored quotas and reverse discrimination practices.

Let’s be honest. Diversity has a bad rap in many quarters in Indiana. When it comes to achieving positive outcomes, diversity is not the first word that comes to mind.

While diversity training and workshops for employees are conducted in countless organizations, it still makes people feel uncomfortable because many Hoosiers relate it to another dreaded phrase—affirmative action.

I know what some of you are thinking, and you’re wrong. Diversity is not a bunch of yadda yadda about how we should all hold hands and seek blue skies of social justice somewhere over the rainbow.

Diversity is getting positive results and outcomes. Period.

As a case in point, while national headlines heralded President Obama’s re-election in 2012, you might have missed the diversity highlight—the white percentage of the total national vote is steadily dropping. From 1996 to 2012, the proportion dropped from 83 percent to 72 percent, and this trend will continue.

Mitt Romney’s winning Indiana might have reassured the majority of Indiana voters that Obama could be beat. However, let’s hope these voters wake up and smell the demographic coffee.

Indiana’s racial and ethnic demographic landscape is growing and this bodes well for the political party and candidate that successfully advocates opportunity and diversity. And by the way, Obama did better than Romney among Indiana’s young voters, women, and essentially crushed Romney among non-white voters.

If this demographic data perks your interest, here is more. By 2050, there will be no racial or ethnic majority in our country. Further, from 2000 to 2050, new immigrants and their children will account for 83 percent of the growth in the working-age population.

Political candidates in Indiana who get it and embrace diversity will garner political victories.

Now, let’s turn to business and their No. 1 priority—profit. A recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Carnegie Mellon study revealed research that work teams with more women out-performed teams with fewer women. A Thomson Reuters study showed that the average stock price of gender-diverse corporate boards outperformed those with no women.

So if a business wants to employ smarter work teams that raise productivity and enhanced corporate performance, the more gender diversity, the better.

Indiana’s economy needs to attract business, and participation of a diverse work force promotes growth and opportunity. Placing a ban on gay marriage in the Constitution could foster a strong incentive for businesses looking to recruit employees nationally to locate outside of Indiana and for myriad professionals to shun the state.

Moreover, many of the largest Hoosier employers are in cities, and denying civil rights to same-sex couples could harm Indiana economically.

So here is a challenge. Do a search for the following, “stance on diversity ____________,” and fill in the blank with the name of your favorite business, political and civic leader.

You may be pleased at what will you find. However, you may be even more surprised at whom and what you don’t find.•


Westerhaus-Renfrow is a senior lecturer at the Kelley School of Business at IUPUI, president of ChangePro LLC, and a former vice president of diversity and inclusion at the NCAA. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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