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A recent posting for a diversity-related job in a medium-sized organization included an all-too-common phrase in its description of the ideal candidate: “Must have a passion for diversity.”

Aside from “passion” and a few years of experience, the description said little else of substance about the ideal candidate’s qualifications. I could already tell the organization was off to a rocky start.

I can’t recall ever seeing a single job description in any industry for a finance director that included “passion” as one of its desired qualifications. The same goes for any other strategic leadership position, except for human resources, and that’s where the problem lies. In old school organizations, diversity and inclusion aren’t seen as strategic priorities like finance. In old school organizations, senior leadership doesn’t know their mission critical “why” for doing D&I, much less what meaningful goals to assign to that function.

Passion then becomes a substitute for clarity, competence, effectiveness and results. This leads to three problems.

  1.  The D&I leader and D&I initiatives will struggle to be taken seriously and effect any meaningful change. How is “passion” to be measured, or translated into results that matter?
  2. Most of the people with “passion” for D&I are those most disadvantaged by its lack — women, people of color and LGBT people. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with a member of a historically underrepresented group spearheading diversity efforts, the widespread nature of this practice reinforces the notion that D&I is only about, and for, members of those groups.
  3. Passion can get in the way, especially when it bumps up against the “caring imperative.” I recently had an online exchange with a person of color who took issue with one of my articles because they believed the article gave white people fewer reasons to care about people of color. But while caring is important to drive commitment (as with any strategic initiative), the goal of D&I is not greater caring, but more effective behaviors and more equitable systems and processes.

Caring is not required for a person to follow an equitable process or do more inclusive behaviors, especially once these become habit. Also, examples abound of people who care deeply but wreak havoc with their ineffective behaviors.  Read the rest on Workforce Magazine!

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