Sports reporter Stephen A. Smith once commented that Golf Week’s ill-conceived cover about Tiger Woods would never have happened had there been any diversity in the newsroom. (Of course, that still doesn’t answer  the “what were they thinking?” question.) I’ve always thought Smith was dead-on, and I was reminded of his comments when I read Anil Dash’s thought-provoking post, Racist Culture is a Factory Defect. In it he writes:

“Too often, we fall back on the simple, lazy statement of accusing a company or institution of being racist, instead of assuming the best of the individuals within it and assuming that the inefficiencies and injustices within that organization resulted in its worst traits being demonstrated.”

I bring this up today because almost no one attended “Communicating Across Differences: Leveraging Diversity,” a program  organized recently by IABC/Washington. One colleague said later that he wasn’t surprised because it’s not a terribly exciting topic.

You ignore diversity at your peril.

During the IABC panel discussion, the speakers talked about three things I think are really important:

  • The “average U.S. consumer” no longer exists. (It never really did, but advertisers used to typically market to a generic Jack and Jill Consumer.)
  • You are not your audience.
  • You have to recognize your own filters and biases–and when to trust them (and when to challenge them).

Businesses (and people) are rarely racist. Yet the lens by which we filter the world often leads to ill-conceived messaging and unintended consequences.

Workplace diversity isn’t a box to check off on your corporate scorecard. It’s about who you hire, and who you listen to and engage with, and your values, and how what you’re doing can either derail your best intentions or help you achieve your business goals.

Photo by Sanjay Kumar (Flickr).