Why Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Matter!

by Dr. Denise O'Neil Green | January 15, 2013 10:00 AM

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C (Photo Credit: Jeff Reid)
On January 20, 2013, the day before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday Observance in the United States, the dream will be realized again.  President Barack Hussein Obama will be sworn in for a second term.  He accomplished this feat by recognizing a new principle in American life: equity, diversity, and inclusion matter! 

For some time now, demographic trends have pointed to a time when “minority” will become “the majority”.  While the country has not reached this status just yet, it is clear that racial and ethnic population shifts, among others types of changes, are significant and can no longer be discounted.

In 2003, the United States Supreme Court affirmed in Grutter that diversity was a compelling interest for the nation.  Friend of the court briefs submitted by corporations, military leaders, and higher education associations made clear that diversity is not the politically correct thing but is a reality.  Through the pending Fisher v. Texas case, the U.S. Supreme Court has another opportunity to either underscore or undermine the significance of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

While new demographic diversity trends are taking hold in the United States, there are other places in North America experiencing the so called “minority-majority” phenomenon.  In the City of Toronto, one of the most diverse cities in the world, the “minority” is “the majority”, and there are a plethora of organizations, institutions, and designated Chief Diversity Officer positions to embrace and create environments that are equitable, diverse, and inclusive.

The City of Toronto
The City of Toronto
In 2012, I was named the inaugural Assistant Vice President/Vice Provost of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for Ryerson University, which is located in Toronto, Ontario.  As such, my mandate is to provide leadership, advocacy, and coordination for the institution such that all members of our Ryerson community have the opportunity to learn, work, and live in an inclusive environment that enables them to strive for excellence and reach their potential.  The role spans the entire organization, though many would assume that this is primarily a Human Resources position.  Human Resources (HR) is a component, but ultimately it is a role designed to be transformational, entrepreneurial, and innovative in its approach to bringing about organizational change.

United States President Barack Hussein Obama II
United States President Barack Hussein Obama II
Now that President Obama has applied the equity, diversity and inclusion principle to his national campaign, will he apply the same principle in how he governs during his second term?  I, like many others, believe that President Obama is a strong proponent of diversity; however, sometimes Chief Executive Officers need someone designated to be that voice when equity, diversity and inclusion issues are overlooked or better yet, when there is an obvious blind spot.  Is there someone in President Obama’s circle that serves this role? If not, what if President Obama established the first Chief Diversity Officer for the executive branch of government?  With the nation’s demographic trends showing that diversity is here to stay now and in our collective futures, the idea of a “Chief Diversity Officer of the United States” is certainly worth considering.

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