Posts Tagged ‘leveraging difference’

25 Jan 2013 Embracing the Weird

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

In anticipation of his next book, Martin will give a flash seminar on Embracing the Weird at University of Virginia, Monroe Hill House, Friday, January 25, 2013 from 4:00pm-5:00 pm. The talk will be followed by a wine and cheese reception at Monroe Law Office.

29 Jan 2013 National Institutes of Health Brown Bag Seminar

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Martin Davidson returns to the Clinical Center at the NIH campus to address over 200 Human Resource professionals in various roles from 10:30am-12nn on the topic of “The End of Diversity as We Know It: Leveraging Difference Helps HR Professionals Make Diversity Work.”

6 Dec 2012 Ohio’s Executive Principals Leadership Academy

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Martin will teach public school leaders in Columbus, Ohio. Learn more at Ohio Department of Education Ohio Improvement Process.

November 12, 2012 UVA Leadership in Academic Matters Seminar

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Martin will present “Leveraging Difference in Academic Institutions” at the University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Leadership in Academic Matters Seminar. The LAM began its new year of seminars in September 2021.

You Can’t Win with a Room Full of Just White People

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

As I watched the election returns Tuesday night, I was struck by the “optics” as the networks panned the Obama and Romney headquarters gatherings. These were large spaces—convention centers in Chicago and Boston—where supporters gathered to monitor the progress of the election and to cheer and/or lament the proceedings. I was not wearing my glasses, so I could not easily read the smaller captions signifying the location of the scene. Instead, I monitored the results on my iPad. I also turned down the sound down because the announcers and pundits annoyed me.

The funny thing is I noticed that I did not need captions or sounds to know which headquarters I was watching. This was not because the election seemed to trend in favor of the President; early in the evening, it was still quite a horse race and crowds in both camps were anxious and excited.

Rather, I could tell which room was being shown because I looked at the proportion of white people in the room. The Romney room was almost completely white. As the camera panned the room, there were more and more, well, white people. In contrast, no camera could pan the Obama crowd very long without coming across the face of a person of color.  That is how I knew what I was watching.

This experience reinforced my assessment that no candidate will win a presidential election in this country again if her or his headquarters room on election night is that white.

Analysts have speculated on the myriad of elements that led to the outcome of the election.  But one clear factor in play was the ability of Obama to mobilize communities of color to vote for him. The exit poll statistics are stark. Consider that 72% of voters this year were white, 28 % people of color.[i]  Of that 28%, Obama won 80% of their votes.[ii] Overall:

  • 59% of white people voted for Romney in contrast to 39% for Obama, however…
  • 71% of Hispanics voted for Obama (27% for Romney)
  • 73% of Asians to Obama (26% for Romney)
  • 93% of Blacks for Obama (6% for Romney) [iii]

Blacks matched their record turnout of four years ago, while Hispanic and Asian turnout increased. All gave their votes to President Obama by record margins.

Several people have suggested that somehow, Obama’s appeal to people of color is very much a result of being a man of color himself. For example, in the last weeks of the campaign, various commentators debated whether blacks were voting for Obama because he was black.

Well, surprise.  Of course lots of black people voted for Obama because he was black. I certainly did. But that is not the only reason I voted for him. The fact that voters prefer leaders who they see as similar to themselves is not earth shattering—we all tend to do that. But that preference does not eliminate one’s ability to analyze the leader’s position. Nor does it prevent one from analyzing the alternatives to that leader.

This is where Romney failed. Had he been a more compelling option for people of color, he could have eroded some of the support Obama garnered in this election. No, he couldn’t change the color of his skin.  And I probably would not, at first glance, be attracted to his candidacy as much as to Obama’s. But I see myself as thoughtful and reflective. I most certainly could have been persuaded by an enlightened, cross-culturally adept candidate who took seriously my interests as a black constituent, even if he was white and Mormon. I don’t know if he could have won my vote, but he could have won my attention.

Romney lost voters of color—and the election—not only because these voters were drawn to Obama. He lost because many fled from him. I reject the notion that an older privileged white person can’t win over constituents of color. But if that white person is serious about winning those constituents, he or she had better develop skill and insight about difference, in particular cultural and racial difference. Otherwise, that white person cannot be a compelling and credible option for those constituents.

How does an aspiring candidate gain that skill and insight? Here are some tips for future Republicans, Democrats (I don’t believe this is wholly a partisan thing), and leaders of diverse communities in any walk of life:

1.  Don’t think you can win and lead by pandering superficially to people who are not white. That won’t fill your headquarters ballroom with the winning combination of folks.

2.  Rather, build a diverse coalition around you. Make sure your advisors are diverse, and that they are connected to diverse networks of constituents.

3.  To be able to do this, you must do your own homework. You must develop your personal competence in navigating diverse communities so that you can be seen as a credible representative for people who are different from you.

By the way, this analysis applies not only to white candidates. The same strategy for success must be executed by whoever aspires to lead this country from this point forward. Now more than ever, competence in embracing and leveraging difference is mandatory.

But only if you want to win.


[i] http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/266485-women-minorities-propel-obama-victory

[ii] http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/11/how-obama-won-marrying-old-and-new-democratic-coalitions/264884/

[iii] http://www.statista.com/statistics/245878/voter-turnout-of-the-exit-polls-of-the-2012-elections-by-ethnicity/

November 2, 2012 UVA Award Recipient

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Martin Davidson is proud to receive the University of Virginia’s Equal Opportunity Programs Champions Award, honoring everyday defenders who ‘lift everyone up.’

October 30, 2012 National Institutes of Health Brown Bag Seminar

Saturday, October 27th, 2012

Rescheduled Martin Davidson returns to the Clinical Center at the NIH campus to address over 200 Human Resource professionals in various roles from 10:30am-12nn on the topic of “The End of Diversity as We Know It: Leveraging Difference Helps HR Professionals Make Diversity Work.”

October 29, 2012 African American Leadership Development Series

Saturday, October 27th, 2012

Rescheduled  Year after year, representation of women and minorities at Booz Allen Hamilton has increased. Their Diversity and Inclusion programs consistently earn accolades of distinction, such as recurring spots on the 100 Best Companies lists of Working Mother and Fortune. Martin will contribute his principles on Leveraging Difference at the African American Development Series.

The Man Responsible for Undermining Efforts to Create Gender Equity? It’s Probably You

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

This blog was first posted on the MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) web site, July 18, 2012.

Good guys don’t care about the well-being of their women colleagues as much as they care about being seen as protectors of women, liberty, and all that is pure.”  And that keeps them from creating real change.

Change the people and systems around you, and you change the dysfunctional status quo.

For men who want to see change in gender relations in their workplaces and communities, this assertion makes all kinds of sense. For example, when confronted with men who behave like jerks and disrespectfully and undermine their women colleagues, the right thing to do is to require that they stop the harmful behavior and get their acts together immediately.  And if they need a figurative ass whuppin’ to motivate them, then so be it.

But I think the greatest opportunity to drive change in gender relations is not so much in fixing those jerks. Instead, the most powerful motor for change comes from looking at the motivations and behaviors of us “good guys” who vigilantly hold the “bad guys” accountable.

A few years ago, I underwent a powerful learning experience when I attended a series of leadership classes and seminars as part of the Learning as Leadership (LAL) curriculum. LAL is a firm of several skilled consultants and teachers who help leaders from all kinds of corporate, non-profit, and public sector organizations improve their ability to achieve their mission and goals. There, I learned the concept of “desired” and “dreaded” images. These are images we carry about ourselves and that we invest lots of energy trying to persuade others to carry about us, too.  Desired images are the good ones; these are the perceptions that we want others to hold about us because they make us look good. I want people to see me as intelligent and educated, so I use multisyllabic words when simpler ones would do (see how I just did that?) Dreaded images are the flip side; we work to make sure people don’t see us in these ways. I don’t want to be seen as uptight, so I regularly arrive at meetings a few minutes late and always with a relaxed a demeanor. Everyone carries these images, and they don’t have to lead to bad habits like tardiness. The key is in managing our images effectively.

And that takes us back to the good guys. We good guys (and I count myself in this category) want other people to see us as allies for women and champions for gender equality.  Now, let me be clear:  I’m not saying that we advocates are not passionately committed to constructive change. And I’m not saying that we only care about change because we want to portray a virtuous image. I am saying that in addition to our genuine commitment, we also carry this little piece of ego that gets off on being seen as righteous champions for good. To quote one of my favorite lines from the Matrix movies, “we’re doing our Superman thing.” In addition, I’m saying that when we are motivated by that ego, we undermine our ability to help women and men change the damaging patterns of behavior in so many gender relations.

Let me give you a classic example. A woman friend of mine had to deal with a sexual harassment situation at work in which a co-worker was coming on to her and making very inappropriate public remarks. When she broached the topic with her boss (a good guy) he was pissed. He immediately dressed down this guy with all manner of zero-tolerance language: “I won’t stand for that behavior here!” “you’re suspended and on probation!” “it ends now or you’re gone from here!” etc., etc. My friend appreciated the intent behind what she called the “support script,” but said her boss had basically screwed her.

When I asked her what she meant by “support script,” she said that was the way that good guys act when they want to be seen as “protectors of women, liberty, and all that is pure.”  In fact, she said, her boss did not really care about her well-being as much as he cared about being the guy who beats the crap out of guys who are mean to girls. As a result her boss’ intervention, the harasser and his friends made it more difficult for her to accomplish her work objectives for a time. The guys who were neutral to both parties became wary of her because they saw her as playing the gender/sex card.  Even her women colleagues kept their distance for awhile because they didn’t want to be labeled a “whining woman.” My friend really struggled in the aftermath and almost left the company. The environment was incredibly tense and, not surprisingly, collaboration really suffered.

The problem with succumbing to the desire to be seen a certain way is that it clouds our ability to accurately analyze a situation and act with wisdom and savvy. We lose track of our real goals and values—like fairness, equity, and creating a vibrant work environment—and get caught up in “look how cool I am” moments. I’ve been there. And I’ve seen many men who advocate for real change behave just this way.

If you really want to create sustained positive change, don’t look for bad guys to beat up. Instead:

1)     focus on the vision of change you want

2)     Take a beat and stifle the impulse to don your cape.

3)     Develop a discipline of asking yourself the question “what can I do in this situation to help my people and my organization achieve that vision?”

4)     Seek out other people to help you temper your righteous indignation; and

5)     Marshal your experience and wisdom to deal with the situation. [1]

Only then will you really start doing the right thing.



[1] Check out “Rethinking Political Correctness,” in the September 2006 issue of the Harvard Business Review for more on these key skills. My coauthors (Robin Ely and Deborah Myerson) and I explain them in more depth.

Sept 11, 2012 Albemarle Charlottesville Human Resource Association 2012 Annual Fall Conference

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Martin Davidson will give a keynote address on Leveraging Difference during the ACHRA Annual Fall Conference at Farmington Country Club, Charlottesville, VA. For more information and to register, visit http://www.achra.org/article.html?aid=105.