Davidson on Diversity…and Difference

Dr. Martin Davidson spoke yesterday to a full house at the University at Omaha’s College of Public Affairs and Community Service. Davidson is a professor at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia and the author of The End of Diversity As We Know It: Why Diversity Efforts Fail and How Leveraging Difference Can Succeed.

The 2040 Initiative and the Creighton School of Law were proud co-sponsors. I attended, along with the 2L and 3L students in State and Local Governments in a Federal System.

An engaging and thought-provoking speaker, Davidson characterizes “diversity” approaches as limited and de-energizing – limited because they focus on just a few categories of people and de-energizing because they view the need to include people from those categories as a problem.

Davidson advocates instead for “leveraging difference”: naming and exploring a broad range of the ways in which people are different and embracing and using those differences as opportunities for innovation, creativity, and change.

Davidson’s specific insights include:
• Organizations can most effectively leverage differences if they name and explore them.
• “Leveraging difference” leaders intentionally engage in relationships with those who are different from them, and do so in a listening and learning mode.
• Difference becomes valuable when it is harnessed to spark progress toward an organization’s goals, in line with the organization’s mission.
• The primary mission of a for-profit organization is to provide goods and services rather than simply to make money for shareholders; an important mission of a public organization is the promotion of social justice rather than simply providing goods and services.

I am looking forward to class discussion next week about the applicability of Davidson’s business-oriented insights to government entities, especially in the local and regional context!

Palma Joy Strand

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