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We need a new language to discuss diversity and inclusion

The current conversation pushes us to perceive diversity and inclusion as lack. I propose we rewrite the narrative of human symphony.

We need a new language to discuss diversity and inclusion
[Photo: Liam Norris/Getty Images]

My partner, Chinedu Echeruo, often shares a story about a man at the top of a mountain. The man doesn’t know anything, he doesn’t even know what a mountain is. He is given logs and told to take them down the mountain. If he looks to the left and perceives that there is a stream going down the mountain, he may build a raft to put the logs on. But if he doesn’t even notice the stream, he will take the logs down, one at a time with great effort.

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I bow to my African childhood, my seed-planting parents, and the good fortune of my human experience to be of the illusion that like Picasso, “anything I can imagine, is real.” In this mindful illusion, by 26, I became the 179th licensed black female architect in the U.S. (and that number, 15 years later is up to just over 400 black women out of the over 100,000 licensed architects in the country).

By 33, I was the chief architect for MetLife, manifesting inclusive projects in over 60 countries. At the age of 39, I began building human-centered companies as cofounder of the Love and Magic Company, a tech-forward consultancy focused on transforming startups and corporations into what we call “beloved” companies. Our mantra? The Kahlil Gibran verse, “Work is love made visible.”

While I marinated in the Western career of my dreams, I chose to not participate in its narratives of lack and limitation regarding my human experience as a black woman. I would simply mindfully delete them. For example, if someone would say “it is hard for black women to do this or that,” I would listen, then hit my mental delete button.

Not because it was not true for that person, but because I recognized it had nothing to do with my unique complexities and superpowers beyond my skin color. I saw it only an expression of a person’s limited language and imagination. And so it was, that it was not until a few weeks ago that I attended my first diversity and inclusion panel with conscious and well-intended world leaders on the subject. After a lively off-the-record discussion, I proposed to the group that we consider releasing our attachment to the layered, limited, baggage-heavy language of diversity.

Here are the three reasons why:

We are in an unprecedented new digital age of accelerating change

In 1958, corporations in the S&P 500 lasted on the index for an average of 61 years. Today, it is 12 years. Innovative organizations are now perceiving workplaces no longer as just physical spaces but states of mind, in which both people and organizations support and celebrate purpose, inclusion, creativity, growth, and more.

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Inclusion is a precursor to an organization’s edge, and its adaptive capacity to deal with rapid change. Like never before, the effectiveness and uniqueness of the perception of an organization’s people have become its crown jewels in the gig economy.

Inclusion is not a charitable opportunity but rather a necessary part of an organization’s innovation and relevance.

We are all (every single one of us) participants in the design of future systems for humanity

Diversity and inclusion systems design serves the reunion of humanity. If it is not an act of intention, we may pollute the future. It demands our attention, empathy, and a dignified handshake with each other, as equal and unique expressions of humanity in cooperation for the connectivity of our whole.

It requires the hard work of a mindful refocus from the organizational indifference of meeting diversity targets to a new language of showing up for freedom for all. As Kahlil Gibran said decadently, “Work is love made visible. For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger. And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day.”

Words matter

Rabbi Yehuda Berg wrote, “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, and to humble.”

Diversity and inclusion programs, despite their best intentions, diligent hard work, and significant capital investment, do not thrive. Even when they are considered a success, they often ostracize others through solutions or products that exclude others and favor partial perspectives for organizational reporting. An ongoing feedback loop of limitations. Spinning but not growing.

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Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, often referred to as simply Sadhguru, an Indian yogi, mystic, and author who founded the Isha Foundation, has said, “Today, we have the necessary technologies to address all human problems. All that is missing is an inclusive consciousness.”

One stream down the mountain on the subject of diversity and inclusion is as simple as an awareness that the resonance of the language to our invitation to belong matters. What if we evolved this resonance to one that is aligned with the innate biological systems of our humanity? That is unquestionably empathetic, loving, and stands by itself as an invitation to belong–not because it is charitable but because it benefits all.

We have an opportunity today to evolve the language of diversity and inclusion to a vibrant language of our greatest collective intention: inclusion and symphony.

“Diversity” translates to a range of different elements. “Symphony” translates to a composition of different elements. Diversity is a memory of what we’ve met. Symphony is a vision of what we are building.

Do you perceive the stream? How will you choose to show up?


Pamela Abalu is the cofounder of The Love and Magic Company, which pioneers human-centered design practices that infuse consciousness, energy flow, and inclusivity into global workplace transformations. 

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