Aren’t we fed up with the optics of diversity?

Over two decades ago, I was cast into the optics of diversity by accident. While working as an intern in a community college, my boss summoned me to participate in a group photo. I was new to the United States and in typical Indian fashion, I nodded my head. In a few minutes, I was part of a group picture and soon I was on the cover of a marketing catalog titled “Diversity Enriches Us All.”

I looked both Hispanic and Asian, a double whammy for the HR department. Yes, I was gullible and I didn’t even know what the purpose of the photograph was at that time!

Fast forward today, I see babies of all hues in advertisements, rich Indian ladies traveling in autorickshaws for American corporate ads and of course the “we should include this race in this advertisement” and the infamous “are we missing a color here?” advertisement.

Shortly after George Floyd’s death, corporate CEOs were scrambling for at least two weeks not knowing what to do as their eyes were always focused on the tickers earlier. The early adopters started issuing standard press releases to be first in line, the daring ones spoke out against the murder, aligned with anti-racist organizations, and the thoughtful ones kept on thinking without doing much.

In weeks we saw bright new advertisements including everyone.

A barrage of high profile diversity officer positions opened up and companies started publicly announcing their new chief diversity officers. In sacrosanct PR spaces reserved for new CEOs, chief diversity officers suddenly came to prominence.

The optics of diversity doesn’t serve any good for us. It’s lame and irrespective of what side you are on, it’s a waste of time, money and effort. Just like how diversity consultant Lily Zheng calls the business case of diversity a sinking ship, the optics of diversity is a temporary eyewash.

Sadly, everyone is following the bandwagon and reminds me of Everett Rogers theory: “Diffusion of innovations.” An old idea, the optics of diversity is being spread, influenced by the idea itself as it has seen a renewed sense of purpose and is being disseminated through communication channels over time in the social system we live in. The early adopters have started moving on fast, trying to make the optics of diversity an innovative idea that needs social recognition.

“Women and underrepresented minority employees drawn to a company by its diversity optics are blindsided by how different the reality inside the company is from the polished exterior they’ve been marketed,” writes Zheng.

In a report titled “Outcomes over optics: Building inclusive organizations,” consulting firm Deloitte reminds us of a simple fact: “Businesses that focus on maximizing the potential of each of their employees win in the market. From superior financial performance to improved talent retention and a greater capacity for innovation, when a firm brings together people with different backgrounds, skillsets, and mindsets, they achieve more.”

So, how can we focus on outcomes and not optics?

  1. Don’t waste resources on the optics of diversity. However small or big you are, focus on building culture.
  2. Leadership needs a Diversity 101 to build learning-centered organizations of lasting value, not organizations that worry about shareholder value.
  3. Every organization will have to pay a price to change its culture and this requires active participation from leadership.
  4. Inclusion takes time, but if every employee feels included and engaged, your business will prosper.
  5. Instead of fragmenting your workforce to meet the current societal climate, think long-term and try to unite people instead of looking at just their differences.

At the end of the day, remember, we are dealing with what acclaimed writer, Isabel Wilkerson says in her book “Caste: The origins of our discontents” “Color is a fact. Race is a social construct.” And, this social construct is over five centuries old.

The optics will not make a difference however hard we try. Instead, we as individuals should take responsibility for living inclusively.


Diffusion of Innovations:

Lily Zheng:

Deloitte report:

Isabel Wilkerson:


The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated. Further, I make no warranty regarding the accuracy or effectiveness of my recommendations, and readers are advised to consult other advisors as well as their own judgments in making decisions.

9 tips to transition from home to office

You are going to transition from working from home to getting back to the office. Here are tips to make this transition easy.

  1. 1. Know that you are adaptable

Human beings are resilient and we can adapt to changing environmental conditions. We can work from home, from the office and anywhere in between. Our bodies and minds will adjust to changing circumstances and adaptability has been a key to our success. So, don’t worry and you will soon get used to your old circumstances.

2. Ease your transition and create a feeling that you are at home

Over the last 18 months, we have enjoyed the comforts of home, missed water cooler conversations, gossip, and frequent interruptions from annoying colleagues. So, how do we adjust to the comeback? Well, creating an ambience similar to your home office can help even though you will never be able to replace that. Use another study lamp, have a cozy sweater behind your chair, get soothing music you can listen to and of course bring some small paintings and memorabilia that will make you feel at home. And, remember that leg rest you had as it will be really useful and give you a feeling you are still there!

3. The dreaded commute is back but take it easy

Yes, the dreaded commute is back. I live in Houston and I can feel the discomfort of sitting in traffic and dealing with grumpy drivers! The average commute for me is around 45 minutes door to door and I listen to podcasts and audio books just to keep my mind away from the polluted, maddening traffic that can wear us all down. Just relax, occupy your mind with distractions like serene music, a comical podcast or learn something new.

4. You will miss the morning walk around the block

Yes, we will all miss the walk around the block and the opportunity to meet neighbors who you thought were dead and gone. You will miss the camaraderie of folks wishing you good morning, and instead will have to return to sullen-faced bosses and their antics. Know that they might have been transformed too and let’s hope that they return smiling to a new workplace.

5. Love thyself

Always, love thyself. There is no substitute for that and this a good time for us to recharge, and rethink our priorities in life. What is my purpose in life? What am I uniquely talented in? Should I just be answering calls and pushing files all my life? Opportunities are endless and if you love yourself you will find a career that is meaningful to you. Take care of your happiness, be a little self-centered and there is nothing wrong with it. Everything begins with loving oneself.

6. Are you a leader? Show empathy and overcommunicate.

If you are a leader, expect shock and awe. The days of running an office like the Mughal empire will no longer work because your underlings have learned a lot of new tricks staying at home over the last 18 months. Empathy and trust have become new key words replacing metrics and goals. So, just relax your suits, be a little bit more empathetic and throw your jelly bean counters over the window. Millennials are going to make you work differently and you will soon learn how to be human and efficient at the same time.

7. Some of us may never return and it’s okay

Life has been good for some of us working from home. We’ve reached that point of serenity that missing it is like not attaining nirvana after having been so close to it. If you’ve re-careered or decided to stop working full-time, it’s okay. Some of you may not miss the office at all. The choice between serenity and a sense of bewilderment is yours, after all!

8. The pandemic has not gone anywhere

Don’t think that the pandemic has gone anywhere. The virus might be clinging on to your cubicle, or floating around you, so just take all the safety precautions you can. And, offices will have lots of disinfectants and new measures to keep you safe.

9. The hybrid workplace is here to stay

The lone benefit of the pandemic has been the global ratification for a hybrid workplace. The old factory model of running organizations has been disrupted and despite the absence of Karl Marx, we’ve all started to unionize. We want to enrich our lives other than just being focused on work all the time. Well, the suits will make strategies to go back to the barking order days but they themselves have realized that its not possible. Employees are seeking newer ways to work and sprawling workplaces will need to reconfigure spaces to make things work.

The office as the center of the community and prime driver of tax revenue is dead.