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The Challenges of Change in a More Diverse World

I can’t think of a single client whose organization is escaping the challenges of change. The changes span many dimensions – growth, physical moves, technology shifts, leadership succession, and unforeseen costs, to name a few.

Leaders are looking at these changes with opportunistic eyes every day. We’re trying to figure out how to make change productive.

With our eyes locked on the ledger and our worldview fixed, we can lose sight of the wider societal changes that signal long-term importance not only for our businesses, but for our families.

Shifting demographics

A common question used to be, “What is it like to live in America?” The more intriguing question now is, “Who lives in America, and what is their mindset?”

During the past few years, I have been thinking about the implications of growing ethnic and racial diversity on family child-rearing and workplace cultures throughout the United States.

I’ve written some about that broad and complex topic. In my presentations at public gatherings and for private companies, I often cite and solicit examples of unconscious racial and ethnic bias – deep-seated, generalized, and usually negative beliefs about “different” others. I also ask questions:

  • “In your view, is awareness of racial bias a relevant leadership responsibility?

  • “How much meaningful contact do you actively seek with individuals who do not share your race, culture, or ethnicity?”

  • “How do parents talk to their children about race and ethnicity?

  • “How does one become aware of an unconscious belief?”

Those questions touch on a subject of pressing relevance for current and future generations. According to the Pew Research organization, by 2055, people who identify as white will no longer constitute a majority of American citizens.

Some people don’t like that, and some fight it, but the best research we have suggests a trend of increasing racial and ethnic diversity throughout the developed world.

Here’s a big reason why:

If you’re poor, hungry, persecuted, or sick, and you learn about a place where people are free, healthy, and relatively prosperous, you’re probably going to think about going there, whether it’s another school, a better neighborhood, or a new country. You’ll trade cultural familiarity to give your kids a better life. If your situation is dire, you’ll probably find a way to change it, through sheer persistence.

Opportunity operates like a powerful magnet. The growing gap between rich and poor – globally and nationally – intensifies the widespread desire for a differently-divided pie.

Slowly and unremittingly, the racial and ethnic composition of our businesses, educational institutions, and municipalities continues to diversify.

Religious preferences

Another demographic that slips past our awareness and captures rapidly growing diversity is religious preference.

A recent, credible study highlighted the seismic shift taking place in religious affiliation among Americans.

Less than two years ago, the single largest survey of American religious and denominational identity ever conducted found that white Christians, once the dominant religious group in the U.S., now account for fewer than half of all adults living in the country.

That landmark study by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that white Evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, and white Catholics are aging and in decline, with only one in ten members under 30 years old.

Conversely, at least one-third of American Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists are under 30; the number of adherents to those religions is projected to accelerate at the same time that mainline Christians are decreasing.

But the biggest percentage of respondents named none of the recognized religions as their own. “The unaffiliated ” – those who subscribe to no denomination or formal belief system – outnumber any other faith group.

Belief choices

Business leaders I work with sing two common songs about change:

“Change is inevitable; how we deal with it is a choice.”

“We need to continually redefine ourselves to stay relevant.”

These mantras hold true for the demographic shifts of today – and tomorrow.

We can hold tight to a narrow worldview to escape the demographic trends, or we can put our energy into adapting to the trends with maturity and wisdom.

By re-defining ourselves, we can keep what is vital to our future while making room for new realities.

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