Diversity of Values: Increasing tension – more conflict – and why are all responsible

Ideologically motivated murders, heated campaigns for and against same-sex marriage and a plan to establish separate bus lines for Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank. Does it need to get any more obvious that some key Diversity topics have been neglected for too many years and now surface forcefully? We are paying a high price at the moment, and the bill is likely to increase. The sad truth behind this: We were too busy with our preferred priorities (you know, the three G’s: gender, generations, geographies) and we underestimated the power of values dramatically. It was always easy to flag these ‘private’ matters rather than confronting the issues and existing monocultures.

Although 9/11 was probably the biggest shock for the Western world in many decades, it seems the attacks and the loss of thousands of lives did not teach us all the lessons they could and should have taught. Up until the Charlie Hebdo killings, the vast majority believed that these were actions of radical terrorists and hence a marginal phenomenon. A few, however, pointed to the deeper rooted issues – already back in 2001 – around personal values, collective beliefs and organised ideology that have continuously created tension within societies and segregation of the global landscape. Ever since I started my Diversity work in 1996, I was convinced that religion and related issues of values and beliefs had to be on the D&I agenda just as sexual orientation and other issues that may create uncomfortable discussions. For people are driven by their values and convictions in a more fundamental way than they could ever be driven by numbers. And D&I is the place to address this along with the framework of Corporate values and standards of behaviours.

How much different values can – negatively – influence collaboration has become more and more visible as globalisation got stronger and with an increasing diversification of societies – mostly in the Western world. Beyond the obvious dynamics that get featured in the Media, the implicit censorship of the Internet through Apple’s iTunes and Google’s PlayStore is an example where the societal values of the U.S. are applied worldwide while at the same time local laws are not always considered relevant – as seen by Facebook’s reaction to EU accusations around data protection. These are more subtle discrepancies while cultural clashes around religion in schools or in the workplace, and fiercely judgemental statements around same-sex partnerships mark the pronounced gaps that have widened over the years. Meanwhile, too many of us were thinking that societies are coming together under the umbrella of Diversity and Inclusion. We had thought – or hoped – that some religious leaders had acquired a more modern, or rather realistic, mind-set which could guide their communities towards open minded-ness and Inclusion.

Vatican’s hostile and inhumane statements on Ireland’s referendum for same-sex marriage clearly shows that we should not speak of progress when it comes to ideological positions. And Erdogan’s numerous laws that restrict Turkish society – that had developed openly for the past decades – to more and more narrow boundaries set by (interpreted) Islamic standards shows that even long-held progress can be reverted within a space of few years. He applies proven methodologies of media and juridical control to advance his agenda. Just like Israel, where the newly appointed government includes politicians of the far right one of whom brought up the idea to establish separate bus lines for Jewish settlers and Palestinian citizens in the West Bank. A concept that was widespread during racist eras in other countries. These examples show how tight the link is between the enforcement of ideology and political power.

Over the past decades, political power could have been used to avoid the widening of societal gaps based on value differences. It is remarkable that no Western leader has strongly advocated a diverse society and flagged out the contribution of societal groups to welfare and growth – or the opportunity to leverage the diversity of a society to create welfare and growth for all. Instead, successful leaders like Angela Merkel took firm stands on many rational items and always weak stands on value-based issues. She has contributed to driving Turkey away from Europe and she is about to make a big mistake by not understanding that societies have already developed towards a wider concept of family and marriage. She would be strong enough to do it as she proved on other topics. And she might well face criticism – especially from her religious fans, as happened in Canada when the government campaigned for more Diversity and less religious norms. Open-mindedness toward differences should have been made a fundamental value of Western post-war societies – along the lines the European Union has often tried to promote it. And Inclusion should be a key competence to be developed in Citizens of Western societies that want to be successful in a globalised world. If that had been the case for the past decades, some of the conflicts might not have occurred and most probably, the societal diversity gap – as we could broadly call it – would not have widened in many European countries: Violence in France and Denmark, referendum against immigration in Switzerland, refugee issues in Italy. Too many examples and almost none to balance them.

The fact that the political leadership league did not prioritise Diversity & Inclusion for so long must be included in the root cause analysis around religious and value-based tension. We cannot accuse only ‘the radicals’ for pursuing their agenda while we have not contributed our share to develop a collective mind-set that values and accommodates difference. Going forward, this will be more difficult as the burden has become heavier and the frontiers have become starker. Again, Germany serves as a negative example: The integration of post-war migrant workers was not addressed until experts started to talk about parallel societies. With this type of divide, it is nowadays much more difficult to facilitate an integration process than it would have been in the 1960s – getting it right, right from the start. Unfortunately, that learning was not used to manage the diversity of values before and after 2001 in a way that not only prevents violence, but that even creates stronger societies which are built on shared values and which leverage their diversity for welfare and growth.