The Top 10 Cultural Diversity Events of 2017

Diversity Executive Leadership Academy

1. The Removal of Confederate Monuments in Public Spaces Sparks Deadly Protests (December 2017)

In 2015, there were about 700 Confederate national monuments that celebrate the controversial American civil war across the United States. Most Americans gave them little thought. That changed during the same year after Dylann Roof, a young white American, worshipped with members of a predominantly African American church before shooting and killing 9 of them. Police found a photo of Dylann with a Confederate flag and evidence that he espoused white supremacist ideology. There had been considerable discussion about the need to remove Confederate symbols in public spaces for years, but Alabama and South Carolina took down their monuments on state capitol grounds. That led to other monuments coming under attack and protests against the removals. The protests led to a number of high profile rallies against monument removals and counter-protestors that were larger in numbers. One rally led to a Confederate monument sympathizer running over and killing a counter-protester with his vehicle. While more than 60 monuments have been removed across locations spanning from South Carolina to San Diego by the end of 2017, plenty remain. The controversy and protests continue.

2017 cultural diversity highlights

2. The #METOO Movement Gives Silenced Women (and Men) a Voice (October 2017)

In the wake of accusations of sexual misconduct by a famous Hollywood film producer, the hashtag #metoo went viral and became the most widely used for sharing sexual violence stories in social media. Actress Alyssa Milano encouraged women to use the hashtag social media to publicize personal experiences with being a victim of sexual harassment. A number of famous actresses joined in to tell their stories and encourage other women to the same.

2017 Cultural Diversity

3. Presidential Ban on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) Recipients (September 5, 2017)

The United States president ordered an end to the prior administration’s program implemented to shield undocumented immigrants from deportation. About 800,000 immigrants migrated to the United States illegally - some with their parents and many alone. Most are either in the education system or taxpayers in the workforce. The five-year policy protected them from immediate deportation. One problem potential deportees face is that the United States policy for deciding who is eligible for deportation does not take the economic and political climate in the country into consideration. Refugees who migrated to the United States due to a natural disaster in their country may still find the aftermath of the disaster unresolved sufficiently to make returning feasible.

4. Ban on Transgender Recruits in the United States Military (August 2017)

The directive to the Department of Defense and Homeland Security signed by the president reinstated a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the military. The previous ban was lifted in 2016 under the prior administration. Reinstating the ban created uncertainty for transgender members in the military, especially those service personnel who had “come out”. The resulting legal actions all but ascertain that the courts will resolve the matter.

2017 Cultural Diversity

5. A Google Senior Engineer Email Demonstrates the Limitations of Unconscious Bias Training (July 2017)

A Google software engineer writes and widely distributes a contentious email memo about the organization’s state of cultural diversity initiative affairs. The white male engineer suggests that the company’s efforts to increase gender diversity does not take into account that biological differences between men and women may account for  science and technology job readiness. He also commented that Google created a culture of promoting cultural diversity that fosters an ideological echo chamber intolerant of conservative white male views. Google fired the engineer after an investigation. At the same time, Google was under investigation by the United States Department of Labor for allegedly systemic inequity in pay between men and women. The incident raised questions about how to include white males in cultural diversity programs, the role of free speech, especially conservative views, in the workplace, and the effectiveness of unconscious bias training.

6. Millennials Take the Lead in Cultural Diversity Innovation in Tech Companies (May 2017)

Cultural diversity and inclusion in the workplace raise the bar in tech startup company human resource management today. From Boston to San Jose, startup executives are including cultural diversity in their organization’s DNA early stage. One example is The CEO Matt Duesterberg is known for introducing and leading cultural diversity topics during staff meetings. A shared goal of these forward-thinking young companies is to create an open and tolerant workplace culture in which all voices, especially the historically excluded ones, are heard. Cultural diversity and inclusion starts early - long before it is visible. A company with a staff of 15 can grow to 60 in a very short period of time. Emphasizing inclusion early creates a more welcoming and inclusive culture that withstands ever-changing, rapidly moving technology company circumstances.   

7. Colin Kaepernick Wins the 2017 Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award (November 2017)

Colin Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee during a 2016 game was not without consequences. It basically cost him his profession and what most of us think is a ton of money. He refused to honor the typical pledge of allegiance stance during the opening ceremonies to protest against social and racial injustice. The victims of a police shooting in inner-city communities were being recognized and challenged in his act. He could not get a contract or even a try out in football clubs after leaving the San Francisco Forty-Niners. It was his steadfast commitment to his social justice message and resulting sacrifices that earned him the Sports Illustrated award.

2017 Cultural Diversity

8. The United States Continues It’s Nobel Prize Dominance Thanks to a Group of Immigrants to America

Since the year 2000, immigrants to the United States have contributed to the Nobel prize winners 33 to 85 or about 4 in 10. The trend continued in 2017 with 2 of 7 American Nobel prizes going to immigrants. In 2016, all six of the Americans awarded the prize in economics and scientific fields went to immigrants. The success of immigrants is in part by design. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 eliminated discriminatory immigration quotas against people of Asian countries. The door for Asian immigrants was further opened by the 1990 Immigration Act.

9. Executive Order Blocking Immigrants and Refugees from Majority Muslim Countries (January 27, 2017)

The president of the United States signed an executive order that blocks the entry of immigrants and refugees from majority Muslim countries. The order granted Christian and other “minority” religions precedence over Muslims in immigration and refugee status decision making. People from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen were specifically targeted. Legal actions against the ban resulted in rewrites of the executive order, which are still be debated and legally scrutinized today.

10. Cultural Diversity & Inclusion is Still Standing

Cultural diversity came under attack in 2017 and it was noticed. Despite the perception of a more rewarding year overall personally, 8 in 10 Americans grew much more concerned about race relations. A September 2017 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that about a third of Americans felt that race relations are very poor, while nearly half of those polled felt that race relations are fairly bad - a combined total of about 80%. The very fact that so many people are conscious of the downward race relations spiral and oppose government policies that aim to exclude people of different cultural backgrounds, is a good sign. Americans disagree about Confederate monuments, immigration, and cultural diversity in the workplace. What we as Americans can agree on is that our country is better as a result of embracing people from all walks of life.

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African American Recruitment & Retention – Show Me the Money!

african american recruitment

Want to Impress Me? A Diversity Best Practice Award is Not Enough!

African American Recruitment & Diversity Best Practice Organizations

The workplace is where people aim to make their economic lives better. Perceptions of income disparity affect perceptions of unfairness and inequities in the workplace. That is because differences in income have real-world consequences. The perception that African Americans enjoy less income on average than other groups influence their engagement and retention.

According to a National Urban League workplace satisfaction study, African Americans tend to have the least favorable view of their workplace environment–even for diversity best practice award organizations.[i] The awards give them a greater sense of inequity rather than a sense of pride in their workplace. If an African American worker perceives that black employees are concentrated at the lower levels of their workplace and few mobilize to the higher levels, that impacts their view of how inclusive the organization is.

african american recruitment

Managers and human resource officers do not want a single employee to feel undervalued. When African Americans feel underappreciated, many managers feel a sense of falling short of creating an inclusive culture. They want to treat each employee fairly but often admit that finding ways to address a sense of inequity among African Americans in the workplace is complex and challenging. I refer to this as Ambivalent Bias, which is simultaneously valuing cultural diversity and, unconsciously, exclusive stereotypes of other groups. African American recruitment requires not only thinking out of the box but also resolving negative stereotypes. One way to break through reduce the threat of stereotyping is to treat cultural diversity recruits as indispensable talent.

How a Sense of Unfairness Impacts African American Recruitment & Retention

A perception of pay inequity is more than a desire to be treated equitably. Lower pay has consequences for quality of life. While salary represents only one part of the job satisfaction equation, understanding the African American workers’ economic circumstances can offer insights into some of the factors that contribute to a sense of unfairness and inequity. A recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report, Income Spending Patterns Among Black Americans[i], characterizes African American employees’ incentives as reflected in their financial situation.

african american recruitment

Some of the Study’s Relevant Findings Concerning African American Household Income

  • African Americans annual income on average is about 70% ($45,287.00) of the national average ($63,935.00)
  • About thirty-five (35%) of the annual African American income is accounted for by those with income in the range of $12,500.00–$37,999.00.
  • The average African American household is inhabited by 2.57 people.
  • There are 1.25 vehicles in a household on average.
  • Most African American households are renters living in apartments or flats with 5 ½ rooms and 1-½ bathrooms on average.
  • STEM jobs offer greater income opportunities, which is likely the reason 34% of African American college student freshman choose the career.

How far does their income go?

  • Their expenditures account for nearly 80% of their pretax wages ($36,139).
  • Housing alone consumes the largest proportion, which accounts for about 1/3rd of their wages.
  • Transportation and food account for the next highest percentages of expenditures.
  • The remaining 1/3rd includes things like personal insurance and pensions, healthcare, entertainment, cash contributions, apparel, and education.
  • Many African Americans with a desire to complete a degree in STEM change their field of study as the challenges in completing the degree become a reality.

Income Level Differences Among African Americans

  • High-income African Americans make on average about $112,000.00 with a range of $94,000.00–$162,000.00).
  • Low-income households were made up of about 1.9 people while high-income households averaged 3.3.
  • High-income households average 2.1 vehicles while low-income accounts for about 0.5 vehicles.
  • Those in the high-income category tend to own their homes while low-income rent.
  • High-income households spend about 70% more in expenditures than their lower-class counterparts.
  • Those with high income spend about 1/3rd of their income on housing while housing accounts for nearly half of low-income expenditures.
  • High-income African Americans spend more for expenditures overall compared to low-income African Americans with one exception–tobacco and smoking supplies. Lower income persons outspent and proportionally outranked their higher income counterparts in this area of consumption.

What Can We Learn from the Data?

The African American STEM degree candidate is a commodity. Many organizational leaders say that they value cultural diversity and it is a key component of their organization’s success, yet they do not offer pay equal to white American recruits. Instead, the organization should treat African Americans and other historically excluded group candidates as commodities – like hiring top performers or the talented athletes. Few would reject an offer to pay above scale to a candidate that has graduated top of the class.

African American recruitment requires showing them the money. The ‘pay them at the top of the scale” call to action may be difficult for many to embrace. It is considered too disruptive, which is appropriate given that disruption is valued in the technology sector. Treating the African American STEM degree candidate as a commodity shows that the organization truly values cultural diversity and differences in problem-solving. This is one way to increase recruitment success as I point out in the recent article “How to Turn Your Cultural Diversity Recruits On!“.

It may be that African American candidates assume that the organization does not care enough to pay them what they are worth. Pay equity is a start. Paying them at or near the top of the scale sends a message that they are valued. That’s the best way to compete for the best and brightest in an increasingly culturally diverse applicant pool.

About the Author

Billy Vaughn, Ph.D. CDP CDT CDE is director of the Diversity Executive Leadership Academy and an award-winning cultural diversity expert.

This is a reprint and update of the article by the same name, which is a Diversity Blog publication. The original is located at


[i] Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014). Income and spending patterns among black households. Vol. 3, No. 24.

[i] National Urban League (2005). Diversity best practices that work. National Urban League, New York.

Organizational Leadership: When Students Invite Ann Coulter to Campus

organizational leadership

Organizational Leadership is the Key to Learning Outside the Classroom

The college campus is recognized as a place for sharing ideas and developing critical thinking skills. Discussing controversial topics in the classroom is crucial for learning about different values and beliefs. I learned about the power of exposing students to different viewpoints in structured learning activities during the late 1980s. I was an ethnic studies and psychology professor at California State University, Fullerton which is located in southern California’s conservative Orange County. Hot social topics were ripe for helping students struggle with taking different points of view.

Why aren’t today’s organizational leaders, such as Challenges and Presidents, taking advantage of the teachable moments that controversial campus speaking engagements present? I understand organizational leaders’ dilemma especially having served on a school wide leadership team. Safeguarding free speech must be balanced with realistic concerns about angry demonstrators getting out of control. What I do not understand is why higher education organizational leadership appear to shy away from demanding academic excellence when controversial speakers come to campus.

Organizational Leadership Means Preparing for Crises

Perhaps leaders can benefit from what I learned early in my college teaching career.  I learned out of necessity how to structure learning environments in which controversial topics are discussed to increase critical thinking skills. I taught a required general education cultural diversity course. Only two to three of the fifty students in the course were not white American. Some students became disruptive when fellow classmates shared their honest opinions about controversial topics. I remember the only African American in one class calling a white American female classmate a racist after she offered her views about anti affirmative action. The tension in the classroom was very high after students started to talk over each other and taking sides. I somehow facilitated the class safely through the discussion, but I wasn’t at my best. In addition, my views about cultural diversity were shaped by the 1960s civil rights movement. The students felt that I was taking the ‘liberal” side on topics and it showed in my teaching evaluations.

 The results of using the critical thinking exercises, ground rules, and increasing understanding about emotional reactions to competing views were remarkable.

The faculty review committee strongly advised me to improve my teaching performance. I sought changes that would both improve my teaching while not watering down the instruction. My cognitive psychology training came in handy as I sought answers to my dilemma. I found a series of publications called Taking Sides. The publications provide articles on controversial topics in debate style format to encourage critical thinking. The affirmative action debate, for example, has a pro affirmative action and an anti affirmative action article. Students were randomly assigned to read one side of the argument or the other. They were placed in small groups afterwards according to the side of the argument that they read. Each group developed a persuasive presentation to the class in support of the point of view. Students for the most part presented enthusiastically during the role play whether or not they agreed with the viewpoint. The structured lessons were very productive and the students showed increased critical thinking skills.

Some of the topics made students very emotional. Critical thinking skills were not easily accessible for these mostly Christian students when discussing topics such as gay and lesbian rights. Some students objected to reading the article that supported gay and lesbian rights. I turned to cognition and emotion psychology literature as well as mediation and negotiation books to address the lingering student challenges. That led to the introduction of ground rules to create greater sense of safety during classroom discussions. I also incorporated a lecture on the cognition and emotion literature and related it to cultural diversity debates.

The results of using the critical thinking exercises, ground rules, and increasing understanding about emotional reactions to competing views were remarkable. I no longer had to mediate arguments between students with different points of view. The exercise helped them better understand different views about controversial topics. The ground rules enabled them to self govern when someone behaves out of boundaries. I could sit back more to watch let them teach and learn from each other. My evaluations improved. I even wrote articles about what I had learned which were published in academic publications.


The larger arena in which controversial speakers share their thoughts with students is not as contained as the classroom. At the same time, controversial speeches are still taking place on campus. Imagine creating structured learning events when controversial figures are invited to campus. Students are expected to create learning experience with faculty and staff support instead of the typical  free for all in which some can decide to act like hooligans. Structured learning takes putting in the time to prepare students for the event, making the linkages between the event and learning clear, and providing ground rules for participation. Give the audience the opposing viewpoints to enhance learning and critical thinking. The emphasis should always be on teaching and learning. It may not be easy to transfer the classroom experience to the larger arena of campus speeches. But it is the responsibility of organizational leadership to use educational tools and faculty expertise to transfer critical thinking to student life outside the classroom.

Billy Vaughn PhD CDP CDT CDE is a Contributing Faculty Member at Walden University, consultant and trainer at, and director of the Diversity Executive Leadership Academy. His bio is located at

Cultural IQ: Cop Nearly Gives Black Woman Heart Attack

It is very difficult to build trust when there is a history of perceived injustice. Any attempt by the police to show a good gesture to people in the black community is commendable. But it requires cultural competence. One white American’s offer to a black American woman a good example of poor Cultural IQ. It was caught on video.

cultural iq

The young man narrating the video points out the officer’s cultural competency gap. Because he was being good hearted and the gesture would make him feel good, the officer thought it was a good idea. He failed to consider the recipient’s initial reaction to being stopped by the police. Notice in the video that the driver adjusted her initial answer to the officer’s question to add ‘sir”? She was very nervous and it lingered even after she realized that it was an act of kindness. It was at once a surprise, a relief, and unsettling. Had it been someone with poor health, it could have led to a heart attack.

What is Cultural IQ?

Cultural Intelligence, or Cultural IQ, is the ability to successfully navigate cultural differences with superior social problem solving skills. We train participants in the Diversity Executive Leadership Academy program to develop their Cultural IQ with focus on achieving high mindfulness, empathy, curiosity, and people skills (see Some of us come into the world with the ability, but too many of us suffer from low Cultural IQ. The good news is that it can be learned.

Community Policing Skills

This is a valuable lesson about what is needed to improve community policing competence. What do you think the officer could have done differently to get his point across while reducing the initial stress of the people he approached?


Diversity And Inclusion: Creating cultural competence in a diverse world. Michelle Maldonado interviews Dr. Billy Vaughn, PhD CDP.



The Diversity Training Pain Islandbilly diversity training

Diversity training has a bad reputation and diversity professionals are at fault. Diversity training alone is too often marketed as a strategy. This leads to unreasonable expectations about outcomes. Consider the research by Professors Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev. Their 2006 diversity training publication received considerable media attention because the research concluded that the practice does not increase diversity in management level positions (article link).

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Busting the Myths About Diversity Training

I challenged their assumption that diversity training alone can change an organization. Too many diversity professionals are quick to offer training without identifying the organization’s competence gaps (article link). Diversity training is a data driven tool when used properly–not a program. It is one tool among others to deploy in an organizational change strategy. A major problem is that most diversity programs are merely a set of diversity best practices that have been haphazardly put together, but that is a topic beyond the scope of this newsletter. Let it suffice here to say that diversity training, as with any other practice, must be strategically implemented based on a data-driven change strategy designed to move an organization from its current identified state to one in which members experience greater inclusion.

Another assumption Dobbin and Kalev make is that all diversity training is the same. A number of factors determine the degree to which diversity training is effective. Many human resource managers request sensitivity training when confronted with complaints about racism or sexism. The problem is that most of their employees have had a similar training in some form or another given its popularity over the past 35 years.

Group Diversity Training

One site visitor to’s diversity blog confided that he had taken a similar cultural awareness course for different employers. He asked for my opinion about employers accepting certificates from similar training so that employees would not be required to go through it more than once. He arguably makes a good point. His predicament puts him on Pain Island.

Designing High Impact Diversity Training

We teach Diversity Trainer Certification participants that the ideal way to utilize diversity training is to view it as one solution among a set of diversity practices (article here). I have described the cultural competence framework in detail elsewhere (article here).


Cultural competence has four components: awareness, attitude, knowledge, and skills. Cultural competence represents the degree to which an individual has developed maximum capability for each component. The higher the number of people in an organization with high cultural competence, the more culturally component the organization is as a whole. A sense of inclusion increases at the same rate.

Developing a culturally competent organization requires identifying performance gaps. A typical scenario is an individual with high cultural diversity awareness and values diversity, but has little knowledge and skill competence based on an assessment. The result is that they tend to come off to others as prejudice when talking about and managing diversity. Giving these individuals more awareness training is a waste of time and resources. They need knowledge and skills training to increase proficiency.

diversity certification

Evaluating Diversity Training

The cultural competence framework is useful for evaluating off-the-shelf diversity training. Simply categorize the objectives, modules, exercises, etc. as either awareness, attitude, knowledge, or skill. The resulting frequency data will inform you about the specific component competence the training emphasizes. Most of the existing training, including the popular unconscious bias training, will likely fall into the awareness and attitude categories and far short of developing skills.


In conclusion, the diversity training field has been around for decades, but it suffers from lack of relevance for modern organizations. A prevalent faulty assumption is that the training can change organizations. Research on the utility of diversity training is problematic as a result. But, you can break the cycle. This article presents a cultural competence approach to designing diversity initiatives and training with considerable promise for getting us out of this quagmire. It will feel like cruising from pain island to pleasure island.


Kalev, A., & Dobbin, F., & Kelly, E. (2006). Best practices or best guesses?: Assessing the efficacy of corporate affirmative action and diversity policies. American Sociological Review, Vol. 71 (August: 589-617).

Vaughn, B. E. (2008). The short-sighted Washington Post article about diversity training. Diversity Blog.

Martin, M., & Vaughn, B. E. (2007). Cultural competence: The nuts and bolts of diversity and inclusion. Diversity Officer Magazine (2001). The Organizational Inclusion Assessment Toolkit.

About the Author:

Billy Vaughn,, PhD (Dr. Billy) is an award-winning psychologist and cultural diversity expert. He has many publications, serves as the Diversity Executive Leadership Academy director, as well as consults and trains for Fortune 500, defense sector, and government clients. Learn much more about him at