Recently, I ran into an insurance professional at a conference. Our discussion turned to the National Conversation and this professional’s criticism of the 2016 Workers’ Compensation Summit’s lack of “diversity.” While their attitude towards the project was positive, they indicated that, looking at a roster of the attendees, that the Summit was essentially “old and white”. This person suggested that we should attempt to be more inclusive in future efforts.

I had to admit, at that point of conversation, they had me. My mind was racing back to the Dallas event, looking at any possible balance in the room at that time. Of the 38 attendees, only one was African American. I’m not sure who, exactly, represented other potential minority interests in the room. From a female/male perspective we had a good mix, as was the age ratio (at least as good as our aging industry can muster). When it comes to that now common lament of a non-diverse arrangement, “pale, male and stale”, pale was the valid point that primarily applied.

I spoke last Friday to fellow Summit organizer, Judge David Langham, about the conversation with this long time industry professional. As it turns out, and by incredible coincidence, his blog post on this very site last Thursday was about a completely different conversation with the exact same person. Therefore, as a tribute to their passion and tenacity regarding our industry, I started this missive with almost the same verbiage as Judge Langham’s article. Both of us have chosen to not identify them, as “who said what” is far less important than the message that was conveyed.

Judge Langham did remind me of an important point. As we were discussing the lack of potential diversity in the group, he reminded me that we largely did not invite individuals to the Dallas event. We invited organizations, and they individually chose representatives to attend. While that might “let us off the hook”, and provides a base explanation, it potentially points to greater diversity concerns for the industry in general.

This is a very difficult topic for me, as I am not a person who easily maneuvers in a politically correct world, and I loathe what I perceive to be our nations penchant for categorizing and judging people simply on the basis of the color of their skin. True diversity is much more complex than that, of course, but on a routine basis, society still often boils “classification” down to not much more than a pigment type. I recall when I was young that my mother (an early example of diversity as a strong female businessperson in her own right) would rail at the state employment’s office job request form still used in the 1970’s. It would ask a business person what race they preferred when they submitted a job opening. My mother always stubbornly entered “human”. Ultimately the issue of true and successful diversity is far more dependent on underlying culture than the cursory classifications on which we often seem to rely.

I honestly have to question the effectiveness of the push for diversity at the perceived expense of everything else. What I fear lost in the discussion is the emphasis on those things we share in common. Certainly we all experience life differently, largely based on culture, race, religion and gender. Those life experiences are all vital for inclusion and consideration within our social and business decision structures. Yet, as a nation, has that push for inclusion brought us closer together?

For well over a decade we have been told to “celebrate our diversity” and “embrace our differences”; yet to the casual observer, the social fabric of this nation seems to be at times tearing along both racial and political lines. It just doesn’t feel like we are making much progress on that front. Perhaps we are so busy focusing on our differences that we have forgotten much of the common ground on which we stand.

I acknowledge, I feel as though I am venturing into taboo and dangerous territory here. However, I’ve already indicated I don’t play well in the politically correct sandbox, so here goes. 

Generally, I firmly believe that there is much in common we share as humans and as citizens of a common nation. People who are black, white, brown, yellow, red, or pink with purple polka dots; people who are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish or atheist, fat or skinny, tall or short, gay or straight, liberal or conservative, native born or naturalized citizen, as well as any other “classification” you can think of, all generally want:

      • Respect
      • Safe communities
      • A better life for their children
      • A fair and responsive government
      • Opportunity for success

Diversity is important. Differences are critical. The varying life experiences of a nation of immigrants is indeed our absolute strength, but only if it is included in a larger social fabric that recognizes the common goals and aspirations almost all of us share. Diversity and varied experience make the blend of threads that give strength to the nations fabric, but those things we share in common provide the glue that holds it all together.

I can respect diversity. I will endeavor to appreciate and understand differences. But I celebrate commonality, as what we share in common is as important as the different experiences that brought us to that point. 

As an industry we must strive to include all voices in our ongoing discussion – to that end the industry pro who challenged me was absolutely correct. We need a broader view in this National Conversation. As we incorporate all those voices, we need to remember the common goal, of an improved workers’ comp system that meets the needs of both its employers and their injured workers.

No matter who they are, or where they are from.

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