Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Andres Tapia, Chief Diversity Officer of Hewitt, on his book, The Inclusion Paradox. Below are his responses to the questions I asked. I am sure you will appreciate the inside scoop on what it took to create this very powerful book.
Tell us about your book.
The Inclusion Paradox: The Obama Era and the Transformation of Global Diversity has to do with the fact that rather than putting all our energy into finding similarities in order to get inclusion, we’d be better off in constructively knowing how to call out our differences. Paradoxically, it is by focusing on those differences that we find true inclusion. In looking at and only focusing on similarities, we paper over differences that are real and therefore don’t enter into relationships, conversations, products and services that take into account our differences.
We need to put into effect how we want to be communicated to, what motivates us, what inspires us. So if corporations want to find true inclusion, they must be more effective in constructively identifying what those differences are and then designing programs, etc that not only appeal to the consumers, but also enable those employees to give their best back to the company.
In the book, I suggest a topical application of these inclusion principles that span a broad range of categories. I also discuss how corporations can design their benefits, health, retirement savings, and work-life flexibility to best suit their employees’ needs. [n addition, I’ve included a chapter that talks about how the arts – dance, music, etc. – are on the cutting edge of the diversity inclusion discussion.
What do I mean by Obama Era? We are living in the era that made Obama possible, meaning that if we did not have the demographic shifts we’ve had in this country, (minority migration, etc.), not had rise of a Millennial generation, digital generation, X’er harnessing of the internet for purposes of social networking, if we were not in a time of great tumult politically and economically, we would not have an African American or mixed-race president in White House.
This is a time of great upheaval where the world is not flat but upside-down. This opened up an electorate to alternatives they might not have had before or been willing to consider. We witnessed the coming of voting age of a new generation, an era where technology evolves from information to social networking, and people of color now are powerful voting blocs. The Obama Era has to do with the era that made him possible…and also about the man himself. His unique perspective, whtehr one agrees with it or not, will further define this era. In the book, I focus on the cultural implications of the Obama Era on the work of diversity and inclusion.
How did you get started as a writer?
I always loved to write, even as a little kid. I’d get in trouble for not paying attention in math class because I was writing a story instead of paying attention to the teacher. One time, I watched a clip on TV of the Indy 500 in Peru, and wrote a story about an intergalactic race called the Pluto 500. In the fifth grade, I wrote a guide for French rats and visitors called “How to Survive the Sewer Pipes of Paris” with friend who was an illustrator. A teacher saw this and thought the story and illustrations and thought it was pretty cool. So she sent us down to the principal’s office to show the principal my story. Unfortunately, the context for this was not explained to the principal who thought I was “being sent down to the principal’s office” for having done something wrong and he castigated me out of the misunderstanding. This was my first true experience with writing and I discovered for the first time that writing can inspire and be controversial. I’ve been writing ever since. I later went to the Medill School of Journalism. I wanted to be a global correspondent and ended up with a History degree with an emphasis in political science and journalism.
Why do I write? For the purpose to enact change. That’s what drives me. I’m not interested in just reporting. I want to understand the whys for things, what do they mean for us, and how can what we learn give us insight and direction for new positive change for society.
So how does this tie into my role as Chief Diversity Officer? I hadn’t intended to be a CDO. It was not a clearly established role when I started my career. A series of circumstances led me to this role. Social change journalism surfaces things that are hidden and bring them to light and makes connections about what they mean and implications for the reader. As CDO, the role is the same. It is about surfacing hidden issues and bringing them to the light, and looking to see how we can make things better?. I do this as a leader, and writing is part of enabling change.
Favorite books (especially for writers)
My favorite books? On Writing Well by William Zinsser – a classic but I refer to it often. It is an inspirational and practical bible for writers that want to write in a memorable way.
Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and Bird by Bird by Annie Lamott are also favorites of mine.
I am also a big fan of Latin American literature — Mario Llosa Vargas, Gabriel Garcia Marquez in particular. I also enjoy Southern American writers like Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and the contemporary author Pat Conroy. Interestingly, all of these authors are Catholic. I didn’t realize this for the longest time…what is it about this?
These writers all write about the naturalness of the supernatural that’s just a part of life….that’s how life is. These writers share larger-than-life characters, pathos and ecstasy, and the celebration of the full spectrum of emotion that makes up our lives. I also enjoy African American writers: Alice Walker, in particular. Another of my favorites is Toni Morrison. Her novel “Beloved” is truly haunting and still gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.
The Best and Worst Part of Being a Writer?
I once heard this question asked of another writer. He was asked if he loved writing. He paused and finally said, “I hate writing, but I love having written.”
Advice for other writers?
Be disciplined. It’s fun to talk about great ideas, but in the end if you don’t write, you have nothing. It’s about writing and making it a discipline. What helps me write is to make sure almost every day I sit down and write something, whether a sentence, 150 words, or maybe I’ll have a burst of inspiration and end up with 2000 words. Make it a habit to show up during your best, most alert writing time. My best writing times are 8 to 10 am and 8 to 10 pm.
My greatest fear? Losing what I’ve written….a computer system crash, for example. Save often, save frequently, back up your data, email to yourself…in short, be obsessive compulsive about saving your writing.
For more information on Andres and his book, visit www.inclusionparadox.com, his blog.