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The Dominance of Rich, White Men Is Eroding -- It's Time to Truly Fight for Diversity

We need both women and men, and folks from a range of ethnic and class backgrounds, informing the creation of business "not as usual."
 
 
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With crisis, comes opportunity.

It’s a cliché that has soothed the displaced, the bankrupt, and the lovesick for generations. Our own moment of transition is certainly no exception. We’ve got an economy in shambles, multiple ill-conceived wars fumbling violently on, a dangerously warming climate, and broken healthcare and education systems. It’s enough to make even the powerful quake in their proverbial boots…which is precisely where the opportunity now lies.

After eight years of elitist, cowboy leadership in the White House and centuries of racism, sexism, and classism in this country -- the old boys are starting to loosen their death grip on power. Archaic institutions are crumbling. Business as usual is being exposed as, not just unjust, but dysfunctional. In last week’s Financial Times, Reihan Salam called it the "death of macho." He foretold a potentially violent gender clash between the highly educated, increasingly powerful women of the world and those of the jobless, alcoholic, disgruntled men folk. His hyperbole masked a more important insight. It’s not machismo that is dying; after all, one out of six women in this country is still sexually assaulted. It is the entrenchment of power among white, wealthy men that is eroding.

The age of access is dawning.

In this moment of economic, environmental, and cultural crisis, there is an opportunity for all of us to have unparalleled influence. There is a new willingness among politicians and business leaders to try new approaches to our oldest challenges and invite new people to the table. Just look at the diverse life experiences and perspectives of those on Obama’s cabinet and the folks he’s invited to advise him on everything from climate change to health policy. Lynn Rosenthal, a domestic violence advocate from New Mexico, was just appointed as the first-ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women. Interest in social entrepreneurship is on the rise at business schools across the nation and the profit and non-profit sectors are unlikely, but increasingly common, bedfellows.

Our newest mediums mirror this move towards genuine democratization and transparency. Courageous women leading the protests in Iran use twitter to get their messages through media suppression, as do those in Honduras. A transphobic website was removed from Blogger last week within hours of its launch thanks to a spirited reaction from the blogosphere. Radical activists from wealthy backgrounds are posting their giving plans on blogs, like Enough. A group of New York women have just created their own Ning social network --  She Writes -- in order to bypass the Paleolithic publishing industry.

In this brave new world, interdependence is undeniable. Small, nervous thinkers like David Zincenko, of Men’s Health, may be calling it a "he-cession," but the visionary among us understand that this moment is not about us vs. them, men vs. women, or white vs. black. This moment is about inclusion. We need all the brilliant minds and moral hearts we can get on our world’s most complex problems. For too long, we’ve been playing with over half of our players -- each of whom brings unique talents, perspectives, and styles -- on the bench.

Majora Carter, for example, can articulate the awesome opportunity at the intersection of our environmental crisis and our inner cities in a way that Al Gore, for all of his contributions, cannot. Her insights are not valuable at the exclusion of his, but in addition to his. Rachel Maddow’s and Campbell Brown’s political insights add a dimension to the nightly news that has been missing, just as Suze Orman’s no-holds-bar financial advice shifts the way all of us think about gender and economics.