We talk a lot about diversity in HR, and we have all sorts of programs and measurements in place. Many businesses are even subject to Affirmative Action Reporting, where you have to declare to the federal government the racial and gender makeup of your staff. As a result, many businesses proudly proclaim that not only are they Equal Opportunity Employers but that they are sensitive to all different cultures.
But, just a question: What do you know about the average white American? Is this an important group? You bet. If you want your product to sell well, you'll need to market properly and design products that appeal to this group as well as other groups. If you're white yourself, you may assume you understand what the average white American is thinking, but you may not. You may live in a bubble.
Political scientist Dr. Charles Murray studies white America and the concept of bubbles--how people are insulated from groups other than their own. He found that if you live in certain zip codes, you're very likely to be a born and raised bubble person without much contact with the average white American. Did you grow up in New York City? San Francisco? Silicon Valley? You're likely very "bubbled."
Just how bubbled? You can take this quiz and find out how well you relate.
The questions include things such as
- Did you grow up in a family in which the chief breadwinner was not in a managerial position or a high-prestige profession (defined as attorney, physician, dentist, architect, engineer, scientist, or college professor)?
- Have you ever lived for at least a year in the United States at a family income that was close to or below the poverty line? (Graduate school doesn't count.)
- Have you ever had a close friend who was an evangelical Christian?
- Have you ever had a close friend who could seldom get better than Cs in high school, even if he or she tried hard?
Why does this matter? Because your upbringing colors your current worldview. If you know no evangelical Christians, you are going to have a hard time understanding what 25.4 percent of the population thinks. If you've never lived in true poverty (as the question says, grad school doesn't count), you won't be likely to understand why people can't just pull themselves together and earn more money.
The average white American is just that--the average. If you don't understand what makes that group tick, you're losing out on a huge potential client base. If you hire only from certain schools, you're also likely to have a company that may have a rainbow of skin colors but not a lot of diversity within those groups.
Dr. Murray's research focuses on white Americans, but there's no reason to believe this problem doesn't carry over into all races. We all live in bubbles--after all, an evangelical Christian from a blue-collar family raised in a rural area is not going to have much of an idea about what makes a Manhattanite tick either.
For the record, I scored a 44, with the average score being 40. The lower the score, the more bubbled you are. I have educated parents, but spent many of my growing up years in a poor neighborhood, and currently live in a blue-collar neighborhood (although, admittedly, outside the U.S.). My friends didn't struggle in school, I am close with several evangelicals, I don't hang out with smokers, I've never owned a pickup truck (although my dad and one of my brothers do), and I generally dislike chain restaurants. (Waffle House excluded. I don't know why.) In contrast, if you grew up in the most bubbled neighborhood--Zip code 10023 in the Upper West Side of Manhattan--you're more likely to score a 12.5.
If you want to broaden your customer base, stop and think about what groups you're not hitting and do some research into what makes them tick. You may find you open up a whole new world for your business.