When you think about diversity, you probably don’t think about people who are not married. Unmarried status, though, is a diversity issue. In this first of a two-part article, based on my latest column at Unmarried Equality, I present the issue and introduce an example of an employee who tried, unsuccessfully, to make the case for the importance of valuing single people in his organization. In the second part, I will explain why unmarried status is a diversity issue, and what taking that seriously would involve.
I. The Script that Remains Powerful, Even as Fewer People Actually Follow It
Get married, have kids, stay married. That’s the script for how adult lives are supposed to unfold. Never mind that in the U.S., the script maps onto the real lives of fewer and fewer people all the time. Nearly half of all adults 18 and older are legally single, and growing numbers of them never will marry, often by choice. Even with the legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the land, significant numbers of committed couples will keep their commitment but skip the marriage. Of those who do marry, close to half won’t stay that way. The kid part of the script has been upended, too. Growing numbers of single people have kids, and increasing numbers of couples do not.
Even as the way we live now has become strikingly diverse – with nuclear family households accounting for an astonishingly low 20 percent (or less) of all households – the power of the script still prevails. Our laws, our politics, our workplaces, and our places of worship all seem to take that outdated script as a given, as if we all really were living our lives that way, or should be, or should want to be. The media, the marketplace, the realm of advertising, the halls of academia and higher education, and the experiences of our everyday lives are all dominated by that standard life script, too.
Members of Unmarried Equality, together with all other thoughtful people attuned to issues of social justice, know that one of the most consequential implications of the supremacy of the standard life script is in the overwhelming numbers of laws and policies that benefit and protect only those people who follow that script. Those who stray from the valued life path are disadvantaged in all the ways that the advocates for same-sex marriage described so compellingly – and in other ways as well.
But the lesser status of the Americans who do not follow the golden brick road – well over 100 million of them – is not just a legal matter. It is also a diversity issue. Despite the exquisite sensitivities in the U.S. and elsewhere to all sorts of categories of people who lay claim to consideration in diversity programs, the case for those who are not married can be a difficult one to make.
I was reminded of this when Kevin Markey, a member of the Community of Single People who is from the U.K., described his unsuccessful attempt to get some recognition for single and unmarried people in his workplace. I’ll share his story next, then explain why his “Diversity Champion” was anything but, and why the status of not being married deserves to be considered a serious diversity issue. In this column, I will focus on unmarried status as a diversity issue in the workplace. But it should also be an issue in many other arenas as well, and in the future, I will address some of those.
II. An Example of a Workplace that Prides Itself on Valuing Diversity, But Offered Only Dismissiveness toward Unmarried Employees
Kevin Markey should have had an easy time being heard. His organization prides itself on the diversity of its membership and the seriousness with which it considers issues of diversity. His workplace has “Diversity Champions” who are “responsible for supporting and encouraging progress of our diversity agenda.” The Champions focus on eight categories:
- Lesbian, gay, and bisexual
- Religion or belief
So when Markey wrote a letter explaining the importance of valuing and recognizing people who are not married, and sent it to the Chief Executive and Diversity Advocate of his organization, he didn’t expect to be dismissed out of hand.
The person responding on behalf of the Diversity Advocate explained that the eight categories were chosen based on “evidence of the need to:
- Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment, and victimization
- Advance equality of opportunity
- Foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who don’t.”
The responding person added that a survey had been conducted and the results indicated that no Champion was needed for people who are unmarried, single, or in civil partnerships.
In Part 2, I will explain why unmarried status is a diversity issue, and what taking that seriously would involve. [Here it is.]
[This article is cross-posted from Unmarried Equality.]
Office buildings photo available from Shutterstock