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John Sumser

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(October 15, 2004) -  Could someone please tell us what "Diversity" is? When looking, we get the following various definitions:
  • The Company endeavors to model for the state and nation, a community of individuals who seek what is best for each other. The Company respects and significantly benefits from diversity such as may be expressed through racial/ethnic, gender, cultural, disability, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic differences. It takes seriously its responsibility to offer educational and professional opportunities equitably to all qualified persons it can accommodate. The Company provides understanding and supportive interaction among diverse population groups and respects individuals' personal values and ideas.

  • Diversity is a reality created by individuals and groups from a broad spectrum of demographic and philosophical differences. It is extremely important to support and protect diversity because by valuing individuals and groups free from prejudice, and by fostering a climate where equity and mutual respect are intrinsic, the company will create a success-oriented, cooperative and caring community that draws intellectual strength and produces innovative solutions from the synergy of its people.

  • Diversity is a value that is shown in mutual respect and appreciation of the similarities and differences (such as age, culture, education, ethnicity, experience, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.) that make people unique. An environment where diversity is respected is one where as individuals, and united as members of teams, we can effectively apply all of our talents, skills and experiences in pursuit of business objectives to our competitive advantage.

  • You have to keep the lines open. Listen to what's being said. Show respect for the differences you see and mine the advantages they provide. Make sure your competitive edge is not being dulled by your inherent drive to adapt and assimilate. Talk about the value you place on workforce diversity.
  • The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences.  These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.  It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.
  • Diversity is "otherness," or those human qualities that are different from our own and outside the groups to which we belong, yet are present in other individuals and groups. It is important to distinguish between the primary and secondary dimensions of diversity.  Primary dimensions are the following: age, ethnicity, gender, physical abilities/qualities, race and sexual orientation.  Secondary dimensions of diversity are those that can be changed, and include, but are not limited to: educational background, geographic location, income, marital status, military experience, parental status, religious beliefs, and work experiences. 
  • The term diversity, when applied to people, means a wide range of cultures and subcultures that represent a variety of values, ideologies, beliefs, languages, behaviors, symbols, customs and rituals.
  • If an organization is to stay in touch with a demographically changing marketplace, its employees must understand their role in building an environment that attracts, fully utilizes, and retains the best and brightest employees. But they must first recognize their biases and assumptions about those whose appearance, physical abilities, age, background or beliefs differ from their own and understand how their attitudes translate into behaviors that impact their peers and bottom-line productivity
  • DIVERSITY-BASED: a basic understanding of, a commitment to, and a valuing of the unique perspectives and differences that people bring to relationships. Decisions and behaviors are driven by a cognitive awareness and emotional acceptance of diversity as a positive concept with positive impacts on existence. Diversity Based becomes part of the essence or bedrock of an individual. Diversity Based is an individual understanding, a commitment, a valuing of diversity in a way similar to what is meant when behavior and decisions, or education, are described as values-based. Being diversity-based is more than having diversity awareness of self and others, and knowing how that influences behavior. These are important beginnings. The diversity-based commitment is marrow to the bone and soul.

We believe that there is something powerful and important to be discovered when an organization makes a commitment to developing the maximum return on its investment in Human Capital. We're just having a hard time coming up with a single, useful definition of the term. You'd think that there would be more to the question that the measured righting of old wrongs.

We're probably taking the question too seriously, but we wonder:

  • Is a workforce population that reflects local diversity adequate?
  • Is diversity different in different parts of the country? The world?
  • Does the term "diversity" confuse the question to the point of uselessness?
  • How do you know when your diversity is good enough? Who's the judge?
  • Can you have too much of a good thing?
  • How do you balance diversity and bottom line profit?
  •     ie, Sending a woman to negotiate a contract in Saudi Arabia?

We're struggling on this one. While we clearly see the theoretical benefits of a culture that mines differences for its advantage, we wonder why, in all of the stuff on the web, there is so little direct correlation between diversity and profitability. We're open to your ideas and pointers.

-John Sumser

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