Consider Diversity

I happened to read Chief Matt Tobia’s piece on racism in the American fire service the other day (and you can read it here at FirefighterNation.com). The United States has a long and embarrassing history of discrimination.  This is not to say other nations have not, but given that the United States of America was created in the ideal of all individuals being equal, it still seems that over each decade, another group has been found to be on the “outside looking in”.  One generation’s out-group is the next’s in-group, but another one always seems to pop up unceremoniously.

Discrimination is certainly not exclusive to the United States, and there are regions in the world where intolerance is simply part of the ruling culture. As the leader of the free world, Americans need to stand for those who are vulnerable, not necessarily because those individuals are weak or lack ability, but because the values or beliefs that have been used against the “outsiders” for so long are not fair. When organizations and teams learn to leverage all human ability and ensure that qualified individuals are valued for more than just appearance of belief, they can overcome amazing hurdles. Organizations must abandon discrimination against people for possessing characteristics that are not relevant to the job they perform.

The United States must also face the reality that while many nations desire to be like us, there are also many who realize that there are more competitive environments to work within.  Australia, France, and the United Kingdom, for example, have made diversity a much broader experience than in the U.S.  This creates a significant disadvantage when competing for human resources we consider valuable. I have said this many times before: If we fail to change and evolve, we can soon become irrelevant.  If the United States wants to be always on the cutting edge and lead, the citizens of our nation must understand embracing differences that can make us powerful through our relationships with others.

In the United States, the demographics of the workforce continue to change.  Thanks to the population “bulge” created by the Baby Boomers, the average age of workers has increased.  More women, minorities, and the disabled have been pushing into the workforce.  Employment policies must be fair and equitable and not create bias toward or against any subset of individuals. However, while diversity is not an exclusively American concept, we also need to understand that our increased efforts to recognize and respect those with differences is not sufficient compared with some nations, and very liberal in comparison to others. Diversity initiatives and training programs assume individuals will change their way of thinking when it comes to accepting the differences of others.  More often than not, individuals do not change because of these efforts, but because the change is necessary for continued survival. Change does not occur unless some heat is involved.

The organization has to want to change and management has to lead those changes.  Managers must demonstrate good attitudes and open-minded approaches to solving issues.  The organization must realize that if the customers they serve can identify with that organization, and if the organization is able to create relationships that reflect the values of the customers, the customers will be much more likely desire to work with that organization. Diversity creates competitive advantages that cannot be duplicated by other means.  Diverse cultures create synergy to the workplace and likewise, to marketing, problem solving, and just general outlook and attitude.  To win the hearts of the people you serve, it is very helpful that when they see you, they are looking at their reflection. Instead of striving to separate ourselves from those we work for, perhaps we should be trying to emulate their good points.

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