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Diversity in the Workplace


Guest post by Debra Bethard-Caplick, MBA, APR
 

Another blog post on diversity – I can hear your eyeballs rolling all the way up I-55. Diversity is talked about almost as breathlessly as ethics in business circles, but when we actually get down to it, we’re about as excited about it as we are to pay our income taxes. Why? After all, survey after PRSA survey consistently reports that diversity and ethics are highly valued by our members. So where’s the disconnect?

Let’s think about this. Diversity as a function of our daily work is about as exciting as building media lists. It just can’t compare to the thrill of landing that new client, or placing a highly favorable segment on that morning news show you’ve spent the last several months chasing. The most important thing about diversity is the same thing that makes it so hard to focus on it: diversity should be routine. It should be so much a part of our daily professional existence that we don’t have to think about it, like flipping the light switch when you walk into your office at the start of the day.

Diversity is more than black vs. white vs. brown, it’s diversity of experience, skill levels, thinking and problem solving. Diversity involves everything we are and are not, and when we instinctively hire people similar to us, we end up with a homogenous workplace that looks alike and worse, thinks alike.[i] Imagine going out to eat at an elegant restaurant. You’re served a salad to start, but it comes without dressing, croutons, or any of the other add-ons that disguises the fact that lettuce is inherently without much flavor (bear with me, folks). When the main course arrives it’s pasta without the sauce or fresh ground Parmesan cheese you’re accustomed to. And then there’s dessert. Instead of the delicious cannoli or tiramisu you were expecting, all you get is a plate of flour. Not very appetizing is it? Anyone that cooks knows it takes many different types of ingredients to make a good meal – complementary spices that blend together to make that delicious tiramisu. Yet that’s what we do every day with our companies because we fail to diversify.

Despite all the reports detailing the financial benefits of diversity from prestigious organizations like McKinsey & Company, actual diversity in the workplace isn’t as established as it should be.[ii] There are any number of reasons, from a lack of qualified candidates to a reluctance to hire someone who doesn’t look or sound like us, and anything in between. Look at it this way: diversity is defined in the dictionary as “variety” or “different.” That’s it, really – and different makes things more interesting. It’s not just checking off a box when you hired that one person who is a different ethnicity from yourself. Remember the iconic Macintosh commercial from 1984? Diversity isn’t a black-and-white issue. It’s all colors of the rainbow, with a few others thrown in. It’s hiring an employee that speaks Spanish as a first language who can better communicate with Spanish-speaking customers. It’s finding an employee over 50 for that mid-level position, a person with a handicap or a transgender employee to handle media relations. Trust me – laptops and apps don’t understand gender differences. But customers do, and will appreciate it when that Spanish language employee can explain things in a language they are more comfortable with. Or your LGTBQ employee can alert you before your new product launch campaign inadvertently offends that target market with buying power of $1 trillion[iii].

Diversifying your company doesn’t have to be hard. Start by playing a business version of those “40 Things You Don’t Know About Me” posts that periodically makes the rounds on Facebook. Look at yourself and your coworkers, and identify at least 20 things you have in common. Is it ethnicity? Languages spoken? Age or gender identity? Educational background? Then look for qualified candidates with the skill set you need that don’t match so many of the same characteristics. Change how you recruit to include candidates with different experiences, different ethnicities, different skills, and you’ll be surprised how quickly and easily you’ll become diversified. Take advantage of minority professional organizations; for example, those listed on the Diversity MBA website[iv] or the American Association of People With Disabilities[v]. In St. Louis, the Diversity Awareness Partnership offers free resources, seminars, workshops and more to help you. 

It’s painless, and I promise your business will be more flavorful: in employees, customers, and profits.

NOTE: Melanie Powell-Robinson, Executive Director of Diversity Awareness Partnership and PRSA St. Louis' Chief Diversity Officer, will give a brief presentation on Wednesday, August 22, on the importance of diversifying the workplace followed by a networking happy hour to meet and chat about different diversity tactics and how to employ those tactics in the workplace. More info and registration can be found here

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Debra Bethard-Caplick, MS, MBA, APR, is a healthcare/nonprofit public relations executive and founding partner of Quicksilver Edge Strategic Communications, a boutique public relations firm providing veteran expertise to clients. She is an adjunct PR instructor at DePaul University, past chair of PRSA Midwest District, immediate past president of PRSA Suburban Chicago, a life member of the International Association of Business Communicators and Immediate Past Chief Ambassador of the Illinois Jaycees. In addition to her Silver Anvil and Gold Quill Award-winning client work, she served as the founding professional advisor to the PRSSA chapter at Olivet Nazarene, blogs on the fun and foibles of the public relations profession at www.APRwriter.com and collects memorabilia on PR history. 

[i] http://www.asanet.org/sites/default/files/savvy/documents/press/pdfs/ASR_December2012_Lauren_Rivera_News_Release.pdf
[ii] https://assets.mckinsey.com/~/media/857F440109AA4D13A54D9C496D86ED58.ashx
[iii] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-07-20/lgbt-purchasing-power-near-1-trillion-rivals-other-minorities
[iv] http://diversitymbamagazine.com/about/professional-organization/
[v] https://www.aapd.com/

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