Thursday, August 14, 2008

Diversity Without Opportunity is Just Talk

I attended the Greater Fort Worth Chapter PRSA's August luncheon and meeting where the group heard from a panel on diversity.

The topic, Working Diversity into the Workplace promised to be at best, an interesting approach to something that seems fundamental OR at worst, a nice way to get out of the office and have some pretty good fajitas.

Personal aside: It was kind of funny that we had our diversity session at a famous Mexican restaurant in Fort Worth.
(Thanks, Terry.)

Photo credit: chrisjfry

The People
We were introduced to a panel that included:
  • Mitch Hill, Baylor Hospital (social worker)
  • Leah King, Chesapeake Energy (community relations)
  • Tom Burke, IBM (communications/public relations)
  • Dora Tovar, Tovar PR (public relations)
  • Ken Reeves, Bell Helicopter (human resources)
I was immediately struck by the make-up of the group. Aside from the obvious male/female/ethnic differences, our chapter diversity chair had an interesting mix of PR and non-PR professionals. I had an idea of how PR can help address diversity to build and maintain relationships. What I was looking forward to was seeing how this group would approach the topic.


Thoughts on diversity vs. culture
Here are a few of the thoughts that resonated with me:

Mitch Hill thinks we wear many masks and take on multiple cultures.
"There is diversity within myself," he said. "Once we understand this about ourselves, we can move forward."
Leah King said she lived oversees and takes a broader approach to diversity.

Tom Burke pointed out how IBM approaches diversity.
"[IBM is] welcoming everyone to the workplace regardless of differences un-related to their job functions."
Letter from IBM's Vice President of Global Workforce Diversity, Ron Glover

Tom also made what I thought to be an excellent point about our topic.
"Diversity is not created, it already exists."
Dora Tovar spoke more on culture, telling the group that culture in the U.S. is very individual and is in constant change.
"Those that can adapt and change will be the most marketable."
She also pointed out that diversity is about representation and culture is about identity.

Ken Reeves followed Tovar and gave his perspective on diversity stating that it is not just about representation, it's about opportunity. He explained how as an ex-NFL player he had to develop a strategy to diversify himself and about the corporate strategy at Bell Helicopter related to diversity.
"Until [diversity] translates into opportunity for everyone, it's just talk."
Moving forward
Each of the panelists brought an enlightened perspective on diversity that went beyond the typical race, ethnicity, sex, religions, etc.

Also, going back to Mitch Hill's reference, the mask metaphor, in my opinion, is fundamental to human communication. It is a great explainer for the different roles we play on a daily basis. We are different (diversity within ourselves) depending on our audience. When I am at home, I play the husband and father roles. At work, my mask is that of a communications/PR professional. With friends...With other family members...With new people...etc. These are all roles that are within me. We all have the different masks to wear. It's not hiding. It's playing the role of a human.

Lastly, the notion that diversity without opportunity is a significant next step. It is not about checking off boxes to make sure your company has this many women or that many Latinos. It is about recognizing the business strategy, objectives, and benefits behind a diversity opportunities.

What do you think? Do you consider yourself to be personally diverse? Do you think you wear masks? Can diversity translate into opportunity?

1 comment:

Terry Morawski said...

I attended the event as well, and thought it was excellent.
One of my favorite takeaways was that diversity is often whittled down to only gender and ethnicity. This is an oversimplified view, as diversity encompasses so many other cultural factors, like religious beliefs, economic norms, etc.