The Many Benefits of Diversity
When asked to write about what diversity means to me professionally and personally, I thought very hard how to encapsulate a lifetime of being in and around cultures other than my own.
Because my home is multiculturally diverse (we speak two languages and my husband is not from the U.S.) I asked my 4- and 6-year-old children (children just seem to have the ability to sum things up to a very simple explanation) what they think it means.
My 4-year-old daughter was convinced that “diversity” is the name of the doll I promised for her birthday, half true – I did promise a new doll but that’s not her name, but a cool name for a doll. My 6-year-old son faired a little better and said he thinks it means cool and different.
The fact that we are all so different is a common theme that unites us.
May I just pause, and relish in the pride a mother feels when your kids get it right? Yes, diversity means different. Different from where we come from, what we think, how we live our lives and how we do our work. What I thought was enlightening is that when I asked how that made him feel he had nothing negative to say about other people being “different”.
And I thought how powerful and wonderful it would be if we all approached diversity with the same attitude of acceptance and interest in other people’s differences. Think of how that could positively affect our work and home environments.
Diversity is What Makes Us Different
I have had the privilege of working and living in countries outside the U.S. and experienced what it is to work in a culturally diverse environment. I have witnessed the benefits of diversity and to see how other people live their lives and how their worlds enrich our own.
Working with people from different backgrounds gives us the opportunity to empathize. By doing this we can learn to be more accepting of our differences and incorporate alternatives to the solutions we offer daily. The advantages are innumerable and can substantially contribute to the success of any organization or individual.
My first memories growing up in Southern California are being exposed to and living alongside people from all walks of life. You can take a culinary trip to any part of the world in many of the strip malls that line Los Angeles and surrounding areas.
I remember being fascinated with hearing stories of where people came from, the food they eat, the languages they speak. But diversity is much more than geographical origins, language and culture – being diverse is also evident in our gender, belief systems and opinions.
One important lesson in diversity I learned while living in Spain. On my first day in a new job in a foreign country I was speaking Spanish to Spaniards. Needless to say, I was terribly nervous. I remember a woman staring at me after we ended our first meeting.
She told me I was the first American she had ever met and thought Americans were different than Spaniards. But she was most impressed with the fact that I didn’t look very different from her and that she wouldn’t have known where I was from until I started speaking.
First, I thought of the pressure of being the standard for the entire U.S., but then it occurred to me what a unique opportunity this was to share my perspective and culture with someone who had never met another American. Diversity in the workplace can mean so much more than identifying our differences. It can also mean using the opportunity to learn about others and share your own perspective.
Being Different is Something We Have in Common
There are many, many benefits to diversity in the workplace. Bringing together talents, skills, and experiences from different backgrounds helps solve problems and grow business. By pooling talent from different backgrounds, you can create a multifaceted problem-solving team.
Different approaches and tactics geared towards solving problems and growing business provide for many different ways to arrive at the end goal, and that is to move your business forward. This kind of teamwork creates and fosters innovation, a key element in today’s business environment and a critical component for success.
“We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideas, not blood and soil…...We are three-hundred-and-twenty-five million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other
than in disagreement.”
Senator John McCain
Language skills is another big benefit. Language skills open doors to new opportunities, markets, and territories. The ability to communicate with people in other countries is paramount to success in commercializing products outside the U.S.
Our company has successfully opened markets throughout South America, Central America, and Mexico because we speak both Spanish and English (and other languages) and are able to communicate with clients from Spanish-speaking countries at every level of our organization.
As I write this article, current events and the hyper-divisive nature of politics in this country makes me think (and hope) that we can find commonalities in our diversity. Almost all of us, other than the Native Americans – come from families that emigrated from somewhere else.
We come from different cultures, languages, ethnicities, etc. The fact that we are all so different is a common theme that unites us. Harnessing the diversity of employees and fostering an environment of cultural sensitivity in your organization will lead to countless benefits. This thought prompts me to the last words of a great American hero we recently laid to rest, Senator John McCain:
“We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideas, not blood and soil…...We are three-hundred-and-twenty-five million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement.”
I can’t imagine better words that relate the true meaning and implications of diversity. Senator McCain goes on in his letter to speak about the importance of using the differences we have to try and understand, empathize and unite for good in our lives. My son summed it up perfectly; different is cool. Let us try to be united in our diversity and cool in our differences.
SUSAN COLE is the Director Business Development for Digital Printing Systems. She can be reached at Susan.Cole@dpstickets.com