Celebrating diversity

Vanessa Conrad
Administrative Services Manager
Water Pollution Control
Public Utilities Commission
City & County of San Francisco, California

The changing workplace has forced managers and supervisors to redefine their workforce. Thirty years ago, what was the workforce in your organization like? I would guess that the average new employee was male, Caucasian, about 29 years of age, had fewer than 12 years of education, was married, worked in the region of his birth, and had beliefs, values and customs very similar to others in the workplace. Women did not work outside the home and, if they did, probably worked as teachers, nurses, and support staff. Only certain jobs were available to minority groups and, if you had a disability, you rarely found employment, if at all.

Wow, have things changed. Today, the US workforce finds women and people of ethnic minority groups in nearly every type of job, and people with disabilities are now widely employed.

As managers and supervisors, we should view these changes in our workforce as an example of how diversity benefits the workplace with its wide range of talents, abilities, perspectives, and experiences from all the different individuals. This in turn benefits the communities that we serve.

You may well ask, why should we value diversity? Well, when we as employees feel that the diversity we bring to the organization is appreciated and accepted:

* We feel included and part of the group.
* We feel that others depend on us and are interested in us.v * We have two-way communication.
* Our differences are valued and seen as resources.
* Our opinions are solicited and they matter.
* We are included in opportunities.

When diversity is not valued, employees may be made to feel avoided or simply tolerated. The results are:

* We feel excluded and outside of the group.
* We tend to be silent about our individuality.
* We hide our differences so that we fit in.
* We feel anxiety about not fitting in.
* We feel contradictory feelings of pride and shame.
* We tend to be more sensitive.

This results in an unsuccessful work environment, with employees who do not feel appreciated for their contributions.

A successful work environment is one where everyone feels accepted and allows individuals to be more productive, more helpful to others, and more satisfied in their jobs.

Obstacles to valuing diversity in your workforce are:

* Thinking that our reality is the only "real" or "right" one.
* Thinking that what doesn't fit within our reality is wrong, bad or unworkable.
* Thinking that differences are frustrating and/or uncomfortable.
* Resulting in our failure to recognize our own biases and stereotypes.

Does it not make sense that as managers and supervisors, we have a responsibility and obligation to embrace diversity as representative of our community's strength and not just "differences" within the ranks?

We have a responsibility and an obligation to seek the strength in our employees and use this to enhance the organization and the community we serve. Let us "Celebrate Our Organization's Diversity."

Information found in this article is derived from "Celebrating Diversity," a program for employees of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Vanessa Conrad, Past President of APWA's Northern California Chapter, can be reached at 415-648-6882 or by e-mail at vconrad@puc.sf.ca.us.

A big "thank you" goes to members of the Kansas City Metro Chapter for allowing us to use their diversity logo. Michele Ohmes, Shelley Wolff, Chuck Madden, Ron Schikevitz, James Williams, Edward Ieans, Larry Frevert, Juanita Jackson, and Rick Smith all had a hand in the development of the logo.