Are you weary of the word "diversity"?

Dwayne Kalynchuk, P.Eng.
APWA President

  Dwayne Kalynchuk

Has the word "diversity" become so much a part of everyone's vernacular and workplace education that you cringe at the sight or sound of the word? Has it been drummed into your mind that equality issues of ethnicity, gender, religion, race, and age are what "diversity" is all about?

Let's step back a moment and look at what the word "diversity" means according to my trusty computer thesaurus—variety, assortment, mixture, array. You've most likely also heard the word "inclusiveness" in relation to diversity. Again, according to my thesaurus, "inclusiveness" means richness, completeness, unity, comprehensiveness. Therefore, if we look at "diversity" and "inclusiveness" in positive terms, we can better understand that what we are trying to accomplish in work- and social-related issues and through diversity in APWA comes in great abundance through a rich variety of talent, knowledge, and backgrounds. The for-profit world has seen this coming for quite some time as a matter of survival, of productivity, and of prosperity. A more diverse staff has a better understanding of the needs and wants of their customers, and a more diverse APWA can accomplish more productive work for the profession—all of which makes good business sense.

While valuing equality issues is certainly important in moving toward a fair and balanced society, just reaching quotas does not assure true equality or solid productivity. Valuing diversity—or the variety in individuals and respect for all individuals—and accepting diversity in the workplace, in our schools, in our society, and in APWA can keep us from losing out on valuable resources and contributions we might not otherwise know existed.

It has traditionally been said that America is a "melting pot" of cultures, values, goals and working-class levels. But our world is far more mobile that it was when our grandparents and great-grandparents experienced immigration from the old world to the new world and people spent their whole lives in one place or migrated in groups. Our society is now more like a "vegetable soup"—if we wish to use this same type of terminology. We can certainly distinguish the carrots from the potatoes and from the green beans and value each of them individually, but we experience the overall flavor as one. All contribute to the whole to make the overall flavor so enjoyable.

If we consider various demographics of APWA's members, we find diverse areas of responsibility (i.e., streets/roads/bridges; potable water distribution and treatment; safety; engineering/surveying; administration; stormwater/flood control; wastewater collection and treatment; parks and recreation; fleet services; emergency management; right-of-way; buildings/grounds); diverse educational backgrounds from GED's to Ph.D.'s; diverse sizes of public agencies with diverse needs and challenges; diverse technical knowledge from math and science to mechanics; diverse levels of decision-making; diverse work settings from public to private...and the list goes on and on. This diversity, as well as the equality issues related to affirmative action classes, is what makes APWA the place to belong in the field of public works. We obtain the greatest creativity and productivity when we bring together a richness of talent, knowledge and backgrounds.

APWA has embraced the following statement: The American Public Works Association recognizes, appreciates and fosters the synergy which is created when the work environment values the differences in individuals and practices inclusiveness and open communication.

And if I consult my thesaurus again for the word "synergy," it is described as a combined action of two or more agents that is greater than the effect of either of the agents used alone. APWA, as a diverse association, creates a great effect and difference through its members on the profession of public works and consequently the communities in which we all live and prosper.

Respect for, understanding of, appreciation for, and valuing the differences in all of us shape the great mosaic known as diversity. Hopefully, when we recognize the true sense of the word, we will accept it as one of the great strengths in our nations.