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Barriers to success

Peggy M. Pound
President, The Pound Group
Las Vegas, Nevada
Member, APWA Diversity Committee
Presenter, 2008 APWA Congress

Barriers, glass ceiling, walls, fences, road blocks, chasm, differences—just a few of the words we use each day without really considering what they actually mean in terms of our fellow man.

Do we have barriers in our lives that would cause us to not fully appreciate and understand another person's life experiences? Do we judge others based only on the experiences we have each had? A friend of mine who is African American told me the other day, after I had referred to the "innocence of the 1950s," that it was not so innocent to him. I asked what he meant and he reminded me of the great struggle for equality that had taken place during this "innocent" time. I was greatly ashamed of my ignorance in talking about this. I knew of the Civil Rights Movement, as every child of the '50s and '60s did, but it was not something that had affected me in growing up in a small farming community in California (at least I didn't think so) and only remembered the peace and calm of my life. He is a kind and gentle man and one that I appreciate knowing in my life. His success came at a very high price, one that I can only attempt to fully know.

We read of jokes being made by a store clerk to a woman in a veil that have led to a lawsuit being filed. It comes from a lack of understanding other cultures and values. This can and does put firms into legal danger when we do not train our employees in diversity. I recently met a pastor of a Korean church who was unaware of how to obtain assistance for the senior citizen members of the church; this was due to a language difficulty and made more pressing by a fear of authority. Can you think of any employees you may have that may fall into this category? How are you developing programs to assist them? Could you offer ESL courses, arrange for local social program operators to come in over the lunch hour and conduct informational sessions? Arrange for local tax preparers to come onsite or offer banking, insurance, and other educational sessions? Are you a member of local Chamber of Commerce for other cultures? These actions speak positively to your employees.

Are you providing all employees—regardless of race, nationality, sex, religion and gender—the opportunity to grow with your company and move into management? What specific steps do you take to assure this happening? Hope is not a strategy; you must plan for this, not just hope it is being done.

I recently spent time working on the presidential campaign efforts, and in speaking to our younger generation it has been made very clear to me that they will not vote for a candidate "because" they are female or black, but because the message they receive is relevant and "life changing." They have told me time and again that these issues are "old" issues, belonging to the generations before them and do not enter their thinking processes. They do not see race or differences, they see human beings ready to step up and make the world a better place to live in. I am proud of them for throwing off the barriers that have plagued our nation for so long and feel that our future is in good hands.

Ask your employees to address those diversity questions within your company or agency and be ready to stand back and be amazed at the progress that will be made.

Providing a very simple employee survey will alert you to the needs of your employees and their families.

The addition of a Diversity Leader in your company to address these needs will take firms/agencies to a higher level of efficiency and success than they have had previously. Make a difference, one company at a time, to change the face of our membership. Let APWA be the guide in doing what is right for our nation.

Peggy Pound will give a presentation at the APWA Congress in New Orleans. Her session is called "Generations in the Workplace" and takes place at 3:00 p.m. Monday, August 18. She can be reached at (702) 336-1205 or poundgroup@aol.com.