OP-ED: Diversity strengthens organizations

Following two well-publicized embarrassments over insensitive player behavior, the San Francisco 49ers pro-football team conducted a diversity workshop that covered a wide range of diversity issues, including race, gender, and sexual orientation.

Following two well-publicized embarrassments over insensitive player behavior, the San Francisco 49ers pro-football team conducted a diversity workshop that covered a wide range of diversity issues, including race, gender, and sexual orientation.

It was the right thing to do, of course, because even pro-football players live in the real world, which comprises all kinds of people. The workshop was a practical thing to do, too. One of the instigators said it was necessary because "we want everybody to be 49ers fans," and "we can't go around doing anything that's going to harm the relationship" with the fan base. Afterward, even players who at first balked at attending wanted to keep the workshop secret from other NFL teams because the process brought team members closer together, which they felt created a competitive edge.

That's a good lesson for all of us. Commitment to diversity means becoming a better organization because you're doing the right thing for the right moral reason. And it's probably going to make you more successful.

We've all heard the expression "strength through diversity." That adage truly underpins the foundation of our nation. We're a better country because of our diversity. In business, executives make better decisions with input from and understanding of the views of the widest array of stakeholders. You trust the judgment more of people you're around every day and with whom you have an open, honest discourse. You understand the needs of clients better only if you have candid, two-way communications with them.

A couple of years ago, the Public Relations Society of America adopted diversity as a strategic imperative. Like many groups, however, we learned that achieving diversity requires hard work. It does little good to simply endorse diversity as a good, moral thing. It also must be embraced as a practical thing, not only for our own group, but for the various institutions our members represent. As skilled communicators, PR pros can - and must - play vital roles in engendering an understanding of the dual benefits of diversity.

We must urge the organizations we work with to go beyond token counting - measuring percentages and tracking statistics. A group may have a work force that tracks demographics in the US - the right number of African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, women, older Americans, gays, Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Jews, and Muslims - and visible and aggressive recruitment programs might ensure those numbers remain in lockstep with the ever-changing makeup of the community. But those statistics are meaningless unless a commitment to diversity is woven into the corporate fabric; goes beyond tracking the measurable variables; extends to diversity of opinions, views, attitudes, and values; and provides all those involved with the organization continuous opportunities to show their strengths.

How effective will recruitment programs be in the long run if we do not tap the strength of that "diverse" population for those who will lead the organization in five, 10, or 20 years, when the US population will be the most diverse in the world? How productive will diversity efforts be if we don't use them to build our knowledge base and our strategies for the future? Will we have in place at decision-making tables in corporations and institutions a wide array of seasoned, executive-level pros who understand and communicate with the booming Hispanic population in Minnesota, the established Arab-American community in Detroit, or the fast-growing second- and third-generation Vietnamese-American and Laotian- American families in Atlanta?

Part of the PRSA diversity initiative includes an understanding that to help others work toward and achieve the benefits of diversity, we must be role models. And our roles extend nationally and locally.

PRSA's Miami chapter set a beautiful example. During the past decade, the chapter increased its minority and ethnic representation from 12% to 44%. It also gave those new and diverse members something to do. Its leadership today comprises white men and women, Hispanic Americans, Haitian Americans, new and seasoned professionals, Christians, Jews, gays and lesbians, educators and solo practitioners, and people who work in corporations, big and small firms, and nonprofits.

Although the Miami chapter's numbers may not exactly match the statistics for the area it serves, which has one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse populations in the US, "it achieved its success by viewing diversity as both 'the right thing to do' and as 'good for business' for the organization to survive and thrive," said Rosanna Fiske, chairwoman of PRSA's national diversity committee and a board member.

We build diversity by establishing programs and networking opportunities rich with value to people of different backgrounds and by providing leadership opportunities for all. And we must build equally meaningful relationships between our organizations and the ever-diversifying populations they serve.

  • Del Galloway is president and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America.

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