Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Diversity

At work, when someone new starts, he or she gets taken out to lunch by the manager, with maybe another member of the group invited along. Not long ago, it was my turn to be the other group member, when both managers took the two newest employees to lunch.

We went to a nice restaurant nearby, close enough to walk to, and after some general conversation, I noticed something that surprised me. Out of the five of us, I was the only one born in the US. The other four are naturalized citizens.

They're from Russia, India, Vietnam, and El Salvador.

One of the things I enjoy about working in this area is the vast number of people from all sorts of places. At work, foreign and regional accents are more the norm than not. Religions vary. Economic backgrounds vary. Ages vary. But in the end we're all people who love our families and who are working every day to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.

We talk in the breakroom about the latest reorganization and how it might affect the way we do our jobs. We talk about vacations planned or returned from. We talk about raising kids, or the inconsiderate people who don't clean up their coffee messes, or the weather. And it doesn't matter where we're from--except when the new woman in another group turns out to have attended the same New Jersey Catholic high school my ex-husband did (small world!).

I love getting to know people who aren't like me but, in some important way, they are. I carpool sometimes with a woman from India who's here on an H1b visa, and we talk about our respective countries' history.

Another woman at work, from the Philippines, said that she didn't want to live past the age of 50, when bodies and minds start to fall apart. I had to laugh. I told her that I'm this close to 50, and I'm not falling apart yet, so she might want to reconsider her maximum age. Perhaps in the hardscrabble part of the Philippines where she grew up, people really did age quickly, but that's not how it usually works here.

The Diversity police out there on college campuses like to micromanage the ethnic balance of their student base, and that puts the focus on superficial qualities, like skin color. And that conveys a message such as, "We have enough (or need more) people who look like you." That message doesn't have anything to do with capabilities or determination.

But outside the universities, in the real world of work and family and community, diversity happens more naturally. People come and go, bringing their backgrounds and baggage with them. Cranky people are avoided. Pleasant people are chatted with. And everyone learns to work smoothly enough with each other to get the job done.

I like it this way.

3 comments:

Bekah said...

Amen to that! I'm around a lot of the "planned and fostered diversity" situations...I agree that the "real world" way is much better.

Uzma said...

I agree that sometimes planned events can feel inauthentic. On the other hand, the "real world" does not always take into account the inequities that are inherently built into the system. If you visit a school in the Bronx versus a school in Manhattan you will notice the disparity straight away. If you notice that which is privileged in this society, versus what comes easy, the "real world" doesn't really allow for an intense integration, at least in certain communities, institutions of higher education, and professions.

Juan said...

Thank you for posting this. Too many people don't realize that mainstream and diversity individuals have much more in common than not. And you are 100 percent correct. Diversity that happens naturally is so much better than planned or forced diversity. Employees actually learn and grow together when workplace diversity happens naturally.

Juan Rodriguez
diversity careers