Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Diversity: It's a Humanity Thing

By Melissa Vela-Williamson, Diversity Specialist, H-E-B (and PRSA San Antonio board member)
Originally posted recently on an internal H-E-B blog

“So....what do you do?”

We’ve all been asked this question at one event or another. When I worked in Public Relations, most people understood what I did. Sort of. For those who didn’t, I’d drop key words like “event planning” or “media relations” and I would see the light bulb switch on. Since I’ve joined a Diversity department, the explanation has been a little more complex.

The confusion starts with the various ways people have heard “diversity” used. Is it related to Affirmative Action or celebrating cultural months? Is it how we’re different or how we’re the same? Is it a department to fear or to befriend?

What is “diversity”? It seems to depend on who you ask. The term is as diverse as the populations it refers to!

Merriam-Webster defines it as “the condition of being diverse” and "the inclusion of diverse (as people of different races and cultures) people in a group or organization.”

The simplest way I’ve heard it defined was by Dr. Cornell West. Members of the Corporate Diversity Leadership Council and I were fortunate to hear him speak (preach really) at the recent Texas Diversity & Leadership Conference.

To Dr. West, “diversity is about humanity.” It’s about love. “When you love people, you loathe that they’re being treated unfairly.” He urged us “not to be well adapted to injustice” and to remember to have a life task in addition to our day jobs.

Here’s my definition: it’s about mutual respect. Diversity represents the acknowledgement that what is truly the same about us all is that we’re all different. All people deserve love, respect and a chance to succeed at their goals. Bringing the outsiders in; giving all kids a shot on the team; growing talent wherever there’s potential...that’s how I see it. It’s the key to innovation and creativity in any aspect of life and business. So... how do you define diversity?