I spent most of my career taking diversity for granted. Having entered my career at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC my first supervisor was an African American female. When I returned to St. Elizabeths as a new nurse practitioner my medical director and the supervisory physician was an African American male and in fact, most of my colleagues and those that helped me transition into practice were African American. When I left St. Elizabeths and moved to Tucson, AZ my supervisor was Indian American and my most of my colleagues were Mexican and Phillapino Americans. I had no idea at the time how the diversity I experienced in my early career formed and broadened my perspective. Nor did it ever occur to me that the people with whom I worked would be anything other than close friends.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-career that first experienced being pressured to make a choice based on race. I was not asked to hire a less qualified person that was a minority. I was asked not to hire the more qualified person who happened to be an African American female. I was told, “When she fails, and she will because they all do I will hold you personally responsible.” I hired her anyway and she went on to be highly successful. I thought it was an isolated incident, but I never forgot it.

Diversity is a blessing

Diversity is in harmony with justice, grace, and peace. Diversity should be defended as it is representative of the dignity that belongs to each person. It is the uniqueness of each individual – ethnicity, religion, political views, nationality, sexual orientation, physical and mental abilities, age, vocation, and thought – added together that makes a strong and more perfect society. The source of diversity and thus the strength of the society doesn’t come from a state mandate but is the creation of God. If an organization lacks diversity, the diversity created by God, then we are going against the natural order and in so doing are weakening ourselves and our society.

I find myself disturbed by the lack of diversity in academia. Maybe it is the places I’ve been or the limited number of people with whom I’ve interacted, or maybe it is an issue in nursing departments. However, the more I read the literature the more I realize that perceptions are sometimes reality. A quick review of a post by Donna Nelson makes clear that there is a lack of diversity in academia and especially in the sciences. Thomas Pfau implies that while we in academia obsess about academic freedom we are a little less concerned about freedom of speech and certainly diversity of perspective.

What is diversity

Diversity refers to all the ways in which people differ and the effect of those differences on our thinking and behavior. This includes socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, language, gender, religion, and age. A core element of diversity is inclusion, which calls for creating a climate where all individuals are actively engaged, feel safe, and are welcomed. – American Association of Colleges of Nursing

It is not necessary to commit to a substantive definition of diversity and make explicit the normative grounds on which such a definition rests. Diversity is about more than being of different races, ethnicities, or genders or quantifying this many of X and that many of Y. In fact, by adhering to such a definition and quantification one may be missing the attitude of respect that diversity helps to achieve. It may be sufficient to know which affinity group you identify as being important in defining diversity? How would the diversity help you to achieve a more perfect organization or society?

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Socioeconomic Status
  • Nationality
  • Political views
  • Generation
  • Genetic characteristics
  • Abilities (mental, physical, emotional)
  • Religion
  • Marital status
  • Work experience

It is not sufficient to tolerate others or the practices of others. Diversity is an attitude of respect that must include a  conscious effort to:

  • Understand and appreciate the interdependence of humanity, cultures, and the natural environment.
  • Practice mutual respect for qualities and experiences that are different from our own.
  • Understand that diversity includes not only ways of being but also ways of knowing;
  • Recognize that personal, cultural and institutionalized discrimination creates and sustains privileges for some while creating and sustaining disadvantages for others;
  • Build alliances across differences so that we can work together to eradicate all forms of discrimination. (QCC)

Reading these it is clear that if we practiced this level of respect and did make a conscious effort toward diversity we would be stronger as individuals, organizations, and as a society.

What is getting in the way of diversity

The easy answer is our fear of change, but that is too easy. I believe that the first and primary issue is that we have done a poor job of explaining the benefits and blessings of diversity. We have not made clear the positive impacts on thought, creativity, peace, and justice.

Question: Why did the universe or God put this person in my path? What am I to learn from them and what have I got to offer in return?

The second barrier is the bias in the way we view those that check different affinity groups from the majority. We all have biases, but not everyone lets bias adversely impact decisions. If I am willing to recognize and own my biases it is easier to break down barriers and not let them obstruct desirable and just action.

Question: What biases do I have and how are they impacting my interactions with others? Do my biases prevent me from treating another human being with full dignity and respect?

The third barrier is privilege. Those of us that grew up in the majority have trouble seeing ourselves as part of the problem. We view the world through a lens that has largely lacked discrimination. It is true that women face discrimination when competing with men, but white women are certainly advantaged over African American and Hispanic women. It is also true that some white males have been disadvantaged when competing for jobs as a result of a desire for diversity. However, it is the exception and not the rule. We could walk through every group in this same manner – older/younger, rich/poor, Christian/Muslim, and on and on. The result would be the same. Some groups are now and have historically been privileged and continue to benefit from those privileges which they did not earn, but were given.

Question: What privileges do I have?  How have those privileges made my life easier? Have my privileges resulted in someone else being made worse off?

The final barrier is lack of moral courage. How many of us have seen a more qualified person passed over for the less qualified? There is always a rationale that is offered and too many that are willing to accept the rationale as a reasonable explanation even when knowing that explanation violates our values.

We can and must remain connected to our fundamental values such as respect for human diversity and the need to create and sustain inclusive environments. Those of us who are associated with or work for organizations that have made their diversity and inclusion values public and even published them have an additional responsibility — to call on the leaders of those organizations to reaffirm those values. As Mahatma Gandhi said:

Your beliefs become your thoughts

Your thoughts become your words

Your words become your actions

Your actions become your habits

Your habits become your values

Your values become your destiny.

Five Actions for Diversity officers and Social Justice Advocates – Johnnetta Cole

Question: What are my values? Am I willing to show moral courage and call on my leaders to reaffirm the values of diversity?

Don’t be timid

It takes moral courage and effort to make diversity a priority. If one is to move an organization the first thing to do is acknowledge that people will be uncomfortable and accept that it is necessary for change. There will be no room to be timid.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. (Timothy 1:7)