By Alan Cohen
This article was written by Alan Cohen for his employees last year at the “holiday season.”
Diversity is one of President Silverboard’s goals. She believes that we can create a better framework for valuing and understanding the differences among individuals in our cities and counties. Her goal is to create a professional environment where we can have comfortable dialogue about diversity and what it means within our organizations.
With the holiday season upon us, we are often asked to think about the needs of others. Typically this means their material needs, and we are asked to donate our time and/or resources to help others. For those of you that do answer this important call, thank you for giving of yourselves!
Today I write about the mental and emotional needs of others, specifically related to our own Sunrise employee family. While your colleagues at work might enjoy the professional challenges of their jobs, they might not feel included as part of the team. Why would this be?
It has to do with the differences in our cultures, in how we were raised and even in the different perspectives we bring to work and life. Think about your focus for the upcoming ‘holiday’ season. For some of us this time offers us a chance to take extended time off from work and relax with family and friends. For others it is a time that we ramp up the battle against our expanding waistlines. For others it is a time for gratitude and for others it is a more meaningful time of religious reflection and celebration. And for others it is simply days on our calendars that do not carry any personal or religious meaning at all.
Our awareness of differences often comes from the environment we live in. If everyone around you was of the same nationality, race, religious faith, sexual orientation, political perspective etc., why would we need to think about the differences of others? In the case of Sunrise, we are fortunate to have both a diverse workforce and a diverse community that we serve. This diversity brings richness to our lives that we would not have if everyone were the same. How do we best serve this diverse community, and how do we best support our co-workers in this effort?
In order for us to have an inclusive work environment, we must embrace and celebrate the differences of others, and more importantly we must respect the differences of others. If all but one person in a work team is of the same culture and the conversation focuses on a specific holiday, how does that one person feel? And how do they feel when they have a holiday of significance and no one they work with even acknowledges it. Even the beginning of a new year can be different for some of our colleagues whose cultures are based on a different calendar that did not start 2013 years ago or begin with January.
To be inclusive, we have to do at least two things. When we talk about our own customs or beliefs, we should do so in a way that does not make others feel left out. Try to be mindful of who is in the room and make an effort to be inclusive. Ask them if they are familiar with what you are talking about and invite them to share their own stories. Please note this is not an invitation to proselytize your religious beliefs, which is not appropriate for the workplace.
The second thing we must do is make an effort to learn more about the cultures of others. The U.S. culture is often called a melting pot, or what I like to call a stew. We maintain our individual identities yet contribute our unique flavors to the larger culture. The result might in sociological terms be somewhat chaotic, but it makes us who we are as a nation and we are the stronger for it. Rather than looking at just what we individually contribute, we should take a closer look at how our culture and our lives are influenced on a daily basis by those who differ from us. And the best place to start is with those we interact with every work day.
By learning more about the differences of those we work with, we not only learn more about our national culture, we also create a safer, more comfortable space for our co-workers. Allowing others to share about themselves is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone. It brings people together in both their understanding and their sense of humanity. That knowledge can also help us do a better job of serving our community and making our residents feel valued and supported as well.
These are only some of the many benefits of an inclusive work environment. It is my hope that you take up this challenge and reach out to your co-workers and others to learn about one another. It is not always easy to take that first step, but it is well worth it, and we will all be the better for it!
Whatever your beliefs, or lack thereof, I wish you and your loved ones the best during the coming months.