Leaders set the tone and become role models for how people and organizations treat others. This is especially true in most areas of diversity-in racial or ethnic classifications, age, gender, religion, philosophy, physical abilities, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, gender identity, intelligence, mental and physical health, personality, behavior and attractiveness.
By examining specific areas – workplace, education, healthcare and politics – we perhaps get a clearer picture of how to develop leaders in diversity and grab the attention of youth.
- Politics are often characterized by diversity – differences, similarities and related tensions and complexities. As voters and politicians address this mixture, they are providing rich lessons on how and how not to manage diversity. Political and social issues blogger, Christopher J. Woods, perhaps sums it up. “Liberals see all the progress they have made being taken away. Meanwhile, the Conservatives believe the way of life they have come to love is under threat from the left. What is needed is for cooler heads to prevail and both sides to sit down and actually listen to each other’s concerns,” he suggests.
- Educational leadership is taught at most institutions of higher learning and is geared toward a changing demographic or those students interested in developing their own leadership skills. Merging the two to develop students in diversity can be a challenge. Some noted scholars say leadership development programming—if done well—can be transformative for organizers and participants. “It is only through education and exposure to others that we can truly learn to appreciate, support, and celebrate each other,” says Dr. Carol A. Sumner, vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Texas Tech University.
- Healthcare disparities are plenty – from minorities participating in studies to delivery of healthcare in certain demographics. “We have a problem nationwide that not enough students of color graduate and opt for healthcare and STEM professions,” says Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani, associate professor of the Community Health Department of Nutrition and Health Science at Ball State University.
On top of that, these disciplines are very time consuming and expensive (i.e. take time to graduate and are expensive for students).
“Even if a minority individual graduates with healthcare degree, the promotion and professional advancement rates are lower than Whites. Apart from systemic discrimination, there is a lack of training on diversity in healthcare workforce, leadership training, and awareness about the need of minority leaders,” Khubchandani explains. “A significant proportion of minority patients across the US do not get care from minority health professionals who are culturally competent and may provide better care.”
To address this, medical and public health schools should train students on healthcare workforce issues, race and health, demography, and advocacy, he said.
- Leaders in business need to know how to build accountability into their systems with regard to their managers taking responsibility for creating a diverse and inclusive work environment. “We often see the people at the very top saying all the right things relative to diversity, but their middle management, who really run the organization and create the experience of people who work there, don’t understand and don’t feel accountable for diversity and inclusion,” says Dr. David A. Thomas, a former Harvard Business School professor and current president of Morehouse College.
You can cut diversity into many dimensions—what’s important for each organization to identify is the relevant dimensions; measure them, and make that part of how managers are evaluated. It’s not a matter of inventing new measures as much as it is using diversity as a lens to look at the measures that we have. And diversity, in my view, should also be one of the lenses through which we look at customers and community stakeholders, Thomas says.
“There is a cosmetic diversity that can come when an organization decides they need internal diversity when they meet external stakeholders who are diverse. Those stakeholders need to be interacted with by someone like them, so African-Americans need to be interacted with by African-Americans. I think the danger there is that it pigeonholes people,” Thomas says.
“The way I look at it is, if our customer base is diverse, we need diversity in our workforce so that we can learn from our own diversity to make ourselves more effective at meeting the needs of our clients.”
By Sammie G. Allen
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