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A Passion for Diversity [Cont]

“In my first corporate job out of college I was told very matter of factly that I would never

get beyond an 8 or 9 dollar and hour entry level job. After about 5-6 years I began to realize that they were serious about this low ceiling, so l left the corporate world for four years and I worked in the non-profit sector primarily on disability issues . As comfortable and engaging as it was to be with my "tribe," I knew that to effect real systemic changes more broadly. it needed to be from the inside out, companies nee d to see diversity and inclusion as important to the success of their business and consistent with the workplace ethics and

corporate social responsibility values the espouse. When I re-entered the private sector it was as an executive with senior level responsibility and salary.

Deb says her passion for diversity only continues to grow. She was a founding member of the Conference Board Workforce Council on Diversity 13 years ago . “I have never been around anything else that keeps me stimulated 24 hours a day. I rarely read anything that is not in the field. I have a global vision and I want to help create the kind of world that does not just tolerate differences, but one where people are truly respectful and inclusive of other s, the kind of world that is healthy for our children.”

Edgar Quiroz is the Director of Workforce Diversity at Kaiser Permanente's National Diversity Department. He told me, “I really never sought to get involved with diversity work, diversity work got involved with me.” He grew up in San Francisco in a diverse neighborhood with African-Americans, Asians, Caucasians and Latinos like himself. While attending high school in the 1970s he was active in community student leadership. “I organized youth in under served communities city wide to help them with jobs, careers, and educational enhancement. Not one of my past job descriptions ever included diversity as a duty, but I always managed to weave diversity work into my functions. As a boy, my father and I walked the picket lines with Cesar Chavez in support of the UFW.” He began working at SF General Hospital as a youth outreach worker. “I worked with young people who were homeless, drug and alcohol addicted, prostitutes, battered and abused.

Today Edgar says he is privileged to be the Director of Workforce Diversity for Kaiser Permanente where he has worked for 20 years. During this time he was a founding board member and past president of the Kaiser Permanente Latino Association. “I chose Kaiser Permanente because their social mission on community wellnes, diversity and cultural competency are aligned with my own. My primary three areas of involvement are: 1) Enhance the diversity, cultural competence, skill and performance of our workforce; 2) Provide culturally competent medical care and culturally appropriate service to improve the health and satisfaction of our increasing diversity membership; 3) Grow our membership through effective market segmentation approaches that target specific populations which are the fastest growing segments of our society".

Diversity impacts his personal life every day. His family is bi-racial, and it is important to him that they all know, embrace and celebrate both his Latino culture and the African-American culture. “My passion for diversity has increased to a point that far exceeded any of my expectations. It’s only gotten better and I maintain my lifetime relationships with mentors and colleagues. I love my work, and there is a lot more work to do. As a country we have to pay more attention to populations that have been ignored so more people have access to quality health care. I remain optimistic and hopeful. I am inspired by all others who are also working for change.”

Michelle Atlas began her career in Vocational Rehabilitation in Rochester, New York over 13 years ago. Seven years ago, she was hired by the Rochester Business Alliance to create a new program to provide employment services to people with disabilities. After the first year, she was asked to represent the Rochester Business Alliance at the Workforce Diversity Network, an organization whose mission is to create a nationwide learning network to support organizations in learning more about the benefits of diversity in the workplace, and is expanding to other areas in the USA “I didn’t know a lot about other areas of diversity beyond disability, but as I began to learn about all the other dimensions, diversity and inclusion became so important to me and I kept learning and expanding my knowledge base about every component.” As a representative, Michele got to meet diversity leadership in various kinds of organizations. She learned more about diversity initiatives and issues that organizations were dealing with. “I felt a very strong affinity for this work. I went from being a representative to the Diversity Workforce Network to serving on the board and becoming a part time staff member; working with the Executive director, and coordinating membership and organizing our national conference. I love the spirit of the other people who do this kind of work. My passion comes from being a part of something that is so good for the world at so many levels. I’m excited by other cultures, and I am part of an incredible program called the Mosaic Partnership where leaders in our region are partnered with someone from a different race and participate in group coaching sessions.”

Michelle talked about how crucial it is for people in the health care field to be culturally competent. Besides her part time work with WDN, she consults, coaches and trains people who employ people with disabilities to be more culturally competent. “My learning points have been to honestly assess my own biases and to then be able to help other people assess their own and feel safe. Learning about my own biases has been very liberating and other people I work with have said that it is true for them. If we want to move forward from diversity to inclusion we have to identify our subtle biases and work through them. I hope I never stop learning.”

Although these four individuals are from different industries and came to diversity work from different experiences and backgrounds, they share certain qualities and experiences that contribute to their passion for diversity. From Deb’s voracious reading of diversity books to Michele’s personal involvement with the Mosaic Partnership, we see that these four remarkable individuals have all cultivated lifestyles that support their passion for diversity. They live and breathe diversity—both coming from diverse backgrounds and seeking out diverse interactions and experiences. They have all adopted learning orientations so they can continue to develop their own cultural competence and help others to do the same. Moreover, as we saw with Edgar’s work with underserved communities and Terry’s work with “Traditional Religion Meets Sexual Orientation” in the workplace, the passion of these four diversity leaders is driven by a lot of ‘Cs’: courage, concern, and commitment to diversity initiatives. Be it Terry’s commitment to helping organizations understand the implications of diversity, Deb’s global goals for a better world, Edgar’s views on what this country needs to better meet the health needs of its diverse population, or Michele’s emphasis on breaking down barriers through helping people safely address their own biases, this is truly a visionary group of professionals. Most importantly, their visions are long-term, powerful, and important ones that they consistently move forward a day at a time. These are the kinds of diversity leaders that we need working in organizations of all kinds.

For an organization to successfully leverage the diversity of its organization to improve its performance three concurrent imperatives must be in place. First, diversity must be part of your overall business strategy and, secondly, your organization must move from representation and numbers to inclusion at every level. Finally, you will only be successful if you bring in diversity leaders who not only have knowledge of but a passion for diversity.

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About the Author: Simma Lieberman is president of Simma Lieberman Associates, a multicultural organization offering programs focused on diversity training, gender communications, and stress management/life work balance. Her programs are tailored to individuals, businesses, government agencies, educational institutions, and community associations. Simma focuses on building strong relationships within an organization in order to enhance productivity, reduce employee turnover, improve communication, increase morale and decrease burnout. She transforms organizations by working at all levels of a company to help each person play a significant part in achieving success for the organization and meeting their own personal career goals. She has been a popular online chat host and contributor on Oxygen.com and is regularly featured in national magazines and news sources. Simma has also been a national magazine columnist for Restaurant Hospitality. She has done extensive training with the Food Service and Hospitality Industry.

Simma Leiberman