When Ms. Joanne Bartosik, Coordinator of Volunteers, asked me to speak with Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) New Jersey volunteers about diversity, I was excited to share my views with them. The presentation, and conversation afterwards with the volunteers, went very well! Below is a snippet from the presentation.
My definition of diversity includes the varied existences of the full range of inanimate and living beings, ideas, beliefs, situations, policies and/or institutions at any given moment in time and in any given environment. Diversity can be identified in myriad forms: race, country of origin, ethnicity, religion, class, gender, disability, caste, color, sexual orientation, education, and culture, also political affiliation, majority vs. minority construct, affiliation through marriage, marital status, belief systems, language, accent/pronunciation, music and other arts, dress code, physical features such as hair, age, height, weight, and so forth. Sometimes individuals identify themselves in multiple descriptive modes instead of being mono-descriptive. Thus, when asked who I am, I might say, I am an American, New Jersey-ian, and Hindu woman. I call this the layered identity notion. In today’s “the world is flat” (Thomas Friedman) mode, with people so connected and interconnected virtually, it’s a little difficult to have a mono identity. In fact people were always multi-layered, but may not have identified themselves as such.
Another point to note is that we are constantly interacting with those who are similarly multi-descriptive about themselves, which might lead to a Venn diagram type of inter-cultural professional and personal environment scenario, which often can be challenging. Another important construct besides the layered identity is the majority-minority-majority construct. We could be the minority in a country but majority within an institution, such as a university or religious institution, and the majority in the country could become the minority therein. An example is Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), wherein African Americans who are a minority in the US become the majority, and others who are the majority in the country (Caucasians) become the minority. Furthermore, other minorities (such as Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, etc.) become double minorities therein: minority in the country and minority at the HBCU. The resultant interaction is interesting and invigorating, but also poses many puzzling and perplexing questions about reversed power roles.
Accordingly, these details are important where you volunteer as well. In the context of volunteerism in New Jersey, the first point to note is the demographics throughout the state. Some of the larger groups are: White not Hispanic or Latino (58.2%), African American (14.7%), Hispanic (18.5%), and Asian (9.0%). Other groups include: Native American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, two or more races, etc. For complete details, please visit: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/34000.html. Given the apparent demographic diversity with a huge concentration in urban centers of African American, Hispanic and Asian populations, of which one can also find a whole gamut of visa holders, green card holders, and US citizens in the latter two, the complexity of diversity can be difficult to comprehend.
However, as more individuals are added to the demographic pool when they are inducted as new citizens, a vital charge for volunteers can be how to relate to and assist a heady intercultural mix. This can become even more delicate when Asians (which could be South Asian, Southeast Asian or East Asian), Latinos or other non-English-speaking populations attempt to understand complicated American processes from the perspective of gender and age. For example, in the healthcare system, older women from these cultures may not wish to visit or be treated by a male doctor, or even go to the doctor unless it’s an emergency. And when doubts creep up in their minds or they notice something out of the ordinary in the Medicare Summary Notices (MSN), they might not be sure there is an error, or if they do, they might be afraid to ask, and not even know whom to ask. Regardless of gender, language can be a major restrictive factor, as older immigrant populations may not know English or know it well enough.
The role of volunteers can best be explained in two ways. First is at a personal level. Keep in mind five basic points: i) not to consider oneself more or less diverse than others … each is unique, different and thus diverse to another, ii) diversity equations/power equations keep changing, iii) we all have biases, iv) recognize and find solutions to one’s biases and v) make “yourself” the center of change and do not expect others to change, for as Gandhi said, be the change you want to see in others.
The second role is professional as a volunteer. Four points are important. Volunteers need to i) familiarize themselves with basic equal opportunity employment (EEO) laws, ii) acquire training in diversity sensitization and diversity negotiation through the host organization, iii) form volunteer resource groups of different races and ethnicities to learn from each other, and iv) encourage collaboration between the host organization and local English-language schools to provide basic understanding of the issues in English.
Diversity no longer shines on the horizon as a moral imperative, because most organizations have diverse constituents; thus, shortage of diversity is not the issue. What diversity seeks now is two things: how best to use it for the benefit of the individuals and the organization; and second, how the organizational diversity can be turned into a business imperative. Only if organizations are convinced that diversity will bring them profit do they push ahead on the diversity development continuum from basic EEO training to seeping diversity into all practices from hiring, to professional development, to layoffs and turnovers and to leadership positions. In a nonprofit, the business case for diversity can be made by the volunteers in four ways: i) recruiting new diverse constituents, ii) recruiting more diverse volunteers, thus saving in time, talent, and money, iii) retaining more and more diverse constituents and diverse volunteers, leading to less turnover and thus more money saved, and iv) utilizing their connections and resources to secure more funding.
Besides providing diversity training, a nonprofit can consider providing the following to its volunteers in workshops and training sessions:
Both tools are relatively inexpensive and allow for a deeper understanding of the self, and in turn, how to relate to others.
At the end of the day, diversity is a combination of the moral imperative and the business imperative with an attempt to create not only a level playing field for all but also consequent benefits for all.
Author Anita Nahal, Ph.D., CDP is a consultant in organizational diversity and higher education. Read more about her on her website at: http://diversitydiscover.com/founder.html