Government and Media & Marketing

VIEWPOINT: Diversity has unexpected benefits

November 27, 2006

As a leader of your company, are you taking advantage of the benefits of diversity? Is your organization's culture resistant to change? Are you considering the business advantages of diversity? Can a firm without a variety of internal perspectives and ex perience meet 21st-century challenges?

In our industry, professionals come in all colors, shapes and sizes and from just about every culture in the world. We see a host of opportunities as a result of the incredible diversity in qualified applicants from beyond our national borders.

And the design community benefits by embracing culture, gender and age diversity as a business strategy. Homogeneous thinking is a dangerous and limiting trap. We rely on professionals from other cultures to provide us with ideas that come from their unique perspectives. It's about looking through the eyes of men and women with vastly different experiences than our own.

Here's an example: In the early 1990s, our company learned of a church trying to rescue a Bosnian engineer named Alen from his war-torn homeland. Once he had safely arrived here, we found a place for him at our firm. He immediately began to shine.

Overcoming language and cultural barriers, Alen became a registered professional engineer after taking and passing the exam on the first try-not an easy feat. Twelve years later, he remains a valuable member of our team.

Our architects, technicians and designers from South Korea, China and Egypt bring an entirely different set of perspectives and influences than do those from Canada, India, Hong Kong, Ukraine, Russia and Romania.

For example, in the Midwest, we tend to design for wide-open spaces; architects and designers from other countries might be more experienced in dealing with tighter spaces. Therefore, if we encounter a project that requires a "tall and skinny" solution, our professionals from other cultures can bring experience to the table.

Or, if we're working on a project that requires an understanding of seismic considerations, architects and engineers from areas of the world more prone to earthquakes could prove invaluable.

There are examples throughout Indiana of design firms, law firms, universities and government agencies who value diversity. When organizations build a staff of people from different parts of this world, they're able to draw from a wealth of experience and perspectives.

Similar benefits can be derived from having staff members with different levels of experience. Gen X-ers have vastly different perspectives than boomers. We must nurture the development of future leaders.

At some schools of architecture, women make up the majority of students in professional degree programs. Our industry is working on ways we can encourage more women to consider engineering as a career, because the design profession wants and needs more gender diversity.

When making hiring decisions, we all want to hire the brightest and most talented individuals who share our core values. But we also should pay special attention to the variety of influences and perspectives essential to quality work and the evolution of our businesses.

Consider telling a multicultural story at your firm. Put stories like Alen's in your corporate newsletter. Find ways to celebrate employees' diverse cultures by recognizing special holiday celebrations or traditions. And make an effort to show potential employees from diverse backgrounds that they've got something in common with others at your company-it's tough to feel like you're alone.

Last I checked, we're still referring to the United States as a cultural melting pot. Part of the continuing promise of America is its penchant for embracing and integrating different cultures. Expanding the melting pot metaphor to include gender and generational diversity will provide a road map for the success of your business.



Conner is president of Indianapolis-based American Consulting Inc.
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