A Publication of WTVP

Most educators and business leaders generally agree that diversity is important, but they may not know the true benefits of diversity or how to enhance diversity within their own organization.

Diversity has a lot to offer an organization socially, educationally, professionally, and economically. Social benefits include cross-cultural understanding, the breaking down of cultural stereotypes, well-roundedness, and the development of multicultural awareness. Educational benefits include an increase in diverse knowledge and awareness, expanded learning outcomes, and professional preparedness. A diverse learning or work environment better prepares individuals for an increasingly diverse workforce and society. Numerous businesses that have incorporated diversity initiatives have reflected economic benefits including improved productivity, goal attainment, and a positive impact on the bottom line. And educational institutions with diversity initiatives prepare students more ready to work in global markets.

Diversity maximizes an organization's potential and makes companies more productive. Looking at some of the largest minority groups, you can quickly see why organizations should be attuned to diversity: women purchase 70 to 80 percent of all products, African-Americans spend nearly $500 billion each year on goods and services, and Hispanics are the fastest growing consumer group in the U.S.

When most think of diversity, they consider race and gender. But diversity also includes age, religion, sexual orientation, education, income, learning style, disabilities, and more.

Embracing diversity must start at the top of the organization. A company's chief executive and governing board must believe in the value of diversity and be willing to make the resources available for diversity to be understood, appreciated, and embraced throughout the organization. That commitment creates the basis of an inclusive organization where all individuals are respected, valued, and utilized.

To determine how diversity is valued within an organization requires assessment. The assessment should answer questions such as how comfortable and included under-represented groups feel within the organization and whether the diversity of its employees reflect the client base. Once diversity gaps are identified, organizations have the information they need to develop a plan to support diversity.

At Illinois Central College, the diversity initiative started in earnest more than four years ago, when the board of trustees identified diversity as one of its five key focus areas. Accordingly, the college has offered diversity education for its employees and has made available the financial resources to hire an administrator whose charge is diversity. Rita Ali started as our director of diversity in October 2004 and is leading the college's diversity efforts. Now, we're in the process of completing a comprehensive diversity assessment that takes a close look at our college environment, its employees, students, and community. The next steps involve analyzing that information and developing a diversity plan with the participation of students, faculty, staff, and our community.

We've made great strides, but we've also identified areas in which we can improve. Our challenge is to explore and implement strategies that make the college more accessible and inviting for all segments of our community. I challenge you to do the same with your organization. IBI