What defines ‘diverse’?

Originally posted in the Moxie section of the Post & Courier on September 2, 2011

I attended a diversity job fair recently. I was actually excited. OK, as excited as one gets about a job fair. I thought this one would be different because this fair, while open to all professional candidates, seemed to be looking for diverse candidates. It specifically mentioned African-Americans, bilinguals and Hispanics, women, veterans, Asian-Americans and others.

I wondered is there anyone left? They did not specifically mention men, but it was open to all professional candidates, so men were allowed. Native Americans were not mentioned either, and I would consider them to be diverse. But I am not the diverse label-maker or the diverse label-giver. Caucasians were mentioned, but I did not think of them as being diverse.

But why didn’t I think of Caucasians as being diverse? Is it because I was taught that being diverse means being African-American, being a woman, being over 50, belonging to a minority group or any of the other labels that have been handed out? What determines if a person is diverse or not? I think it would be illegal or at the very least rude to ask someone what identifies her/him as diverse.

Or is it relative? If I am among others who do not look like me, does that make me the diverse one? Or are they? Is it the majority rules? Is diversity like beauty, in the eye of the beholder?

Is it simply how we look? Does diversity have a certain look? Dark skin or light? Straight hair, curly hair, bald? There were a few very tall people at the job fair. Does their height give them some diversity points? Or what if there was someone under 4 feet tall?

Is it how we dress? I am a huge fan of red shoes; I can wear a red shoe with anything. Does that make me diverse, fashionable or eccentric? This job fair stated that professional attire was required. A woman came in wearing a spandex multicolored maxi dress and sandals. Does that qualify her as diverse regardless of her skin tone, thought process or hair texture? And what about her educational credentials? Those were not written on her dress.

Or can it be how we think? If I have a different point of view than you, am I a diverse thinker? Or are you?

The goal of this job fair was to provide people with an opportunity to meet with the region’s best employers seeking a diverse workforce. So I am sure that the human resource personnel of these companies know what diversity means and they were targeting those types of people. Yet, I wonder how does one determine if the job force is diverse or diverse enough? I am sure there are governmental mandates that have substantial impacts on funding, but that certainly doesn’t apply to all organizations.

There was no gatekeeper at the door questioning anyone’s diversity or a scanning machine that alarmed when a nondiverse person tried to enter. There were no monitors at the employers’ tables targeting diverse candidates. I am sure this was a good thing.

I have mixed feelings about being labeled as diverse, and yet I think it is a label I have given myself. Who passes out that label? Do our parents give it to us when we are born, stamping it on our birth certificates?

Who hands out any label and why do we feel compelled to accept the labels? I mentioned above that I was not the diverse label-maker or the diverse label-giver, but aren’t we all? Don’t we all put people into categories? Can you say stereotyping?

Are having diversity job fairs enough to weave talented diverse individuals into the workforce? Isn’t it more important for us to see people as individuals who bring a unique (diverse) quality with no emphasis on gender, ethnicity, religion and, dare I say it, sexual orientation? If it were only that easy. Wouldn’t it be great to live without gender-based pay inequity (women make 78 cents for every dollar a man earns), racial discrimination and other social ills? Wouldn’t it be nice?

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