I love spring. I really do! It is my favorite season of the year. It always comes with my favorite day of the year, Easter Sunday. Growing up in a Catholic church and doing everything I could do short of becoming a priest; the Holy week was a week of recollection, reflection and rethinking about who I was in relation to God.
There are two other reasons why spring brings joy to my heart, soul and body.
One, this time of the year reminds me of my childhood. I grew up in a rain forest in Cameroon, in central-west Africa. The parallel season was not called spring; it was the beginning of the “raining season.” In comparison, in Kansas City, the beautiful spring succeeds to winter, the blissful rainy season chases away the dry season.
Rains bring rebirth of basically everything from vegetables to animals, including humans. The air smells better. All types of birds and snakes hatch all over the place. It is simply the most beautiful natural experience.
The third reason why I love spring here is the appearance of diverse flowers. All erupt from the ground at the same time, as if they were waiting for a signal or an order. I sometime slow down in front of a house just to admire flowers. It is easy to recognize that no one plans the same type of flowers all around their houses. People like variety. The diversity of colors and types of flowers is what makes the beauty of a garden, whether small or large.
Diversity makes humans beautiful, powerful and productive. In addition to colors, human diversity includes the variety of thinking processes, background experiences, education, problem-solving approaches and languages. Thus, diversity is about more than just color or race.
I am often asked why these days, diversity consultants talk more about diversity and inclusion. Well, because, mostly in workplaces, diversity alone is not sufficient in helping the organization reach its highest effectiveness and productivity.
Research data from Cornell University’s Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies reached the conclusion that “diversity focused primarily on heterogeneity and demographics composition of groups and organizations.” This means, essentially, recruiting diverse employees and minority vendors, and reaching out to multicultural clientele.
But numerous studies show that just diversifying the staff is not enough. In my work alone, I have talked to numerous highly qualified minority professionals hired in mostly majority organizations, but who were not able to last longer than a year or two.
I had the opportunity to speak to a few whose most frequent reason for quitting was “They slowly pushed me out!” Most of them spent their first years testing the host culture, and the second year looking for a new job.
On their part, the leaders of the organizations often say, “We have no idea why they quit!” As of us, we know why they leave! Because there was an untold assumption that once hired they would automatically embrace the host culture and become “like us.”
This does not happen unless there is a conscious effort from the leadership team to provide the indispensable and consistent cultural mentorship that creates bridges between the newcomer and the hosts.
Small and large organizations face serious challenges of retaining qualified minority employees. The problem became so serious in the legal profession that the Center for Legal Inclusiveness was created to address the recruitment and mostly the retention and inclusion of minority attorneys in the predominantly Caucasian field. Inclusion is about creating an environment in which all employees share a sense of belonging and mutual respect, where everyone is valued for who they are, and where a supportive energy and commitment from everyone lead to the highest performance
To come back to spring and the flowers, I often use Arin Reeves’ garden metaphor to explain diversity and inclusion.
If you want to build a beautiful garden, you need two main ingredients: a variety of good healthy seeds, and the right soil where all the seeds you plan will flourish to their highest capacity. The seeds are the workforce. The soil is the workplace.
You can select the best variety of seeds but with a soil ingredient that favors just one type of seeds, you will end up with a more homogenous garden than intended. Worse, the other seeds may simply die. Diversity is about the people. Inclusion is about the workplace culture, the sharing of perspectives, the acceptance of complementary approaches, perspectives and sometimes apparent conflicting ideas.
Diversity can be created without inclusion but it will not last because voices that are not heard will stop speaking up; worse, they will leave! Diversity needs inclusion, but inclusion can survive by itself.
And spring, my favorite season, is a perfect time to work toward this goal.