STRONG SUIT: Valuing diversity
ONE OF BARBADOS’ greatest assets is the diversity of the people within this society. When the word “diversity” is used, it evokes a wide range of definitions and contexts.
In business and economics, for example, the diversification of products, services and revenue streams come readily to mind. For the purpose of this article, I would like us to think about social, political and human development and how these serve as our capital.
Some of the dimensions of diversity found here include: age, gender, religion, level of education, birthplace, exposure through travel, skills and accomplishments, language, connections and affiliations, economic resources, upbringing, health and wellness status, types of intelligence, cultural awareness and areas of interest.
I grew up, worked and received some of my education in the United States, where the “melting pot” principle drove everyone, especially immigrants and minorities, to become “Americanized”.
In the 20th century, in particular, this meant speaking English, adjusting your name and buying into the Horatio Alger notion that anyone could succeed. This created a number of systemic barriers for those who were visibly different from white males.
Influx of immigrants
Over time and with social strife and civil rights interventions, the diversity impetus has created a significant change in what is considered to be “American”. The differences, when valued, have yielded an enviable source of resilience, vitality and innovation.
Canada, a country with an enormous land mass, has adopted the “multicultural mosaic” approach that places emphasis on acknowledging, embracing and celebrating the cultural contributions in its society.
Some interesting things have happened. First came the question of “what is a Canadian?” as many segments of the society (geographical, political and ethnic) became more vocal about what was important to them from a historical and contemporary standpoint. The influx of immigrants from around the world created special challenges for businesses, government institutions, schools, courts and law enforcement. Each was faced with unexpected cultural nuances that affected how they went about their business.
I had an opportunity to do extensive work in all these sectors to address employment equity, race relations and community development. There have been friction and clashes but despite the cold climate, Canada is a warm place to live.
I cite these examples because both have vast natural resources and have actively recruited immigrants.
Barbados, on the other hand, is small in size and population. It has limited natural resources, and has an economic and social development model that presumes an ability to embrace diversity. Our efforts to attract visitors and direct foreign investment and to equip Barbadians to compete effectively in a global marketplace make valuing diversity an imperative.
There are already initiatives focused on information and communications technology, entrepreneurship and the like, but each of these needs a foundation of social and interpersonal skills aimed specifically at diversity.
In past articles, I have spoken of the need to provide encouragement and support to each other. This is not just about attitudes but also about skills that can be acquired and honed.
Fingers are being pointed in many different directions regarding who has the responsibility for bringing Barbados into a positive mindset. Many budgetary decisions are being made by the public and private sectors that reflect their preferred approach.
Let us consciously choose to make valuing diversity a national priority and establish an active campaign to measurably improve our competence in this area in the next 24 to 36 months. It can be achieved.
Dennis Strong is founding president of the Caribbean Institute of Certified Management Consultants.