Campus & Community

The gains from diversity

3 min read

Fostering it in the workplace is a keystone to cultural competence, expert says

A diverse and inclusive workplace is good for business. And according to Eddie Pate, vice president of diversity and inclusion at Avanade Inc., because people want to join diverse organizations, it’s a quality that not only makes institutions like Harvard destination employers, but is also synonymous with excellence.

At a recent Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Diversity Dialogue session, Pate delivered a presentation called “Mentoring and Relationship-Building in Culturally Competent Organizations.” In it, he said diversity and cultural competency must be an integral part of the education process at Harvard, which teaches people to serve a multicultural society. If it’s not, he told the audience, the University isn’t doing its job.

Creating safe, inclusive environments in the workplace demands commitment and effort, and requires people to step out of their comfort zones, but the payoff is worth it, Peter V. Marsden, Edith and Benjamin Geisinger Professor of Sociology and FAS Dean of Social Science, said in his introductory remarks.  FAS is committed to this, and creating and strengthening mentoring is a high priority for Harvard, he said.

The second of three FAS diversity dialogues for the academic year was supported by the FAS Dean’s Office, FAS Human Resources, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and FAS Diversity Relations and Communications, with support from Avanade.

“At Harvard, the challenge is not the numbers [of diverse people], but what we do when we reach the numbers,” said Dale Trevino, director of diversity programs at the Harvard School of Public Health.  “We pride ourselves on being diverse, but need to think about what we do with it,” he added.

Pate said that ensuring diversity and inclusion is a process that requires leveraging differences to be more creative.  Referring to “The Inclusion Breakthrough” by Frederick A. Miller and Judith H. Katz, he said, “Inclusive organizational cultures leverage diversity by creating an environment with a broader bandwidth of acceptable styles of behavior and appearance, thereby encouraging a greater range of available paths to success.”

Working toward these goals forces institutions and individuals to be more culturally competent, “an experiential understanding and acceptance of the beliefs, values, and ethics of others as well as the demonstrated skills necessary to work with and serve diverse individuals and groups,” Pate said.  It requires acquiring knowledge of different cultures and exposing oneself to something different, creating an environment in which diversity conversations are legitimate, and where people feel comfortable talking about who they are, he said.

“Today’s dialogue was thought-provoking, informative, and interactive.  We were challenged to reconsider our notions of mentoring and relationship-building.  Additionally, Dr. Pate provided practical tips and advice on developing cultural competence.  It was exciting to see so many in the room fully engaged with the topic and the speaker,” said Andrea Kelton-Harris, FAS senior human resources consultant.