Key to diversity outreach: get out of your cultural comfort zone
by Kevin Henry
Across the country and right here in Washington, demographics have and are changing rapidly. The 2010 Census has illuminated the increase in diversity in the United States. It has been projected that by the year 2050 in the United States, Caucasians will be in the minority. It is important to remember that diversity is not just about race, but includes gender, socio-economic status, age, physical and mental abilities, sexual orientation and religious beliefs.
Diversity is also inclusive of everyone. I have personally heard Caucasian people say, “I am not diverse… I don’t have a culture”. This is far from the truth. We all bring an individual uniqueness to the world. We all have a range of experiences and background story to share. No two people are exactly the same and that is what true diversity is all about.
Non profits and businesses and cultural outreach
Many businesses and organizations are faced with the challenging task of doing outreach, whether it is recruiting diversity to boards, councils, and group membership or to the workplace. In addition, non profits, community organizations and even churches often feel the need to increase attendance at events and in programs, especially if the surrounding community have increased its diversity. Handing out flyers and translating marketing materials into different languages is a good start, but is far from enough. Relationship-building plants the seeds of understanding and provides the spark to encourage collaboration. Find the key members of communities who can give insight into the issues and needs of that community. Don’t rely on googling a race or culture to learn how to approach and interact with them. Some of this information is helpful and can provide general and historical information, but too often we fall back on stereotypes like “most Asians are quiet or studious” and “most Latinos are Catholic.”
Face to face, eye to eye contact is required to really create a meaningful connection. I recall once hearing from a Caucasian woman who said she was forming a discussion group and the first topic was to be immigration. I asked her, “Did you invite any immigrants to your group to participate in the discussion?” To my astonishment, she said “No.” I wondered, “How can you have a meaningful discussion about immigration with no immigrants present?”
Effective outreach is an ongoing mission, which means visiting churches, grocery stores, schools and even setting up booths at community events where diverse populations are. Go to them. Do not expect them to come to you. Get out of your own cultural comfort zone. Break your normal routine. Instead of shopping at Safeway, do your grocery shopping at a Pakistani grocery store. This kind of effort also shows that you are sincere about making new connections and forming new partnerships.
Exploring the “ethnic” media
Another way for businesses and organizations to make connections is by connecting with the diverse media, which includes traditional and social media. Not everyone watches KIRO News and reads the Seattle Times. In the Puget Sound area, there are over 50 culturally-diverse newspapers, websites, television and radio stations, some of which that print and broadcast news in various languages. http://seabeez.com/ . Check out some of these sources and if you are having an event, send your press releases to this branch of the media.
Remember, appreciating and understanding diversity is an enlightening, lifelong journey, full of surprises, revelations and new relationships.