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Appreciating the Diversity Among Us

We recently interviewed Dr. Patreese Ingram, assistant dean of multicultural affairs with Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Dr. Ingram discussed diversity awareness in agriculture and steps we as individuals can take to increase our own understanding of diversity and inclusion. Listen to the full podcast episode with Dr. Ingram here.

Could you help our listeners understand what is diversity and inclusion, and why is appreciating diversity important in our communities?

In the simplest terms, diversity is difference. It's all of us in our infinite variety. There are many ways in which people tend to differ from each other. For example, even though my sister and I grew up in the same household with the same parents, we are very different from each other. Personality is definitely a dimension of diversity, but today when we use the term diversity, we are often speaking about dimensions of diversity, such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, socioeconomic status, educational attainment, sexual orientation, religion and ability/disability status. We tend to focus on those because they are the ones that tend to impact how we are treated and how we experience the world.

We are experiencing greater diversity in our communities today and at a faster rate. We may be seeing different people in our communities, in our schools, and in our workplaces, but just having diversity and people, increased numbers in these places is not enough, we need to include them fully into the community, into the schools, and into our workplaces.

Diversity is like being asked to go to the party, but inclusion is like being asked to dance once you got there. To be more than an addition to the group, but to be engaged as an active part of the group, and to have one's differences taken into consideration and respected in the group. I like to go one step beyond inclusion and that is to belonging. While inclusion is being asked to dance at the party, belonging is being able to dance like nobody's watching. We need to help everyone with all of our differences to feel valued and respected in the group and in the community, to feel comfortable enough to contribute our true selves.

So why is diversity important? Because appreciating diversity in our communities allows all of us to grow and learn from different ideas and perspectives, ways of seeing ourselves and our world. In the business setting, research shows that diversity in the workplace leads to better decisions, better financial performance and a growth in market share.

Next, let’s talk about diversity and inclusion, specifically related to agriculture. From your perspective, how can the agriculture industry cultivate a more diverse and inclusive community?

There are a number of approaches that the ag industry can take to cultivate a more diverse and inclusive community. Given our time for the podcast, I'll share just a few to consider.

When the industry reaches out to gain input, make sure that they incorporate representatives from diverse communities in those conversations so they can hear perspectives and ideas from diverse communities and their decision-making.

The ag industry can make a concerted effort to collaborate with diverse organizations, create a more diverse workplace, and I know that this has been difficult, and a lot of times people will say it's hard to find diverse employees, but some steps can be taken to increase the likelihood of being successful. Some of the things that an organization can do is including a statement in the job announcement that clearly says that the company has a desire to increase diversity of its workplace and put that statement in the body of the announcement, not at the end as a perfunctory EEO statement.

Target specific organizations that engage diverse membership, such as minority or gender-related professional organizations and associations.

Attend minority and gender agricultural conferences, where you can meet and talk with potential diverse applicants, and when evaluating potential employees consider the concept of cultural add instead of cultural fit.

On your organization website, include images of people from diverse backgrounds and genders which sends a message that your organization has a welcoming environment for people from all different backgrounds.

Some other considerations include allowing for flexible work schedules to accommodate employees that may need this flexibility to accommodate both their work and their family life.

Depending on your audiences, you may consider making some materials available in different languages.

Also, provide opportunities for diversity workshops and training to increase the skills and effectiveness of current employees in interacting with diverse population.

In what ways can we as individuals enhance our understanding of diversity?

It's very easy for most of us to go about our daily lives, comfortable in our own communities and with our own groups. It takes some effort sometimes to step out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to opportunities to learn about different cultures. That takes a little extra step.

Now there are some easy ways of doing it. There are movies and documentaries and books that provide a look into other cultures and the values and practices of those cultures. Of course, there are courses offered by colleges and universities and online, if you like that venue for learning. You can be active in terms of attending cultural celebrations and activities that are open to the public, take a shopping trip to a community that you have not visited before. Travel to other communities can be very eye opening and informative. Visit a church outside of your religion. Volunteer with an organization that's located in or caters to a diverse population. These are some other ways to enhance your understanding of diversity.

Another thing that we often don't think about is that many of us know people from different backgrounds. Invite that person to meet and converse with you about their culture. Most people are willing to do that if they know that you are sincere in wanting to learn about their culture and background.

The most important requirement for enhancing our understanding of diversity is to approach it with an open, nonjudgmental mind. Be willing to accept that there are different perspectives, different ways of thinking, different ways of behaving, and remember that different is not bad or good, it's just that, different. We can engage with people from diverse cultures when we are open to seeing things through other frameworks.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our listeners today?

Today, we are certainly in a time in our country where this topic is welcomed by many, but also questioned by some. I really appreciate the interest of the ag industry to bring this topic to their participants.

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