When I was a young gal, Sundays were my favorite day of the week. I looked forward to the newspaper delivery. I believed that there was only one section in the entire newspaper that was relevant to my progression – comics! It was an art to carefully extract the comics section without leaving the paper in disarray, before my mother read it. A fond memory, indeed.
It is important that this blog entry begins with a memory from my childhood. Like many others, our adolescent years were the time of our lives when we were exposed to a multitude of ideas, beliefs, and values, all of which had served to create a foundation of our character, who we would grow up to be.
Reading the comics section is still a part of my Sunday routine, but it is no longer the most relevant section of the newspaper at this point in my life. In my opinion, comics still provide a laugh, here and there, whether it’s the content or the presentation I find funny. When I came across the one below, I knew I had to share. Upon reading for the first time, I did let out a peel of laughter, but then I began to think about the truth behind the strip. It perpetuates the idea that diversity can only be seen.
I do not recall the exact time when I encountered “diversity” or, at least, realized that my skin and my hair were different than the classmate who was sitting next to me. That was a long time ago. More recently, I attended a predominantly white institution called the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, in the United States. Completing my undergraduate and graduate degrees there, I was actively involved in the National Association of Black Accountants, Inc., and the Black Student Union. In terms of diversity, all I thought about was racial and ethnic diversity. I commonly received questions from visiting high school students asking: “How diverse is UW-Whitewater?” or “How diverse are your Accounting classes?” I would answer in terms of racial diversity, “Well, there are about 13% campus-wide.” or “Depends on what level, possibly 2 or 3 in my classes.” It wasn’t until summer in 2013 when I was exposed to a different way of thinking.
In the summer of 2013, I completed an Assurance internship in the PwC Milwaukee, office. During one of the last days, I attended a diversity event in the PwC Chicago office, hosted by Maria Moats, the US firm’s Chief Diversity Officer, and Reggie Butler, Founder & CEO of Performance Paradigm (also, former PwC Director). There, they presented a topic that opened another set of eyes I didn’t even realize I had! This was my first exposure to diversity of thought, of perspective. Armed with this new information, I was curious if this was a PwC thing or others were talking about it.
Using my trusted source, Google (looking forward to good things with the PwC/Google relationship!), I came across an article, which spoke on this topic. The article, entitled “Diversity of thought should trump racial-ethnic approach,” was written by Teresa Taylor and published in the American City Business Journals in December 2012. Taylor states, “Decades of training, seminars and books have brainwashed managers into thinking that if they have at least one person from every racial and ethnic background, then they’re doing the right thing. But U.S. Census data tells us that by 2050, there’ll be no racial or ethnic majority in our country.” In my opinion, I believe this is a valid argument. Over the years, I have heard many comments surrounding how important it is for teams to physically look like the clients because the clients believed that it would be easier to relate. Beneath the surface, those comments were indirectly aiming at the diversity of thought, which is what the client wished for, but believed that it would come along with the racial diversity of the team. Nowadays, I would not be surprised if there were five people on a team, each with a different ethnic make-up, but came from a similar familial structure, similar socioeconomic background, and similar educational journey. I agree with the changes that the United States is going through in terms of genetic make-up, which is why I believe we need to start focusing more on encouraging conversations around the diversity of thought, not solely focusing on the diversity of race and ethnicity. In order to build the best teams possible and recruit the right individuals to the firm, looking for diversity of thought, as well as diversity of race/ethnicity will go further than solely restricting recruiting practices to one approach versus the other.
Another fun study I came across last year – "The Changing Face of America,” which was published by National Geographic. The photographer, Martin Schoeller, created a photographic catalogue of bi-/tri-racial American citizens to visually show what the country would look like in 2050. This goes to show that everyone just may end up looking like everyone else with no clear-cut lines of race.
After reading Teresa Taylor’s compelling article about the value surrounding diversity of thought, I wondered about her stance on women and her perspective on gender diversity, as there is less of a grey area when compared to race and ethnicity. In my research, I came to find that she authored a book called The Balance Myth: Rethinking Work – Life Success, where she shares her personal stories and thoughts on why women have to merge both, the career and family life, and not keep them mutually exclusive, in order to be successful. It sounds like a great read and one that I will add to my summer list, especially since she has lived that life, as Chief Operating Officer (COO) of a Fortune 200 company and she is from my home state of Wisconsin!
The fact that she authored a book is a great accomplishment, but what caught my attention was her response in an interview she completed with Amy Whyte, at Diversity Executive. When asked: “Why do you think it is important that women don’t have to choose between motherhood and a career?” Taylor replied, “It is essential that women are in the workplace. We represent different points of view; techniques to problem solve and manage differently than men. One is not better than the other. To best represent your customers, employees and shareholders, companies need both men and women making decisions in the workplace.” Yes! I wholeheartedly agree. Just because the conversation needs to ramp up about the diversity of thought does not mean the conversation around gender diversity nor racial/ethnic diversity needs to lessen. Whether it is providing them with various scenarios to expand their business or a wide range of options to increase efficiencies, all are very important in ensuring that our firm is providing the best teams to assist our clients.
At the end of the day, I cannot change my unconscious thoughts. I will recognize the physical differences between myself and the person sitting next to me. That cannot be helped. What I can do is change my active thoughts and the actions and words that are produced because of them. It is important, for me, to start having conversations surrounding the relevancy of diversity of thought. And, hopefully, before a Sunday in 2050, I will see a comic strip that will perpetuate the idea that diversity cannot be seen.
||Sydney Nelson is an Assurance Associate with the PwC US firm, based in Milwaukee, WI. Prior to graduating with a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in Accounting from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, she helped establish the Women in Accounting student organization. She is a member of PwC Milwaukee's Earn Your Future (EYF) Committee, along with the Wisconsin Institute of Certified Public Accountants' (WICPA) Accounting Careers Committee and Strategic Planning Task Force. In addition, she serves on the Executive Board of the National Association of Black Accountants, Inc. - Milwaukee chapter.