Appreciating Diversity, Creating Unity
By Julia Bernards
Several years ago, I sat with my husband in a recruiting event sponsored by Walmart. The presenters and audience were both part of a minority group, and the event had been organized as part of Walmart’s ongoing effort to attract a diverse workforce. In the midst of the presenter’s spiel, a phrase jumped out at me as utterly paradoxical. “Walmart is a great place to work,” affirmed the presenter. “There is a lot of diversity here; we like to hire people like us.”
Later, at another Walmart event, the corporate officers were being treated to a report on the success of the company’s diversity efforts. “Walmart is **% diverse,” proclaimed the Chief Diversity Officer. Everyone clapped, but I couldn’t help but wonder: “Does that mean the other **% of the associates are identical? Why does the definition of ‘diverse’ focus on ethnic background, gender, or sexual preference? Doesn’t that definition destroy the true power of diversity?”
When Nelson Mandela was elected president of post-apartheid South Africa, it was his task to unite a country which had long been divided by definitions of value and diversity based on skin color and ethnic background. Mandela knew that granting political rights to those to whom they had previously been denied was important but insufficient to unite his people. The whole system of valuation, the whole definition of diversity had to be torn down. He set a public example of valuing people based on their individual abilities rather than the color of their skin. He put generations of racial conflict behind him and created unity in his country by challenging the citizens to see each other as people and fellow citizens rather than stereotyping based on race. Mandela aligned South Africans in the common purpose of peace and thereby re-defined their diversity. His legacy lives on in the powerful transformation of his country and the unity he created.
Defining people by the group they seem to be part of undermines the true power that diversity has to strengthen unity.
The Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the largest women’s organization in the world. It has more than 5.5 million members in 170 countries around the world. Needless to say, the members are diverse in terms of language, culture, ethnic background, socio-economic status, education and personal circumstance. However, they are also a remarkably strong and unified group because they are aligned in a purpose which draws on each of their unique abilities.
The purpose of the Relief Society is to strengthen its members and their families and to serve those outside their membership by providing humanitarian aid. To accomplish this, every member of the Relief Society has two other women from her community assigned to watch over her physical, temporal and spiritual needs and give or organize assistance when necessary. As women give and receive this personal service, they share their individual talents, perspectives and resources. The diversity of the group is essential to the welfare of its members and therefore to its unity and strength.
As members of the Relief Society reach out to give humanitarian service, their individual contributions are again invaluable. Women may organize donation drives or make quilts, teach about food production and storage, or assemble hygiene kits to be sent to disaster areas. In voluntarily giving of themselves and their resources, the women of the Relief Society find value in their unique abilities and those of the other women around them. The aligned diversity of the Relief Society strengthens and unifies it.
As you seek unity in your family, community or organization, align members in a common purpose, so their diversity can become a source of strength. Only by valuing every member can we experience the fullest strength of unity.
Julia Bernard’s background is in Family Life, both in education and experience. Writing about family life to share inspiration and ideas with other women is one of her primary passions.