Diversity in the Human Services Field

As employers we want our staff to provide the best services to the people they serve. In order to achieve this level of service, an employer needs to provide staff with the training and tools to accomplish this goal. In today’s business climate, the “work and get paid” attitude doesn’t always translate into the best possible services. It’s more complex than that. We need to create an environment where employees strive to be the best they can be because they are offered other initiatives that give more meaning to their day-to-day work responsibilities. To be more specific, such responsibilities are those that promote diversity and acceptance within the workplace.

Diversity is the foundation upon which the field of Human Services is based. By providing support and services to people in need, we help everyone celebrate and embrace differences. As employers, not only is it our responsibility; but, it is imperative we make sure diversity is a part of our corporate culture.

A great place to start incorporating diversity is with your company’s mission statement. For example, at JARC part of our mission is to “educate and sensitize the public regarding people with disabilities and their value to the community.” This provides an expectation and a challenge to employees to promote diversity to the people they encounter while providing services. It also communicates the importance of diversity within the organization.

Diversity extends beyond the services that a company provides; it is evident within the employee population. With any company, employees hail from all over the world, and each person has a unique cultural background. The common thread they share is the care they provide to those they serve. By focusing on the diversity of our employees we are then able to promote a culture of acceptance.

There are many ways to implement a presence of diversity. You can start with a committee of representatives from different departments with a range of responsibilities. This is a way to get fresh perspectives while making decisions that promote sensitivity to different races, religions, etc. The committee could write a column in company publications to showcase employees from various departments to illustrate the differences and similarities that are present within an employee population. Additionally, an employer could provide a floating holiday/personal day to recognize the cultural observances and customs of employees. It would be impossible to predict what holidays or religious observances might be important to individual employees. Using this method, each employee is given an opportunity to use this floating day for a holiday that is most meaningful to them.

Another opportunity to implement diversity into a company culture begins on the employee’s first day of employment. When an employer makes it clear how important the concept of diversity is to the company culture, then the acceptance of diversity will be an expectation. For example, JARC provides all newly hired employees with a wallet-sized card that communicates the company’s most important core values. This card includes the mission statement, a detailed list of the rights the people we serve have, and a phone number to report any rights violations, the six standards that we have for providing the best possible care, and a list of principles for keeping our customers happy. Employees are expected to carry this card with them in their wallet so they have access to this information at any given time. Giving the card to an employee on their date of hire communicates an expectation not only for the highest level of support and care, but also of acceptance.

Implementing a number of different initiatives that promote diversity will allow employees the opportunity to embrace differences, provide the best possible care, and find more meaning in their daily job responsibilities. Diversity is universal; it’s present within the population of people receiving services, the staff providing services, and with outside contacts and vendors. As employers, it’s our duty and mission to establish a standard of acceptance and in turn, effectively communicate this standard to our employees.

“We could learn a lot from crayons; some are sharp, some are pretty, some are dull, while others bright, some have weird names, but they all have learned to live together in the same box.” – Robert Fulghum

Lisa Korotkin is the human resources manager at JARC, a nonprofit organization based in Oakland County, Mich. providing residential and support services to people with developmental disabilities. JARC is a 2009 winner of Metro Detroit’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For. Korotkin can be reached at [email protected].

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Richard Blanchard
Rick is the Managing Editor of Corp! magazine. He has worked in reporting and editing roles at the Port Huron Times Herald, Lansing State Journal and The Detroit News, where he was most recently assistant business editor. A native of Michigan, Richard also worked in Washington state as a reporter, photographer and editor at the Anacortes American. He received a bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan and a master’s in accountancy from the University of Phoenix.