Diversity was defined in 1994 by a researcher named Cox. This was followed in 1995 by McGrath and then subsequently by others.
One reason for so many definitions was because in each research document, the author used different criteria to establish a definition.
For example, Cox studied specific cultural habits, McGrath used individual body features and some authors used viewpoints that cause behavioral changes in other groups.
Additionally, in specific organizations, such as the world of technology, finance, professional sports, the judicial system and medicine, diversity wasn’t established by race, gender or ethnicity. It was established by using nonvisible dimensions that included IQ, cognitive abilities, education, leadership abilities and occupation.
So what does it mean to the fire service? Four thoughts.
First, diversity has no set definition.
Therefore, when creating a definition for itself, each organization should create a set of criteria through a series of questions that define the organization.
For example, here are three questions I used to define diversity in my past department:
- Does your department provide for a global-thinking approach to problem solving?
- Do your employees have a stronger commitment to the organization?
- Do your employees have a stronger desire to increase organizational performance?
Hence, if we use the answers to these three questions, a department could state that diversity in their fire department is defined as follows:
Diversity is defined as an evolving process for recognizing different cultures and ethnicities within our communities in order to create a global-thinking approach to problem solving and to increase organizational performance through enhanced city, departmental and employee awareness.
Second, we have to be aware that although we advocate for diversity in the fire service, in the world of data and spreadsheets, we know with 100% certainty that our organizations don’t resonate what we state. In fact, a recent report titled Characteristics of Individuals and Employment Among First Responders (U.S. Department of Labor, August 6, 2015) states that 19 out of 20 firefighters are men, and this is just one demographic.
Third, research tells us that diverse departments promote community engagement, global thinking and synergy for the organization and the community, resulting in everyone having one variable in common—trust.
Fourth, we know that diversity provides for increased employee engagement, increased awareness of our surroundings, successful adjustments in our communities and overall individual and organizational growth.
For example, in a recent study by Ward on workplace diversity, a survey asked if there are any benefits to having a diverse workplace; 95% of the respondents said yes to the following benefits:
- Learning and growing from each other
- Diverse ways of doing things
- Benefits to the clients
- Increased ability to achieve
- Exposure to different cultures and beliefs, building tolerance and understanding
- Increased knowledge
- Reflecting society
In addition, Ward’s study concluded that the findings support recommendations by workers to develop a definition for diversity in the workplace.
In summary, when starting to define diversity in your department, consider the demographics of your community and organization and keep in mind that although we would like to have set parameters for what diversity is, there are none that apply to everyone.
In essence, as a chief officer, you need to establish the criteria you want your department to follow.
- Cox, T. (1994). Cultural diversity in organizations: Theory, research and practice. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
- McGrath, J. E.; Berdahl, J. L.; and Arrow, H. (1995). Traits, expectations, culture, and clout: The dynamics of diversity in work groups.
- Roberson, Q. M. (2006). "Disentangling the meanings of diversity and inclusion in organizations." Group & Organization Management, 31(2), 212-236.
- Shore, L. M.; Randel, A. E.; Chung, B. G.; Dean, M. A.; Ehrhart, K. H.; and Singh, G. (2010). "Inclusion and diversity in work groups: A review and model for future research." Journal of Management, 0149206310385943.
- Ward, V. K. Diversity in the Workplace.