I decided not to get too ambitious for the ping-pong experiment, so my list of errands for the day included dropping off a sweater at the dry cleaner’s and buying some groceries. I don’t have a ping-pong, so I ingenuously decapitate a bottle of the mouthwash. With a cheerful blue and white polka dot sock over my right hand I am ready for action. Or so I think. First hurdle is dressing. Obviously I haven’t thought it through well enough. All my jackets have zippers, and after trying one after another I give up. My husband’s pea coat will do just fine. Now boots… forget the boots, nursing clogs (bright yellow) will have to do. I wish I could take a picture of the sight I make, but operating the phone is out of the question. Off I go! A few words should be said about the area where we live. It is quite a chi-chi area in downtown Ottawa – a ten minutes walk from the Parliament Hill. But as with almost any major city the streets are lined not only with trees but with homeless people.
If this were San Francisco I would be leery to take my regular walks, but this being Canada the general mood is of relaxed friendliness, even if its roots are often 80 proof. As I walk down the street I realize that instead of looking and feeling different I blend right in with my out of season clogs, a manly pea coat and especially the sock over an apparently crippled appendage. All I need is a paper cup and I’d be open for business. Nobody asks anything or looks askance as I buy my Granny Smiths. Another crazy lady doing her shopping, no big deal.
I step outside and immediately recoil, momentarily disoriented: all around me the throngs of the living dead in different stages of decomposition shuffle along the street. Then I remember: Halloween! There was something in the paper about a Zombie Invasion on Bank Street, but engrossed in my school work I completely forgot what day it was. I turn towards home and chug along like a sturdy tugboat, adroitly navigating the churning masses of howling zombies. All around me there are bloodied bandages, decaying limbs, oozing body fluids. I suddenly realize that now I finally stand out in my getup. I look… normal.
The experiment yielded somewhat unexpected results but I as I return the cap to the mouthwash bottle the idea strikes me that I didn’t really need it to feel different. With my strong Russian accent I am pretty much guaranteed to always stand out. From the lily-white central Russia I immigrated to the USA where “We are, at almost every point of our day, immersed in cultural diversity: faces, clothes, smells, attitudes, values, traditions, behaviours, beliefs, rituals.” (Abdel-Fattah, R. n.d.). America has always been a beacon for the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” (Lazarus, E. n.d.) and continues to have a special responsibility in the eyes of the rest of the world in upholding the ideals of democracy. Freedom of any persecution for its extremely diverse population is guaranteed by the American Constitution. As a result of this assurance the richness of the workforce arriving at the American shores – and at the disposal of American employers – is amazing: brains, experience, ingenuity, material resources, and business connections are just some of the treasures that can be accessed if this well is tapped and sustained (Bell, 2012, p. 13).
Inside the USA the labor landscape is shifting profoundly even without considering the constant influx of immigrants. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012) stubborn recession, retiring baby-boomers and overall increasingly aging population are the reasons that more people are leaving the workforce than entering it. Desperate for workers, many companies will become more accepting of diverse employees, particularly older workers and women. The leading US advocacy group for retired people, the AARP, believes that 80% of baby boomers will keep working full- or part-time past their current retirement age. It even earned the name of Generation U (Unretired) (www.ey.com).
Women, an increasingly well-educated source of talent and skilled labor, have been entering the workforce in greater numbers in recent decades. However, their talents often remain underutilized. The same applies to people with dishabilles and nontraditional sexual orientation. Their contribution to the workforce yet remains to be fully realized. Today the world is rapidly diminishing as economy is becoming global. For our class we could have been experimenting with a miniature globe instead of a ping-pong… Everything seems within reach these days. If we don’t harness the immense creative potential offered by the diverse labor force “the United States may be left behind in an increasingly competitive and global world.” (Bell, 2012, p. 522)
A Personal Observation
I have been working in the USA since 1998 and I have been privileged to experience tutelage of some excellent managers. California is a microcosm of racial, ethnic and gender diversity and I can testify that when it works – it works! I see a good manager of a diverse organization as a conductor of a philharmonic orchestra. So many different instruments! Chaos! Cacophony! But with patience, perseverance, hard work and trust on both ends a beautiful melody is born. And a very solid team.
Abdel-Fattah, R. (n.d.) Randa Abdel-Fattah quotes. Retrieved November 01, 2013 from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/r/randa_abdelfattah.html Bell, M. P. (2012). Diversity in organizations (2nd ed). Arlington, TX: South-Western. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012). Labor Force Projections to 2020: a More Slowly Growing Workforce. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2012/01/art3full.pdf Lazarus, E. (n.d.) The New Colossus, Retrieved November. 02, 2013 from http://www.libertystatepark.com/emma.htm