Beth Ford
Federal Defender Services of Eastern Tennessee
Knoxville, Tennessee

The first thing that I learned is how to define diversity.  Diversity is not just related to one’s race.  The U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Government-wide Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan defines workforce diversity “as a collection of individual attributes that together help agencies pursue organizational objectives efficiently and effectively.  (Note: Yes, that sounds very governmental.)  These include, but are not limited to, characteristics such as national origin, language, race, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity socioeconomic status, veteran status, and family structures.”  One of the most effective speakers that I have heard talk about diversity had the group of attendees divide by birthdate decade.  Then she talked about important events of each of the decades.  There were a number of people in the group who did not know where they were when JFK was shot because they were not even born yet.

The next thing that I learned is that having a diverse group of co-workers is good business.  There is a body of research that supports the conclusion that the bottom line will be better if the people with whom you work are diverse.  In addition, there are savings when an organization is diverse and practices inclusion.  More diverse organizations work better together and people stay in an organization longer.  When people are committed to an organization, there is less turnover, and the very high expenses of frequent turn overs are avoided.  Think about the costs of having a position vacant, the costs of advertising, and the costs of training.

Leaders must remain involved past the actual hiring in supporting diversity and encouraging inclusion.  Just putting together a diverse workforce is not sufficient and will not be a long term solution.  Leaders must, also, be involved in identifying barriers that prevent diverse employees from being fully included, and they must be involved in removing those barriers.  This requires being intentional and being sure that all staff have the same opportunities.  Learning to overcome implicit bias is key to removing barriers.  We all have biases.  Everyone should take an implicit bias test.  Harvard has one that can be found at  I was shocked at my results.

Raising and thinking about these issues only begin to scratch the surface of putting together a diverse team and keeping the team together, but I hope that it will provide a starting place.


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