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Bridging the Gap of Diversity Through Community

By: Donna Cornelius, Executive Director

As the saying goes “variety is the spice of life”, but when it comes to the workplace it seems that diversity has more obstacles, struggles, and failures than successes.  First is the definition disconnect. Merriam-Webster defines diversity as “the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas etc.”  In my research I found there are now notable differences in its meaning among businesses, generations, cultures and races.  If we cannot agree on what it is, then how do we begin to address it?  

Many organizations now exist striving to impart wisdom, understanding and training on how to create a more diverse work environment.  However, I am here to address one aspect of diversity as I deal with it on a day to day basis. 

I would like to present that diversity is not just an “employer” problem; it is a community problem. Workshops and training are beneficial in the workplace, but there is a life component that cannot be solved by employers. 

The conundrum as I see it:  Employers want to attract a more diverse workforce, but are unable to recruit or retain this same population because of perspective.  

Diversity is in the eye of the beholder 

As a teacher, counselor and coach I have learned perception is everything. People will not do what they do not know or see. If they do not see diversity, then it must not exist here; therefore, they will not accept a job and make a life in the Lehigh Valley regardless of job offerings.  

It is imperative to understand that this perception has regional economic impacts. Regional growth is dependent on employer growth. To attract and retain a diverse workforce, there must be a diverse population and services. To create a more diverse community, there must be a diverse workforce…and the problem continues.  

The proof of diversity is in the pudding 

My staff and I have the very unique and wonderful opportunity to work with highly skilled, diverse new hires on a daily basis. These individuals and their families are coming from across the country and around the world to take jobs in the Lehigh Valley. Our role is to deal with the issues of diversity as it relates to integration.  If employees see opportunities to build ties to and become part of a community, then employers are more successfully able to recruit and retain diverse employees. 

Our organization provides resources, networking and connecting opportunities. To do this most precisely, we assess need. We recently conducted a survey of a specific professional group with a 67% response rate.  

Of the respondents: 

  • 56% were Caucasian (keep in mind with our clientele this could include Eastern European or Canadian) 
  • 45% were people of color 
  • 89% were 25 – 34 years of age (20 somethings are a retention issue in this area) 
  • 51% were female 
  • 54% had a spouse or partner 

(All of these demographics are recruitment and retention issues directly tied to diversity. It also validates that the Lehigh Valley is becoming more diverse in its hiring.) 

The remaining questions were based on personal needs within the community tying in the need of diverse service offerings. (This is a small representation of those questions.) 

  • 32% look for neighborhoods where they are welcomed and can fit in 
  • 61% want recreational activities that fit their lifestyle 
  • 24% are seeking religious and cultural opportunities 

Of the clients we work with as well as the survey respondents, the representation of diversity and need is vast. Relocating families are looking for communities where they are able to connect with others be it black professionals, Asian or Jewish communities, 20 somethings, young families, etc. The food, religious and cultural offerings need to meet these needs as well.  

I would say the Lehigh Valley in its past years has not been diverse, but as I work with the various employers, I get to know the diversity first hand.  I believe we as a community of employers, organizations, small businesses and individuals have the obligation, responsibility, and privilege to work together to make the Lehigh Valley a better place to work and live.  

We are connecting our diverse work populations across industries, cultures and communities to help new hires and employees see that diversity and inclusion does exist in the Lehigh Valley’s workforce and community! 

Tagged as: Community Resources, Diversity,