Div-IE-rsity In The Workplace

By: Vanda Ametlli, Henry Ford Health System, IIE Great Lakes Regional Vice President

Nowadays, it feels like diversity has become a buzzword in our vocabulary.  Every so often, headlines highlighting an organization’s “diversity” initiatives are advertised and their positive impact on the bottom line. As young professionals, it is just as important to understand differences that arise from diverse ethnic groups and those that rise from individual life and professional experiences.  

I was fortunate to attend a large urban research university that provided exposure and application of the value of working and building relationships with people with very diverse backgrounds.   As a young professionals and champions for the field of industrial engineering, it is our duty to continually strive to improving our interactions because it’s the outcomes of those relationships that ultimately determine the impact we have in society.   

Age – Age is a constant topic, especially with the media focus on the work ethic that millennials have.  There’s a wisdom that comes with age and experience and while it’s great to have mentors that have that wisdom and experience, do take a step back in reassessing the lessons that are learned from (ie coaching soccer to a young group of kids). In our competitive nature, we eliminate building professional relationships with our own friends but just because you’re at the same age, it does not mean there’s nothing to learn.  As you work in teams, don’t set technological expectations of your colleagues based on their age.  You might meet individuals who are 30 and do not have basic skills in operating Microsoft Office and at the same time meet people in over 70s that write programs in their free time.

Time – The value that we place on time sometimes is shown as lacking a sense of urgency.  Time and timeliness is also impacted by cultural differences. Understand the time limitations that your coworkers have and if they are attributed to personal life or if they are more cultural.  The Age of Instant Gratification has turned us into setting equal expectations without taking into account the mentioned factors. It’s important that while cultural norms stay constant, personal time limitations do not so make an effort to find out more about arrangements that need to be made. Respect people’s time but at the same time respect your time (okay this one is easier said than done).

Passion – The most exciting part of working with people with diverse backgrounds is their passions.  Through college and professional experience, I have learned that leveraging people’s drives and passions is what produces successful outcomes.  As a student assistant for a program aimed at preparing at risk low-income students from Detroit area schools to be admitted into the College of Engineering, I learned that these students all had a vision to be “engineers”, but there were no defined goals on specialty or area that drove them into engineering. This scenario is still applicable in the “real world”. Discovering people’s passion takes lots of effort and patience. Most importantly, it takes failure to reach success.

Educational Backgrounds – As engineers, we like to think we always have the answers to everything (at least I do!) but working in healthcare, I have come out to find that doctors like to think they have the answers to everything too! Industrial Engineering has a lot of “industrial engineers” that did not necessarily come from industrial engineering or an engineering degree at all.  How can one have an engineering title without going through all that physics and math that we had to go through!!!?!?!? However, this is where diverse backgrounds can really make a team shine. The depth of expertise these non-traditional IEs bring to an organization goes beyond the degree they received.  

There are many more parameters/experiences that build our diverse backgrounds. There are books and programs that address different aspects of diversity in the workplace but in the end it comes down to taking initiative to discover what creates that uniqueness. It’s a given that diverse groups provide outstanding results. What are some lessons/advantages that you have encountered on your journey as a young professional in dealing in diverse global environments? What prepared you to handle these situations?