2008 marks the 20th year that the University of St. Thomas and its partners have sponsored the Multicultural Forum on Workplace Diversity. What started as a small teleconference with the Black Managers Association and only 75 people has grown to more than 2,500 people and 40-plus speakers discussing every type of diversity in the workplace. This year’s theme is “Harnessing the Winds of Change: The Next 20 Years.”
Steve Humerickhouse, Director of Multicultural Forum on Workplace Diversity, believes, “We are at historic crossroads…but the demographics of our country are changing too fast. No one can keep up. Companies are scrambling to come up with some response to the diversity changes all around them.”
Though things are changing rapidly, and seem to have no stop, many companies are doing their best. Humerickhouse thinks things are better then they were even 25 years ago.
While for 2008, no particular issue came to the forefront, the Forum wanted to spend time figuring out how to lead from the middle. Because many of the attendees are middle management, it was important to determine how to get them truly to understand what diversity means, and how to employ diversity strategies effectively.
Another issue considered this year is transgender employees, specifically those who are in the transition while in the workforce—something not many people have experience with. The Forum has been working with GLBT issues consistently for years.
Humerickhouse says, “It’s fair to say that in the minds of most of the planning committee members who collectively have their fingers on the pulse of many of the major Twin Cities corporations, GLBT equality is one of the last civil rights issues that still needs to be addressed.”
Though race, gender, and age discrimination are still around, Humerickhouse states, “GLBT issues are of equal concern and consequence.”
As some issues begin to fade from our memories, new ones are emerging every day.
According to Humerickhouse, “We only need to look to the immigrant, Hmong, Somali, fill in the blank; the Muslim; the socioeconomically challenged; the disabled; even to our own community to find that answer.”
Humerickhouse foresees “diversity of thought” as one of the newest challenges, even if we get past all the others.
As Humerickhouse puts it, “If you only hire people from Harvard, then you only get a Harvard perspective. In business, you will ultimately be blindsided if you don’t have someone seeing the picture from a different angle.”
Although 20 years of teaching diversity have gone by, as Humerickhouse smartly shares, “It is our hope to put ourselves out of business”—he knows it won’t happen anytime soon, yet one always can hope so.