College of Business: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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What is diversity?


11/8/2010

by Sarah Small



For Adam Deem, a junior in Accountancy, diversity is about different personalities and perspectives, not just about different races. For Ebony Wiley, junior in Accountancy, diversity is about understanding and appreciating the different ways people think. For Darryl Cheeks '90, managing partner for Black Rhino Financial Group, diversity is about looking at all people the same way, as human beings. Apparently, the definition of diversity isn’t as cut-and-dry as one might think.

On Saturday, November 6, 250 students joined with representatives from 13 companies to participate in the College’s annual Business Diversity Exchange. Through a series of workshops conducted by Caterpillar, Ernst & Young and Navigant Consulting, students explored solutions to fostering a more diverse work environment and crafted their personal definitions of diversity.

“I am very proud of this year’s student planning committee,” said Victor Mullins, associate dean for Undergraduate Affairs. “the committee carefully selected topics to assist business students with becoming well rounded professionals in the workplace.”

The discussion of diversity at this year’s event extended past what many people expect: race, culture, gender, and ethnicity. Instead, the tone of the discussion emphasized the importance of understanding different perspectives in the workplace and taking the time to appreciate the source and strengths of these differences.

“In order to be a good manager, you have to recognize what your team is made of and appreciate what each team member brings to the table,” Mullins said.

Darryl Cheeks, keynote speaker for the event, shared his perspective on diversity by telling students that when he meets people, he sees them first and foremost, all the same, as human beings.

“I don’t really define diversity the way most people do,” Cheeks said. “Diversity is first understanding the individual. It’s more about getting to them and getting to know who they are.”

As business becomes increasingly globalized, the need is greater to understand, respect and appreciate different perspectives of the people who conduct business, he said.

Ebony Wiley said that accepting and embracing a definition of diversity that takes into account different personalities is much more challenging than simply being accepting of physical and cultural differences.

“It’s hard to quantify someone’s personality,” she said. “You can’t give numbers to make sure you’re representing different personalities.”

Cheeks stressed the great opportunity given to students at the University—that they are a part of a global environment, and he encouraged students to take advantage of this opportunity to help them grown and learn.

“A lot of times we are fearful of what we don’t know,” Cheeks said. “One of the great things at Illinois, you get to be part of a global campus. Embrace it.”

UIUC College of Business