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Spark culture

Creating and maintaining a diverse organization is a bit like owning a home aquarium. You're responsible for an entire ecosystem, where every tiny variable is equally important — from the health of the coral, to the species of fish, to the nearly invisible changes in the temperature and chemistry of the water. Keeping a home aquarium alive and thriving requires constant work and attention at every step of the process.

The same goes for diversity. It requires constant awareness of a nearly infinite list of variables: not just race and gender, but also education, cultural background, marital status, disabilities, and on and on. It isn't a one-step process or a quick fix.

Being a diverse organization requires being aware of every facet of company culture that an employee faces, from recruitment to retirement. It requires understanding that each individual is going to need different tools and support to navigate those facets. But, just like with an aquarium, the payoff for all of that effort is something truly spectacular: a healthy, vibrant, compassionate community, and an organization that has a richer collection of backgrounds and abilities to draw from as a resource.

Naming the problem is half the battle, but even trying to describe diversity can get convoluted.

Lisa Lewis, vice president of people and culture at CPS Energy, said that to the utility, "being diverse means that our workforce reflects the community in which we live and serve, through age, gender, ethnicity, race, education, etc. And it means valuing those differences when it comes to solving problems and getting work done."

That "etc." speaks to one of the main problems with cultivating diversity culture. It is such a complex and nuanced concept that no one can exactly spell it out in a single definition. It contains a nearly endless lists of factors a company would need to consider to be fully inclusive of diversity. But definitions are incredibly important for providing a guideline around which to base policy and best practices.

Defining diversity

CPS Energy is in San Antonio, Texas, one of the fastest growing and most ethnically diverse populations in the country. The area has become majority Latino and Hispanic over the last 50 years, and the utility said one of their goals is to reflect that community in the workplace. The company has been working on diversity for several decades.

"San Antonio is a city with a strong, multicultural heritage," says Lewis. "With the exception of having a majority-male workforce, our people very much reflect the community in which we live and serve."

Cheryl. L. Anderson, director of training and member services at Florida Municipal Electric Association, feels similarly.

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