Guest Blog Post by Teresa Flores Guillen, OU PRSSA Inclusion Director.
When I hear about diversity and inclusion, the terms are very often used interchangeably. The message is usually that beyond tolerance, we are trying to create a campus that values every individual the same and gives everyone the same opportunities to succeed. As part of what we called the Inclusion Committee within PRSSA, however, I think it’s important to understand what those words mean individually and why they are both so crucial to the development of the OU community.
A few years ago, I heard someone explain it in such a simple way, I was shocked I hadn't heard it from anyone else. It was a speaker at a networking event whose name I can’t seem to remember but whose words stayed with me until now.
It’s a simple enough concept, and it’s that simplicity that made its truth resonate with me. So how do we know the difference and where do we draw the line?
When we talk about diversity in the industry, I think people understand we’re talking about richer ideas that come from collaborating with a group of people with all kinds of backgrounds and knowledge, because they all have a unique view of the world. Diversity occurs in spite of oppressive or exclusionary attitudes or behaviors within an institution because of individuals' desire and drive to move forward and succeed in any industry.
On the other hand, inclusion is about letting people know that their voices are important, that they have something to say on every matter and they should because their perspective will always be uniquely theirs. Our industry, public relations, is better off when it opens doors to those who can make a positive change and bring innovative ideas to the table, regardless of who they are. This is where it gets tricky. It's never a question of diversity for the sake of diversity, but we must understand how our neutrality can be perceived when the norm has for so long been that minority groups have less of a voice, if they have one at all. The growing effort within the industry to create more inclusive spaces communicates to both its professionals and its publics that public relations is ready to take on the expanding global market, acknowledging those who have a voice, both from within the an organization and from its stakeholders' perspective.
Why are diversity and inclusion important in a public educational institution like the University of Oklahoma? Because this is where many of us really get to see the world and learn about others' experiences. This is the first place that will welcome us as professionals, and give us new ideas and the tools to use them. It’s not about diversity for the sake of diversity, but rather about looking for innovation and understanding, both of which require varied perspectives. Both diversity and inclusion foster an expansion and exploration of ideas that emerge when the individuals in a group have different backgrounds, knowledge and expertise.