“Diversity can mean of myriad of things,” explains Tracey Partee, senior training instructor for the National Transit Institute (NTI). “At its base essence, diversity is the differences and similarities that everybody has and how that impacts our ability to get our job done.” More than simply knowing people of different cultures, it addresses all differences and similarities; culture, sex, occupation, religion and whatever else it may be.
Partee is the course trainer for the diversity workshop at NTI. The program is an initiation in diversity, to help organizations understand and appreciate differences in order to help organizations be more efficient and support excellence in customer service.
In the training class, people get to discuss differences that impact them on a day-to-day basis and have others in the room hear it. “They’re not doing that in a way that actually creates additional issues,” says Partee. “Some diversity trainings do that. They go through a diversity training session and people say some pretty horrible things in class where, when they leave, they’re like, ‘OK, now I really don’t like you because you said something bad about my race or my culture.’”
The class has three main modules; the business case for valuing diversity, defining and exploring diversity issues and recognizing diversity issues in the transit workplace.
“In the first module we debunk the myth of why there’s diversity training, what it means, but more importantly, that module shows them there is a real value to understanding and appreciating diversity for all employees in a transit organization,” explains Partee. This includes looking at some diversity success stories.
“Some organizations reported to us how they valued diversity, they went above legal compliance issues to really impact working together productively and supporting excellence in customer service.” She adds, “If they don’t understand why they’re having the training and why it’s important to them day in and day out in their business, then there’s no reason to have the diversity training.”
Module 2 is about defining and exploring diversity issues. This includes putting a definition around diversity, asking the class what it means to them and reviewing the agency’s diversity policy. “It’s all about exploring stereotypes and assumptions that we all make on a daily basis that may impact our ability to work together productively,” says Partee. Through various exercises, employees explore for themselves where they may have stereotypes and how that affects what they do.
Recognizing diversity issues in the transit workplace in module three looks at case studies, true stories about how diversity impacts employees working together. From operator to rider, maintenance to operator, union to nonunion or even first shift to second shift, the module looks at the different perspectives of different groups and how that can affect communication in the agency.
Partee mentions two misconceptions she often sees when people attend the workshop. “No. 1 is that they come in thinking that the reason that the organization is doing diversity training is that there is some legal mandate to do so.” She adds, “We quickly talk about how diversity is not a legal-compliance training program, it is something that the organization is undertaking to be the best in their area in terms of being the best employer and to be the best mode of transit for the customers.
“The other issue is, some of them come in thinking we’re going to tell them what women want, what African Americans want, how they think, and that’s not the training program either,” explains Partee. “Diversity is such a broad concept that we kind of have to wrap our arms around the idea that differences include even occupational differences.
“There can be misunderstandings between maintenance operators and bus operators and that can be a diversity issue.” She adds, “We look at how can we understand and appreciate those differences in even job occupations to get to a better level in working together productively.”
The best comment Partee hears after many of her workshops is that everybody in the organization should go through the program. “What’s really interesting in the training program, you get out of it No. 1 what you put into it, but No. 2, it might be different than the person sitting next to you because that is part of diversity as well.” She adds, “Each of my training classes are slightly different depending on who is there.