Last year, Forbes ranked Fargo-Moorhead the fourth-fastest-growing small city in the U.S. As a newcomer to this community, I have heard it said many times that the demographics have changed quite dramatically over the past decade as more and more people move here from other parts of the country and around the world.
The region is no longer divided between folks descended primarily from Germany, Norway and Sweden. Walking down the street, one is as likely to encounter a burka-clad woman from Somalia as a trendy T-shirt-wearing teenage exchange student from a Scandinavian country. Further, these demographic changes are beginning to be felt within organizations.
At our spring conference at the Lorentzsen Center for Faith and Work, participants heard about the challenges and opportunities that exist at the nexus of religious and cultural diversity from local business leaders.
The conference was guided by three questions that arose through discussions with a planning committee made up of people from various local organizations. First, with the tremendous growth being experienced in this region, how can business leaders create a welcoming organizational culture for (cultural and religious) diversity within their organizations? Secondly, how can organizations attract and retain diverse employees? And, lastly, what role should the educational institutions play in supporting organizations to both create a welcoming environment, and attract and retain diverse employees?
The conference allowed participants to hear the numbers and statistics related to growth in the F-M area, challenges that organizations are experiencing in trying to fill the many open positions, challenges experienced by particular newcomer communities in understanding the system and gaining the necessary capital to engage in the workforce, and strategies for effectively engaging religious and cultural diversity in organizations.
For Mike Arntson at Cardinal IG, the diverse communities provide him with potential employees – the company has employees from 27 different countries. For Lauris Molbert at TMI Hospitality, having diverse employees enables the company to better serve their globally diverse customers.
Various speakers pointed out that there is a generational difference when it comes to attitudes toward diversity. Younger employees expect – even demand – a diverse workplace because they are more open minded to all forms of diversity.
As our region grows, we need to attract and retain the young graduates coming out of our educational institutions, ensuring that our organizations, whether local, regional or global, are prepared to engage difference and harness the benefits of diversity – the innovativeness, creativity and resourceful problem-solving that is needed to fuel and sustain growth.
We can do this together by bringing our collective resources from educational institutions and business organizations to bear in creating what Greg Tehven of Emerging Prairie refers to as “radical inclusivity.”
Faith Wambura Ngunjiri is the director of the Lorentzsen Center for Faith and Work and an associate professor of leadership and ethics in the Offutt School of Business, Concordia College, Moorhead.