Profile in Diversity in Business
DOWNTOWN AND DIVERSITY:
Downtown is the community’s center. It is the hub of our region’s commerce and the center for social and communal interaction. It is everybody’s neighborhood, not the domain or jurisdiction of any single group of people.
It is important, indeed imperative, that downtown retain this distinction. Diversity is an important, necessary part of the downtown experience. We count on everyone, business owners, employees, landlords, downtown residents, and even our downtown patrons, to make diversity an organic part of our downtown community.
The Dimensions of Diversity
A commitment to diversity means that “all” people should feel welcome in downtown. What do we mean by “all” people and what do we mean by “welcome”?
“All” people obviously refers to people of every race. Race is not and should not be distinguishing factor in how a person is greeted, treated, waited upon, or addressed. The law is clear and our community mores are even clearer. Customer service should be color blind. People should be treated equally, regardless of skin color. We hope you treat all your visitors and patrons with smiles and kind words. If you are curmudgeon, be a color blind one. Better yet, don’t be a curmudgeon at all. Treat all customers with the same respect and dignity you expect when you shop.
Downtown customers have come from the four corners of the globe. We host visitors from nearly every nationality and ethnicity. Once again, we expect our downtown businesses and their employees to provide equal service, hopefully stellar, regardless of ethnicity or nationality. Personal biases have no place in the workplace. We ask that you leave them home and treat all people with respect.
A commitment to diversity also means recognizing the value of all people, regardless of age. This is especially true for youth. Youth are welcome and indeed sought out in downtown. Youth represent our future and we want them to retain warm, welcoming images of downtown. Age is not and should not be a factor in judging the value of a person as customer or patron.
In return, we ask and expect that all people, including youth, treat their downtown with respect and civility. Downtown’s public and private space is not a school playground; it is a place of commerce and a center for community interaction.
Just as we expect youth to be respected and valued, we also affirm that people of all ages have the right and privilege to use downtown and to feel absolutely comfortable doing so. We want and expect downtown to be welcoming to both our youth and our senior citizens. To accomplish this goal, businesses and their employees should be attentive to treating all people the same, regardless of age. Conversely, our community expects all people to act and behave with civility and with respect to each other.
People of all incomes are welcome and invited to downtown. Indeed, as the living room of the community, we expect that all persons irrespective of income will enjoy the amenities and atmosphere of downtown.
We recognize that different businesses will serve different niches of consumers. That is part of the charm of downtown. We have businesses that provide goods and services at all price points. We do not, and would not want to, regulate what goods or services a business chooses to sell. We do expect our downtown community to treat all persons, irrespective of income, with the same dignity and respect.
Many of our businesses are women owned. If we profess to treat all people equally, there is no room for differentiation based on gender. Women of all ages, from the youngest child to the oldest great grandmother, should feel welcome and comfortable in our downtown stores and in our public spaces.
Ithaca is proud of its reputation as a welcoming place for gay, lesbian, and transgender persons. Downtown shares in this pride and our places of businesses should likewise be certain to be welcoming to all, regardless of sexual orientation.
Persons with disabilities are likewise welcome and appreciated in downtown. Whenever possible and to the best of our ability, we should adapt our workplaces and our businesses to accommodate persons with disabilities.
What Do We Mean by Welcoming?
By welcoming, we mean comfortable and at ease. We expect that any person who comes downtown to shop, dine, recreate, or merely stroll should feel safe, secure, and equally treated. We want positive visitor experiences. Comfortable means that a person is not singled out for more rigorous scrutiny due to race, ethnicity, age, income, gender, sexual orientation, disability or any other personal characteristic. It means that the rules of business apply the same to one and all, and that everyone feels appreciated and affirmed.
Good customer service makes one feel welcome. A smile, an acknowledgement, and pleasant small talk when someone enters a place of business create an affirming environment. These are things all of our businesses should strive for on a daily basis. But good customer service is not enough if we are to achieve our goal of diversity for all. To recognize the importance of diversity, we must move beyond mere customer service. Respecting diversity means treating all people equally. It means recognizing the biases we bring with us work and making efforts to overcome them in our workplace.
We all come to work with pre-existing biases of some sort. These biases are rooted in our upbringing, our neighborhoods, our parents and family, and our acquaintances and friends. Often they reflect our ignorance or just lack of experience interacting with various groups of people. Our aim should be to recognize these biases and strive to keep them out of the workplace and our daily lives. Biases and stereotypes rob us of the chance to experience the individuality of us all.
Downtown belongs to everybody. Help us to demonstrate to all who visit and all who patronize downtown that we are a safe, welcoming, and diverse place. Each one of us has a role to play. We urge you to take time to review your own personal approach to diversity. Let’s strive to make downtown everybody’s neighborhood.