Michigan born and raised, in 2005 my family moved to Shanghai, China, for five years. At the time, my wife and I had three blond-haired kids at home who received endless photo requests from the locals. But the novelty of being different quickly wore off. Because we were clearly in the minority, we tended to gravitate toward other Westerners or English speakers because that was with whom we felt comfortable. We were guests in someone else’s country, always looking for people to help us find our way.
Since moving to Tulsa, I’ve realized it can be the same in the United States.
When I look at economic and social development in northeast Oklahoma, and the Tulsa area specifically, I recognize impressive diversity in some respects. But we have a long way to go. Diversity and inclusion has to be a driver in bringing our community together — respecting different cultural contexts and bridging gaps.
I manage the operations of a construction product, services and software company. We speak of diversity in terms of a tree. It’s what we can easily see when we look at an individual and just as important is what is below the surface, other aspects that might be hidden from view.
Diversity and inclusion are about building a foundation of respect for people, not forcing change in people’s belief systems. Studies show the strongest team is the one bringing people together from different backgrounds and enabling their success by valuing and respecting differences for better results. We need an environment where everyone feels welcomed, concurrently rooted in a shared purpose.
Diversity is critical for Tulsa to be competitive from an economic standpoint. One of the major advantages in attracting new companies is a relatively low-cost area in which to invest. With that, we need a strong community of diverse individuals so a prospective company can say: 1) I can make my business work here from a revenue standpoint with economic advantage, and 2) I have a broad, diverse pool of talent. That’s a compelling reason to choose Tulsa.
In hiring, we try to ensure we have a diverse slate of candidates for every role. My leadership team is 50/50 men and women from multiple cultures, representing three generations: baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials. My role is to take these diverse individuals and create an environment where everyone is valued equally.
We can learn from each other about the unconscious biases we all have and how we can be more mindful of these in relating together. The best thing we can do is create greater awareness, which is why we’re partnering with the Tulsa Regional Chamber and Board Chairman David Stratton, a champion of diversity, to bring a Men Advocating Real Change event to Tulsa in December focused on women and workplace inclusion.
My family has now been in Oklahoma nine years. My kids were not football players; they latched on to lacrosse, music, e-gaming and kung fu. That’s where they could be themselves socially plus be part of something bigger. Without those opportunities, where would they be? On the outside. It’s not just about my three sons. It’s about how I can influence the community so everyone can find their place, ensure their voice is heard, feel valued, be part of something bigger and help make it a success.
On this, Hilti’s 40th anniversary in Tulsa, I’m committing myself and hoping to inspire others to make diversity and inclusion the norm. Let’s not just talk about it. Let’s lead.
Karl Neumaier is chief operating officer for Hilti North America.