Fifty years ago today Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington DC. Since then, diversity conversations are common in the workplace and in our communities. We ask the question, are you committed to diversity because in many instances individuals, organizations, and communities have not reached the full potential of this commitment. Diversity is commonly spoken of within organizations and communities, but actions do not always mirror these words. So, let’s examine it a little more intricately starting with its definition.
In its most simplistic form, diversity means the state or fact of being diverse, multi-varied, having differences. Of course the obvious and most discussed aspect is how people are physically diverse such as skin color, gender, age, and other physical qualities that project our differences. The less obvious and typically less discussed diversity traits extend to beliefs, status or position, experience, upbringing, education, and other characteristics that make each individual unique.
One of the most important diversity question we can ask ourselves when examining if we are committed to diversity is how do we judge others? Are we judging people because they are different than us? Do we have biased thinking about certain people such as the poor, a different color skinned person, youth, the elderly, someone from a different country, someone that has a lower position in the workplace, someone that believes differently then us, etc. Do you see yourself better or superior than those different from you? Ask yourself these questions and be honest with yourself.
What if we viewed all people as equals? Could you do it? We believe that purposefully judging others based on their differences is not the correct way to consider others. It implies that you are superior and consequentially deems them wrong, bad, not valued, not able, etc. If we want to determine if something is right, wrong, good, or bad the better way is to examine behaviors. Examples of this might be, if a youth steals a candy bar, you would deem the behavior wrong; you would not generalize and label all youth as participating in bad behavior. Or, if you observe someone doing an excellent job with a project you would analyze their behavior (performance) not their skin color, age, gender, position, beliefs, or other differences when determining if they are an excellent employee.
How we view others should be based upon behavior. But even then, when someone makes a mistake it doesn’t discount their positive behaviors so we should not rush to judgment. Remember, we are all human and are not perfect. Therefore, it is wise to give multiple opportunities to succeed. However, if someone consistently shows a poor attitude and bad behaviors, those are the indicators that should provide our frame of reference, not their beliefs, position, skin color, gender, or other differences.
In examining another angle of diversity we think it is important to warn that when discussions about diversity are brought up in the workplace, we should take care to not promote divisions, even inadvertently. It is not a them against us mentality – management vs. non-management, black vs. white, old vs. young, abled vs. differently abled, poor vs. rich, etc. It is about team! This includes everyone, even the janitor. We have observed this divisive nature time and again over the years at all levels and it damages the organizational culture which is counterproductive to the desired outcome that everyone is working toward – success! This same principle also applies to our community diversity discussions. The goal in our discussions should bring people together not further divide.
Our differences should be respected and represented. What does this respect and representation look like? It implies commitment to each person by showing value, listening, considering input, providing opportunities to stretch skills, being proactive in gaining support and engagement, and other similar actions that promote a team environment and a healthy workplace or community. For example, if you are having a meeting and need a variety of ideas and solutions about an important issue that affect many in the organization, you would want to include people from various levels of the organization to give input, not just a few at your level or only those you are comfortable or friendly with and most likely to think like you. Done correctly, a meeting such as this could bring out ideas and important considerations in solving the important issue.
The diversity of people and ideas in the workplace and in communities is a powerful tool when used positively to achieve excellence and common goals. When blended with teamwork, diversity provides positives outcomes for individuals, teams, organizations, and communities. If we isolate ourselves from those different from us we have fewer options in problem solving, fewer good relationships, and unfortunately it decreases teamwork, success, and morale. Are you committed to diversity? If so, what specifically are you doing to benefit from those different from you? If you are a leader, what actions do you take to promote a commitment to diversity in your team, organization, or community?
Note: For more information on this topic, see The Leadership Compass: Mapping Your Leadership Direction – specifically the chapter on Commitment to Diversity. Take the self-assessment of your behaviors and skill in this area and apply the recommendations to improve where appropriate. You may also be interested in a similar blog; Can We Achieve a Mutually Respectful Society?