Diversity means different things to different people. ICATT has been offering workplace diversity training for over ten years. One of the questions we ask our training participants is what diversity means to them. The themes of responses we continue to receive include:
better understanding employees
different people working together successfully
people of various cultures, race, and gender working together
working with different values
understanding different points of view
creating a productive and harmonious environment
variety of people working together despite their differences
a workplace that reflects the community, various race, culture, age and abilities
Diversity is the obvious and not so obvious differences we recognize in others and ourselves. In the workplace, it is any dimension that differentiates people from one another. This can include: race, age, culture, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and disabilities. But, it can also include other dimensions like educational level, values, character, our birth order, what side of town we grew up on, the level we hold in the organization (CEO, Manager, Front-line), and at its most simple level, how we see the world.
First we need to understand that “diversity” is so much more than race, ethnicity, gender, age, etc. While all of these are, in fact, things that make us diverse; we must expand our understanding to a broader level.
In today’s workplace, a policy of inclusion exists. The goal is to allow differences and respect differences. What was once seen to be a “melting pot” approach to differences is now more like creating a great salad. In a great salad the lettuce remains lettuce, the tomato remains tomato, and the onion remains onion. The success comes from the mixing of these into a single creation. The same applies to organizations. We must create ways to capture the variety of skills, the multitude of opinions, the various experiences and education that exists in our companies and make use of them.
While most of us agree with this, we have found that it is not an easy task. It requires the commitment of the leadership, the diligence of the management team, and the willingness of all employees to look beyond their own assumptions and stereotypes to see the potential benefits of a “different” idea or approach.
One of the largest blocks to using the diverse talents and ideas in the workplace is stereotypes. Stereotypes cause problems when generalizations are based on incomplete or incorrect information, assumptions are made that may or may not be true, or when snap decisions are made about individuals when specific or complete information isn’t available.
Cultivating Diversity in the Workplace page 2