What is the face of diversity today and why is it still an important issue?
Our world is more diverse than ever and we all need to be able to accept differences to minimize conflicts and misunderstandings that get in the way of communication. In the work place the failure to recognize and appreciate the diversity of employees in all aspects (race, gender, ethnicity, age, identity, style, and ability) is a productivity problem that can also lead to conflicts or work avoidance strategies. Differences are just different. When we judge differences we measure them against our own value system which is biased to our own perspective.
Almost a generation ago I experienced overt racial and gender bias while working as an executive in corporate America. Many of the behaviors and actions associated with the treatment I experienced from co-workers, bosses and even subordinates are illegal today. The issues of difference are much more varied in contemporary society. Easily identifiable racial and ethnic categories are blurred. Families come in all shapes and sizes. Employees of all ages are active in the workplace.
Experiences of exclusion were quite painful for me and many people who have experienced discrimination based on the more obvious physical differences still have scars. But my scars have faded into distant memory. In one case I was so wrongly treated that my white, male co-workers had the courage to report it. Exclusion does not feel good. It is a form of bullying, control and coercive power. Sometimes exclusion comes in a passive/aggressive form such as ignoring someone or failing to offer feedback (positive or negative) on work performance.
The ability to manage diversity is a core competency for managers and leaders for every kind of organization. Managing diversity is a bottom line issue not just for work productivity but also an essential element of stakeholder management. The failure to embrace and understand the different perspectives provided by different kinds of people is an opportunity lost. Organizations which are one-dimensional are vulnerable to group-think. Senior managers who fail to embrace diversity in the workplace run the risk of appearing like dinosaurs. Accepting diversity for younger employees is easier because many have grown up in more diverse home and school environments.
I’d like to offer 3 principles for managing diversity in the work place:
- Understanding differences means taking the time to learn about different ideas, perspectives and values.
- Treating people fairly may sometimes mean treating people differently.
- Practice inclusion, not exclusion – in all forms of communication.
These 3 principles taken seriously can become a part of a leader’s tool kit for managing diversity and reaping the benefits of communicating effectively and practicing inclusion.
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