DIVERSITY -  FOOD FOR THOUGHT
INTRODUCTION:

A world without diversity would be bland indeed. Differences not only add spice to lie, but they are key ingredients for
building strong futures based on common goals, in order to grow as individuals and as a company, we must learn how
to understand, value and manage diversity in the workplace.  In addition, certain communication skills can be
developed that will aid us in this process.

UNDERSTANDING DIVERSITY

Understanding diversity in the workplace begins with the recognition that “out of many, we are one,”
This concept may be best understood by imagining yourself and the people you work with as patches in a quilt.  No two
patches are alike in weave, color or cloth.  Instead, the quilt is made of wool, silk and
Gabardine pieces sewn together with sturdy hands and a strong cord – a thing of beauty and power bound by a
common thread.

Our differences are strengths, as we all work together toward the same goal. In the workplace, diversity refers to the
differences we recognize in ourselves and others, such as:

  • Gender type
  • Culture
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Physical and mental abilities or challenges.

Diversity is further defined to recognize differences relating to our workplace relationships, such as:

  • Management vs. non-management
  • Headquarters vs. field office
  • Techies vs non-techies
  • Employees with families vs. single employees.

As you identify differences, you should note that diversity is not about becoming like one another.  It is not about
melting into one multi-colored, multi-cultural population.  Nor is it about requiring people to like one another.  When we
value diversity, we seek to integrate, not assimilate our differences.  Diversity is about allowing differences and
respecting differences until the differences don’t make a difference any more.

BENEFITS OF A DIVERSE WORKPLACE

Our differences are the raw material for building strong futures based on common goals.  When the
Strengths of a diverse work force are utilized to their full capacity; a company can more effectively gain an edge in
today’s global market.  Valuing the differences of your co-workers will benefit your company in many other ways as
well.  
  • Different perspectives along with higher creativity will enhance company performance.
  • Employee morale will increase and turnover rates will decrease.
  • Integrated work environments will help eliminate discriminatory practices.
  • Stress-related illnesses and related benefit claims will be reduced.  

In short, diversity can create wholeness in an organization by contributing to healthier working relationships which, in
turn, will lead to increased productivity.   

CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS

Diversity is a workplace issue because the demographic make-up of the workforce continues to change.  In the near
future.

  • Women will account for approximately half of the workforce.
  • More women with children will be working than before.
  • Ethnic and racial groups will double in the next 55 years.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act has provided more opportunity for people with disabilities to enter the
    workforce.
  • The average age of the work force will increase, and the baby boomers will be the majority.  Companies will
    need to utilize the skills and talents of an aging workforce more than ever before.
  • An employee population with diverse language skills will be necessary for a company seeking to position itself
    as a competitive force in the global market place.

These demographics suggest that companies need to develop new ways to tap into all this diverse talent and
potential, now and in the future.  That process begins by appreciating or valuing our differences.

CONFRONTING OUR BELIEF SYSTEMS

Appreciating a diverse work force begins with individual self-awareness.  It is up to each of us to take a deep look into
our feelings and belief systems in order to determine how we can open our minds and change our behaviors to more
effectively value the diversity around us.

Belief systems are those deeply rooted codes of thinking and behaving that help make sense of the world around us.  
Many of our belief systems are shaped by our upbringing, past experiences and surrounding vulture. Belief systems
function much like a lens:  everything we view is filtered through them, and then we make assumptions based on that
view.  When we run up against new information that contradicts our beliefs, it is much easier to disregard that
information than to change the beliefs themselves.  Unfortunately, many of our beliefs may be based on incorrect or
incomplete date.

When we hold our belief systems in rigid opposition to evidence which contradicts them, we are said to be “close-
minded.”


FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Reflect on your belief systems, and try to identify how they were formed.  Try to understand how your family or origin
has influenced your attitudes about cultural differences.  Are some of your beliefs based on “how you were raised,” or
are they based on your own experiences?

Once you understand how your belief were formed, letting go of them, or allowing them to adjust in light of new
information, may become easier.  Belief systems are powerful.  They help order the world’s chaos, provide us with
touchstones, and they can even function as maps as we journey through life.  They become less useful when we
forget that they are only one way of seeing things, and that other ways of viewing the world may be just as valid as the
ones we grew to trust.

ACKNOWLEDGING PREJUDICE

We are said to be prejudiced when we ascribe general characteristics to a large group of people and don’t allow new
information to change this tendency to stereotype others.

Prejudice is a natural human emotion.  We all have a natural fear of distrust of people different than ourselves.  It is
important, however, to overcome fear or distrust in order to accept other people for who they are.

You don’t have to like or agree with everyone, but you do have to treat each person with respect and equality.  What
you thing is your business – what you do concerns others.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Try to identify your own biases and prejudices.

How were they formed?  Are they based on stereotypes or generalizations?  What role did your early childhood
experiences play in forming these biases?

Resolve to eliminate stereotypes and generalizations in your thinking.  You can start by remembering that each person
is an individual, responsible for his or her own actions.  You can’t understand an entire culture based on the limited
amount you know about a few people.  Even people who share the same culture and background are not necessarily
the same.  Each of us is made up of many factors.  We may act one way in one role, but if you put us in a different role
or add another factor, we may act another way.

Discomfort with other cultures usually stems from lack of exposure.  You can lessen your discomfort level by exposing
yourself to other cultures.

  • Visit an ethnic neighborhood and see what goes on.
  • Attend another place of worship and experience a different religion.
  • Eat with people from other cultures and eat what they eat.
  • The best way for us to grow individually is to learn about other ways of doing things.

By acknowledging our own prejudices, we can better understand how they operate to keep us from looking at the
individual rather than the group to which he or she belongs.  By understanding ourselves better, we can seek to better
understand others.  Further, we can learn to challenge stereotypes and consider new perspectives by learning more
about the people we work with.

MANAGING DIVERSITY

So far, we’ve learned what diversity is and why our differences are valuable.  In this section, we will focus in on the
workplace itself, and help you understand how to make the best of the diverse talents of your coworkers. The change
that is taking place around us is a positive one.  As an individual, you can play a part in encouraging change within
your organization make a commitment to learning more about the people you work with and try to find areas in
common. Once you learn more about another person who is different from yourself, you will find common ground upon
which you can build a friendship.  You will find that learning about different cultures is interesting and worthwhile   A
positive and productive work environment will result from your efforts. Make a stand against discrimination.  
Misunderstandings will occur.  Acts of bias or discrimination are usually not malicious, but rather unconscious acts.  
These will lessen as diversity training helps people become more diversity conscious.

Blatant acts of discrimination, however, must not be tolerated.  Speak out against injustices even at the cost of your
own alienation.  Eventually, others will follow.

When we encourage change, we encourage growth.  As individuals, we can play an important part in moving that
process forward.

RESOLVING CONFLICT

Conflict can surface when employees of diverse backgrounds work closely together and their values and behaviors
are not understood.

When conflict arises, it is best to deal with the situation immediately.  Conflict avoidance usually makes the situation
worse:

  • Discuss the problem in private.
  • Remain calm and neutral.
  • Ensure that each person has a turn to speak.
  • Listen and do not interrupt.

Try to find common ground after you each have talked out the problem.  Discuss possible solutions that are
acceptable to you both, and agree on the best one.  End on a positive note and show faith in the end result.

Conflicts are natural.  When handled in a timely, non-emotional and open-minded manner, they provide opportunities
for growth.  Making a commitment to working together harmoniously benefits all parties.

COMMUNICATION IN A DIVERSE WORKPLACE

  • Communication Tips – These tips are meant to be used in addition to the skills you already rely upon:  
    openness, active listening and respectful language.
  • Think before you speak – Be sensitive to others.  If you accidentally offend someone, apologize immediately.  
    To avoid embarrassing you, some people may deny that they felt offended.  Even so, your apology will have
    been heard and silently appreciated.
  • Listen more – Being heard increases a person’s self-esteem and confidence.  People who are listened to
    usually appreciate the person who is doing the listening and are more like to cooperate with that person.
  • Listening encourages people to be less defensive and to talk through concerns or problems.  Careful listening
    can teach us a great deal about others’ thought patterns, belief systems, values and desires.
  • Avoid generalized language – Refrain from using words, images, and situations that suggest that all or most
    members of a particular group are the same.  We aren’t.
  • Try to be sensitive as to how you may be interpreted.  Think about the context of your speech, not just the
    language.

Your communication skills are valuable tools in negotiating your way through potentially sensitive situations.  Treating
others with respect and choosing your words accordingly will bring you the respect of other and contribute to a positive
working environment.

A WORD ABOUT HUMOR

Be careful with humor.  Sometimes people are so relaxed in their conversations that they forget to consider how off-the-
wall comments or jokes might hurt others.  Off-color, sexist, religious, political or ethnic remarks are bound to offend
someone.  When they do, barriers to communication and productivity are created.

Even if you don’t intend to hurt others, be aware of the role perception plays.  If you don’t intend to hurt others, be
aware of the role perception plays.  If you think something you said or did may have been taken the wrong way, do
some “perception checking.”  Ask if your comment or behavior was interpreted in a way that you didn’t intend, and then
clear up any misunderstanding.

At the same time, recognize other people’s intentions when they speak.  Don’t be hypersensitive to a thoughtless
remark and don’t take things too seriously.  We wouldn’t feel so threatened by diversity if we allowed ourselves to
chuckle at our own – and other’s – shortcomings.  







Revised 11/22/2016
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