October 2007 - Diversity in the Workplace
in the Workplace
Diversity is recognizing that there are many different individuals at work,
each one with a unique set of characteristics, talents, gifts, skills,
personality traits, physical abilities, background, appearances, thoughts,
feelings, beliefs and viewpoints. It is the variety of those differences that
make the workplace a diverse place.
Diversity awareness helps us to appreciate those differences rather than
complaining about why someone "isnít exactly like me" in thought,
behavior, ability or in any other way.
Once we change our focus from seeing the differences to appreciating the
uniqueness, we can see the glorious patterns that these differences can bring to
us. They enable our workplace to tap into a richer variety and find more
creative ways to solve everyday challenges.
In learning about diversity, we learn to appreciate that everyone really is
unique and has unique talents, feelings, gifts, thoughts, personalities,
histories, beliefs, etc. Itís like the Fall leaves turning a wide
variety of brilliant colors. It is because of the great variety that we
can really see and appreciate the differences. Yet, the combination
provides a beautiful tapestry that is only beautiful because of its great
variety. So, rather than put people in small boxes with labels, we can
just let them be whatever they are in all their glory and learn more about a
wider variety of people, even if they see things very differently than we
do. Or, more importantly, we can appreciate people because they see things
differently than we do.
Cornell University describes diversity this way: "Diversity is about
learning from others who are not the same, about dignity and respect for all,
and about creating workplace environments and practices that encourage learning
from others and capture the advantage of diverse perspectives."
Max DePree writes in Leadership is an Art:
"The simple act of recognizing diversity
in corporate life helps us to connect the great variety of gifts that people
bring to the work and service of the corporation."
"A whale is as unique as a cactus. But donít
ask a whale to survive Death Valley. We all have special gifts.
Where we use them and how determines whether we actually complete
"When we think about the people with whom
we work, people on whom we depend, we can see that without each individual, we
are not going to go very far as a group. By ourselves, we suffer serious
limitations. Together we can be something wonderful."
"In addition to all of the ratios and
goals and parameters and bottom lines, it is fundamental that leaders endorse
a concept of persons. This begins with an understanding of the diversity
of peopleís gifts and talents and skills. Recognizing diversity gives
us the chance to provide meaning, fulfillment and purpose, which are not to be
relegated solely to private life any more than such things as love, beauty and
joy. The art of leadership lies in polishing and liberating and enabling
Training is usually a key step in promoting diversity awareness. There
are a myriad of courses that can be purchased or created to teach people the
value of diversity.
Employers can also provide day-to-day opportunities to showcase the talents
of the workforce. For example, create a diversity committee in the company
and ask them to set a theme each month to highlight some type of diverse trait
of their workplace.
Some examples of thematic diversity programs:
- Focus on veterans with stories, photos, examples of uniforms
- Focus on the creative abilities of employees, whether artistic,
dramatic, written etc.
- Focus on a specific heritage or culture, including speakers, exhibits,
dress, articles, photographs
- Invite a native dance group from a local school or community group to
perform during the lunch hour
- Invite a music group from a local school or community group to perform
during the lunch hour
- Focus on history lessons on how a particular group contributes to the US
(or to whatever country you are in).
- Hold a potluck lunch with an international theme. Ask employees to bring
different types of food to share, charge a small amount to sample each
type of food and donate the proceeds to a local charity.
- Provide open discussion groups as "brown bag" lunches with a
variety of employees who are willing to participate to talk about their
particular background, origin or special interest
- Invite professional or community expert speakers to talk about
- Sponsor storytelling events where ordinary people or professionals can
provide stories about their heritage
- Invite children from a local school to visit the workplace. Create
programs to teach them about the type of work you do and let them meet
with employees to exchange ideas and thoughts.
- Schedule visits to various parts of your business so employees can learn
more about others who work in different parts of the business.
As leaders, our job is to set a good example and to teach others what we
expect from them. We can that by recognizing the many talents and gifts of
our employees. When someone complains about someone who does something
differently, we can encourage the complainer to consider the unique value the
other person brings to the workplace. We can teach people to look for the
positive traits of others not for the differences. We can be a role model
for respect and dignity no matter what we do and no matter who we are working
We can "walk our talk" by participating in diversity training and
diversity events with employees. We can sponsor events and programs that
encourage diversity and the great variety of talents our employees possess.
We can learn more ourselves, ask questions and be willing to see things
differently. We can reach out to a variety of people for opinions and ask
for more information when we donít understand something that someone says or
does, instead of judging them to be "wrong" just because they see the
Diversity is inclusive of everyone and recognizes that we all have unique
differences from each other. Diversity seeks to see those differences in a
positive way for the betterment of our business.
Affirmative Action is taking proactive steps to reach out to different groups
for education, hiring or recruiting practices. For example, advertising
jobs in community news media, ethnic associations, special purpose membership
groups, etc. It also means active recruiting that tries to reach members
of minority or under-represented groups. Most "quotas" for
affirmative action have been eliminated since the quotas themselves became a
method for discrimination against some groups.
Equal Opportunity laws provide a legal basis for non-discrimination in
employment, education and housing
Legally "protected" categories:
The US Federal government has a number of categories that cannot be used to
discriminate against someone in employment. The US employment categories
are: age, sex, pregnancy, race, national origin, disability, religion,
retaliation and sexual harassment. Included in retaliation are a variety of
protected actions such as filing a charge of discrimination, opposing unlawful
practices, picketing in opposition to discrimination and refusing to obey an
order reasonably believed to be discriminatory. Union membership is
protected by federal labor laws.
Additional protected categories:
Many individual states, cities, counties or
countries have additional categories that are protected. Some examples we
Presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability; Use of a trained dog
guide or service animal; Creed; Citizenship; Ancestry; Perception of Age; Sexual
Orientation including Gender Identity and Gender Expression; Marital Status;
Family Status; Family Responsibilities; Domestic Partnership Status;
Whistle-Blowers in government jobs; Atypical Hereditary Cellular or Blood Trait;
Genetic Information; Arrest Record; Unfavorable Military Discharge; Filing a
Workersí Compensation Claim; Height; Weight; Source of Income; Socioeconomic
Status; Educational Association, AIDS/HIV Status; Civic Interest; Political
Affiliation. An exhaustive search would probably turn up even
Other diversity categories to consider:
Political views; foreign language; regional or national
accent; how someone uses
the English language; education; ergonomics issues; physical appearance; tenure
or seniority; socio-economic status; personal values; morals;
life philosophy; moral beliefs; parental status; learning styles; communication
styles; working styles
and methods; energy levels; early birds vs. late-nighters; personal interests;
personality; geographic origin; family origin; past history; local customs;
skills; talents; abilities; health and medical needs; goals; diet preferences; exercise
preferences; and free speech.
Diversity is so much more than legal "protected categories."
With such great variety in diverse characteristics, we can easily see that we
have a wide variety of areas to be aware of and a great variety of people to
learn more about.
Max DePree. Currency 2004. ISBN-10:
0385512465 ISBN-13: 978-0385512466
Building a House for Diversity: A Fable About a Giraffe & an
Elephant Offers New Strategies for Today's Workforce.
R. Roosevelt Thomas, Marjorie I. Woodruff, R. Roosevelt Thomas,
Jr. AMACOM/American Management Association 1999. ISBN-10:
0814404634 ISBN-13: 978-0814404638
Creating the Multicultural Organization: A Strategy for Capturing the
Power of Diversity. Cox Taylor, Jr. Jossey-Bass 2004. ISBN-10:
0787955841 ISBN-13: 978-0787955847
Related newsletter articles:
May 2003 - Respectful Workplaces
May 1999 - Respect in the Workplace
December 2005 - Lighten the Load
August 2003 - How to Work Better
June 2003 - Companies are People
1996 - Business and Professional Code of Conduct
2000 - Dealing with Co-Workers We Don't Like
2006 - Compassionate Communication
2005 - The Nature of Conflict and Managing It Effectively
2006 - In Search of Corporate Soul
2006 - Leadership Vision
We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different
and yet the same.
.. Anne Frank
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