The Value of Diversity
As our society grows increasingly interconnected, our everyday environments become more diverse. We constantly interact with people whose opinions, ideas, and thought processes have been shaped through vastly different backgrounds and life experiences. However, many people wander through today’s scene of cultural heterogeneity without giving a second thought to how other’s perspectives may differ from their own. While people may often notice someone’s race or gender, they fail to understand how it could contribute to one having fundamentally different ideas and viewpoints. This can make the thought of managing diversity somewhat difficult; however, the benefits of having a diverse workplace or team are immeasurable. In this post, I will go over these benefits, and how you as a nonprofit manager can get the best out of any group.
As the leader of an organization, you should recognize that diversity’s greatest value lies in its ability to bring together unique perspectives. It should be obvious that no one way of looking at or doing things is always the best way. This is why other cultures are constantly borrowing from each other. In his article on cultural diversity, Thomas Sowell provides the example of Arabic numbers replacing the Roman numeral system. Although Roman numerals were used by many countries whose cultures derived from Rome, they still were able to recognize the inherent improvement brought about by switching to the Arabic system (Sowell).
Imagine having a brainstorming session with a group of five economist about how to solve a problem. You may get two unique ideas, if you’re lucky. Now imagine having that same brainstorming session with one economist, a girl scout, a baseball player, a chef, and a zoo manager. You will likely have five completely different proposals that look nothing alike. While obviously an exaggerated situation, it illustrates the value of having a variety of individuals who come from different backgrounds.
So as a nonprofit manager, how can you get the most out of a diverse set of employees, volunteers, and clients? The answer is simpler than you might think. Listen. Too often we make the mistake of thinking we understand other people, even though we really don’t. If you work with others from different backgrounds, be sure to gather their input and feedback at every possible chance. If it is a client, make sure their needs are being met. What one culture might perceive as a solution to a certain problem may not be congruent with another cultures viewpoint. Communication is the key to avoiding these mix-ups. As a manager, show that you are open to others ideas and differing viewpoints.
There are a few honest mistakes that can be made when managing those from different cultures. First, understand that the main purpose of hiring different groups is not so that they can offer knowledge of their own people (Thomas & Ely, 1996). Pigeonholing individuals into certain roles like this can limit their effectiveness and leave employees feeling exploited (Thomas & Ely, 1996). Also, while equality is good, avoid falling into the trap of “everybody is the same”. Recognize and embrace the diversity in your workplace. This will open your organization up to new avenues of exploration, and allow your employees to learn from each other.
As a manager, always remember that the way you see things is not the way everyone else does. Show others that you are cognizant of this, and that you value their unique perspectives and experiences. The best way to do this is by being a good listener. Learn to do listen, and you and your organization will be ready to achieve anything.
Sowell, Thomas. “A World View of Cultural Diversity”. Understanding and Managing Diversity. Prentice Hall.
Thomas, D.A. and Ely, R. (1996, September-October). Making Difference Matter: A New Paradigm for Managing Diversity. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from:https://hbr.org/1996/09/making-differences-matter-a-new-paradigm-for-managing-diversity