Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Strength in Differences

As the world becomes smaller through increased communication and exchanges across borders society’s demographics are rapidly changing, becoming more diverse. As Sowell points out, “the entire history of the human race…has been marked by transfers of cultural advances from one group to another…” (Sowell pg. 27). We should care about these changing demographics because they impact parts of our everyday life, from what we wear to what we eat, to the music we listen to, and, perhaps most importantly, these changes influence who it is that we interact with daily.

One notable place that diversity is becoming increasingly important is in the workplace. Studies indicate that embracing diversity in the workplace is proving to be business savvy, allowing companies to try new ideas and break into new consumer markets. Thomas and Ely posit that although diversity paradigms used in the workplace are meant to be inclusive, they can actually be limiting. For example, the discrimination and fairness paradigm focuses on treating everyone the same so as to assert that differences in gender, race, age, etc. are not important. However, this stifles the creativity that arises from diversity (Thomas and Ely pg. 214). The access and legitimacy paradigm focuses on the idea that diversity helps gain access to different markets by hiring members of those markets for example hiring Hispanic workers to offer customer service to Hispanic customers. However, it is argued that this approach pigeonholes certain people into certain roles without really understanding how diversity can be integrated throughout the company (Thomas and Ely pg. 217).

Thomas and Ely bring attention to the emerging paradigm of diversity in the workplace, which focuses on integration not simply adoption. This approach targets the internalization of differences to foster learning and growth from diversity (pg. 220).

Diversity needs to be thought of in a holistic way, not just regarding how someone looks or where they come from. Diversity in the work place can “challenge basic assumptions about an organization’s functions, strategies, operations, practices, and procedures.” (Thomas and Ely pg. 212). In order for companies to shift from one of the limiting paradigms to the emerging one, they offer 8 steps for leaders (Thomas and Ely pg. 221):

1. Value variety of opinion and insight
2. Understand that different perspectives bring new opportunities and challenges
3. Have high performance standards for everyone
4. Create opportunities for personal development
5. Organization must encourage openness
6. Organization must make workers feel valued
7. Clear and understood organization mission
8. Structure must promote exchange of ideas and feedback

As a leader, it is important to check yourself on your own biases and to be sure that you are not inadvertently creating a culture based upon them (Thomas and Ely pg. 226). Diversity brings differences into the workplace that may create new challenges. As such, it is important for leaders to make sure that groups have a facilitator to mitigate disagreements. Leaders should also undergo communication and conflict-resolution training (Robinson and Dechant pg. 234). Leaders must foster a culture which values, celebrates, and respects diversity of people but also ideas.

As Sowell illustrates, cultural competition is what challenges us to evolve as humans (Sowell pg. 30) and integrating diversity into the workplace and elsewhere in our lives may be challenging, but also enriching.


Robinson, Gail and Kathleen Dechant. "Understanding and Managing Diversity: Building a Business Case for Diversity." Pearson: Prentice Hall. Third Edition.

Sowell, Thomas. "Understanding and Managing Diversity: A World View of Cultural Diversity." Pearson: Prentice Hall. Third Edition.

Thomas, David A. and Robin J. Ely. "Understanding and Managing Diversity: Making Differences Matter: A New Paradigm for Managing Diversity." Pearson: Prentice Hall. Third Edition.