“Diversity” has many definitions: some include differences in gender, race/ethnicity, age; others cover differences in attitudes, perspectives, and backgrounds; still others generalize to “all the ways in which we differ” (Robinson, 2). My favorite defines “diversity” not just as a result, but as a process, a way of thinking: diversity is “valuing, respecting, and appreciating the differences that make people unique” (McNett, 1). This definition transcends viewing traits, characteristics, perspectives or values to suggest valuing people as unique people.
As the world continues to grow ever more interconnected, embracing this view of diversity becomes increasingly important. Many feel diversity in the workplace is “just the right thing to do” or that “discrimination is wrong” (McNett; Thomas). In my mind, it’s not just right, it’s the only thing to do–view and value people as people.
The benefits of diversity in an organization transcend these ethical considerations. Studies show a more diverse workforce benefits an organization’s effectiveness (Thomas). A diverse workforce can increase an organizations capacity for learning, creativity, flexibility, and ultimately growth (Thomas). These benefits extend to increasing an organization’s ability to rapidly adjust to ever-changing communities (Thomas).
Some leaders encourage diverse groups to blend in or value diversity only for the increased knowledge an employee has about his/her identity group (Thomas). However, in order to realize the benefits of diversity, organizations and their leaders need to shift from defining diversity as membership in this or that identity group. In fact, pursuing diversity initiatives with this mindset may actually backfire, heightening tensions among employees and hindering performance (Thomas).
Instead, leaders must consider diversity to include valuing the varied perspectives and approaches that unique people bring (Thomas). A diverse workforce contributes diverse perspectives to reconsider how and why organizations design processes, reach goals, and communicate ideas; in other words, diversity provides fresh and meaningful approaches (Thomas).
However, leaders cannot be passive observers, expecting diversity to fall in their laps. A leader must also ensure the organization has a clear and understood mission which helps guide discussions about changes, centering around goals (Thomas). A leader and organization must recognize barriers to application processes that may inhibit diversity in who applies to an organization. Leaders can also encourage employees to self-reflect. Increasing self-awareness can be a powerful step towards valuing diversity, in recognizing your own strengths and assets, but also in understanding how your actions affect others or might be perceived by others.
To position an organization that participates in such thinking requires working to create a culture that supports and values diversity, including creating a culture that (Thomas):
o has high standards of performance for everyone.
o stimulates personal development.
o encourages openness.
o makes workers feel valued.
o promotes exchange of ideas/ welcomes constructive challenges.
Ultimately, diversity integration requires a long-term commitment that embraces learning and valuing diverse perspectives and views (Robinson). Doing so can have positive benefits like increased employee buy-in and engagement (Thomas). More importantly, it can help an organization leverage the diverse talent pool to impact both short-term and long-term performance and help improve the organization’s impact.
McNett, Jeanne. “Diversity in the Workplace: Ethics, Pragmatism, or Some of Both?” Understanding and Managing Diversity. Prentice Hall.
Robinson, Gail, Dechant, Kathleen. “Building a Business for Diversity”. Understanding and Managing Diversity. Prentice Hall.
Sowell, Thomas. “A World View of Cultural Diversity”. Understanding and Managing Diversity. Prentice Hall.
Thomas, David A., Ely, Robin J. “Making Differences Matter: A New Paradigm for Managing Diversity”. Understanding and Managing Diversity. Prentice Hall.