diversity in the Workplace

Diversity Training is a very midunderstood concept. Here are some tips to create a better working relationship with your team members.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Diversity in the Workplace

It is fascinating how Diversity in the Workplace has become such a miscontrued, misunderstood concept.

A concept which has now become synonomous with describing people in categories such as Black, White, Hispanic, Coloured, Asian, Oriental,etc, etc....and how we can all best understand them, and how they behave.

Let's look at some of the dictionary meanings:


diverse >adjective widely varied.
-DERIVATIVES diversely >adverb.
-ORIGIN Latin diversus 'diverse', from divertere (see divert).

diversity >noun (pl. diversities) 1 the state of being diverse. 2 a diverse range; a variety.

divisive >adjective causing disagreement or hostility.
-DERIVATIVES divisively >adverb divisiveness >noun.

divide >verb 1 separate into parts. 2 distribute or share out. 3 disagree or cause to disagree. 4 form a boundary between. 5 Mathematics find how many times (a number) contains another. 6 Mathematics (of a number) be susceptible of division without a remainder. 7 (of a legislative assembly) separate or be separated into two groups for voting. >noun a wide divergence between two groups: the North-South divide.
-PHRASES divide and rule (or conquer) maintain control over opponents by encouraging a disunity that makes their opposition ineffective.
-DERIVATIVES divided >adjective.
-ORIGIN Latin dividere 'force apart, remove'.

Have we been put on this earth to judge, change, hurt, divide or separate people. I don't think so! Yet sometimes, we unintentionally or unknowingly do it.

If one had to closely examine the programmes being delivered in the name of Diversity awareness, diversity management, diversity training and diversity understanding, then you will notice, that some companies have gone with the devisive approach, whilst others, pioneers in their field, have gone with the diverse approach.

Either way, if the approach seeks to divide people into cultural entities, 9 times out of 10, the programme is destined for disaster.

Due to the fact, that people seek to understand each other and themselves, and how to improve relationships through better communication, leading them down the path of them versus us, can be destructive.

Diversity in my opinion, addresses a whole lot more of fundamental issues, such as age, disabilities, gender, skills, abilities, human talent, experience etc, etc....

However, when one speaks about Diversity in the workplace, images of Black and White people are immediately conjured up.

Hatred and anger from past injustices are brought up, and pain, hurt, retribution and revenge are discussed. Which is good to talk about in a specific, mediated environment.

However, in the context of the work environment, we should be concentrating on how we each, with our different upbring and experiences, ADD to Each Other! rather than, based on the colour of our skin, we have been taught to fight each other.

Somewhere along the line, we have forgotten the fundamental rule, of Respect for ourselves and each other.

If we all respected the fact that as human beings, we are different, by virtue of being born to different parents, families, areas, communities, faiths, religions, cultures, languages etc.

Only then will we realise that, just those attributes alone, make us different from each other which is perfect.

We are all perfect as we are, just different!

Imagine a world where everyone spoke the same language, dressed alike, looked the same, walked the same way...How boring would life be?

My understanding of Diversity in the workplace, is one of fun exploration, amazing facts, intriguing customs, fascinating knowlege...Learning about how people think and how I can adjust my way of thinking to better understand everyone else.

There are many instances in the workplace, where conflict may arise, and I have found that the most common or easily used excuse, is that racism is the reason.

In some cases yes!In most cases, it is merely a lack of awareness or understanding, someone's inferiority complex kicking in, or even a powerplay by a team member, based on personality types.

In our experience as Diversity Training Specialists, using fun, non-threatening processes, allows delegates to fully explore other cultures, personalities and learning styles, within the basic rule of respect.

Delegates learn to understand to respect that each person has different skills and abilities, and especially, different understanding of what respect means to them in their own culture. Issues of respect for gender, age, language, body language, religion, home environment, values, morals, discipline, time etc...are all different.

By understanding how it is different, only then, can we adjust to each others' needs within the work environment.

For example, a community based person, generally,will regard humbleness as a positive attribute for someone to aspire to or be. A strongly individual based person will feel that being humble is a negative personality to have.

In all instances, every culture, age, language, gender, religion and ways of showing respect, is good, just different. No one is right or wrong.

When a child is disobedient, one does not fire them, call them racist or disown them. One seeks to make them understand, and understand them!

Remember the saying, "You can choose your friends, not family! In many cases, huge tolerance is adopted along with sympathetic understanding for the situation when conflict arises. However, like a family, teams at work need to be more understanding, tolerant and solution finders.

After all, the majority of the beautiful sunny day is spent in the confines of the office. You might as well seek to grow with knowlege, rather than surrender to ignorance and fear of the unknown.

"Building relationships is easy. If you are willing to work at it!"

A few tips:

  • Learn about the persons ancestory and the importance of where that person has come from. Then speak to them and find out how they feel about it.
  • Learn how to greet the person in their traditional way.
  • Adjust your body language to be non aggressive and more welcoming.
  • Learn how to pronounce the persons name properly without shortening it to make it more convenient. In most cases, you will be given an English name, because historically, it has become assumed that people generally, are not clever enough to pronounce it properly. Insist on practising their real name. It also provides for excellent office fun, making mistakes and laughing together, rather than at each other.
  • Remove Racist,gender based, blonde and sexual jokes and sarcasm from everyday communication. Remember, if you cannot tell the joke in front of your children, or when a person of that culture is in the room, then the joke is definitely unsuitable and you should, out of respect, refrain from telling it.
  • Respect also means, acknowleging someone's need for space, individual goals and need to achieve.
  • Also understanding that the corporate culture is totally different, and one needs to respect that too.
  • Punctuality means being on time at all times. Integrity, professionalism and a code of conduct is put into place to ensure the smooth running of every corporate company. Following those simple rules always benefits the individual and company.

If you need any further info or need ideas on how you can change your work environment into a harmonious team playing field, then visit www.africa-dreams.com or www.celebrating-humanity-projects.com

Until we meet,

take care and have fun!

Arthie Moore