Diversity issues relate to many areas – age, gender, race, culture, religion, disabilities and sexual orientation. Such differences are prominent, observable and the most controversial in the workplace. However, diversity is much more expansive, and impacts the relationships between people at all sorts of levels in an organisation. It can cover diversity of education, socio-economic class, physical and mental disabilities, learning styles, values, employment (regular, permanent, contract, temporary), introvert or extrovert.

Such incidences of differences among people can cause misunderstandings and conflicts at work. These can range from minor incidences to major. Personal ignorance of bias and prejudice can make people unwilling to deal or take up hard positions that can ignite challenge and conflict. Such choices by some people can seriously impact other’s careers.

Griggs and Louw in ‘Valuing Diversity: New Tools for a New Reality’ write” If differences among individuals keep a manager from finding the right employee, from noticing equal competence, from communicating in an interview, from trusting an applicant enough to hire, from understanding enough to train, from valuing enough to promote, or from seeing differences as benefits, then it’s clearly the case that a greater knowledge of differences is needed in order to break through the barriers thought to be caused by the presences of differences.”

Many companies state their value for a diverse workplace and may even establish quotas to fulfil. But such positions will not make substantive differences in their business without training their people to become aware of their particular biases and how to deal with them. This training must also cause people to look at what unconscious barriers or prejudices influence their relationships with people different from themselves. How to suspend such biases when working with others and demonstrating acceptance of everyone, regardless of differences are also key learnings.

Some other key messages to convey are:

Helping people become aware that their background affects the way they look at the world

Treating people fairly means treating people equally

Relationships with others are richer because of their differences

Being curious about other cultures and religions can enrich us with new learning  

Seeking understanding of people’s differences and beliefs when different from one’s own

Treating people as individuals is important

Helping people making the mental and emotional shifts to value diversity and to include all the various issues of it into their relationships, is all important if an organisation is to benefit from the richness of contribution that different people of style, culture, religion, gender orientation and disability can bring.

 

Penny Sophocleous

9 July 2018