“Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance,” Verna Myers.
By Karetta Hubbard, Lynne Revo-Cohen, Gwen Crider, and Dr. Chris Kilmartin
Gwen Crider, an internationally recognized diversity expert, has been writing about, teaching and implementing successful diversity initiatives for more than twenty years. What follows are her thoughts about the importance of understanding diversity and inclusion both personally and in the workplace.
At the beginning of a training day on workforce diversity and Inclusion, the first question usually heard from participants is, “What exactly is diversity and Inclusion, and what do they mean together?” (or, TO ME? Implied)
What is diversity?
When hearing the term diversity, most people think first of the obvious human differences such as race, ethnicity and gender identity. All of which are correct.
Though, most importantly, diversity encompasses all of the cultural, psychological, physical, and social differences that make each of us unique. In addition to the visible characteristics such as race, ethnicity and age, diversity also includes invisible characteristics such as socio-economic status, beliefs, and values. Plus, it includes differences of thought and life experiences.
Both visible and invisible characteristics of diversity can significantly influence our perspectives, perceptions and actions. As a fact of life, diversity is always present when individuals come together, even amongst people with similar visible characteristics. Consider, for example, two same-sex twins who were raised in the same household, attended the same schools and, on the surface were “identical” to the casual observer. But, one of the twins excels in music, the other in sports; thus, there is diversity among closest of siblings. And, to add to the mix, one is a Republican and the other is a Democrat. Dinner conversations are always ……..interesting.
In the workplace, diversity also includes different work styles and preferences. Research has shown that diverse workforces result in:
- Greater creativity and innovation
- Better problem-solving
- Stronger organizational performance and outcomes
So, how do we as different and unique beings bring our “A” game to work, all get along suitably so that our Company products are not only made well, but delivered on time and on budget?
What is inclusion, and can it make a difference?
While it is true that diversity leads to better outcomes, it takes inclusive practices to get to those better outcomes. Because of the different experiences, perspectives and preferences we all bring to the workplace, conflict is a natural occurrence. Communication styles such as language, interpretation of the same circumstances, and cultural expectations can be barriers to understanding each other. Resistance to change: a new person from a different culture than most in the organization might cause friction; someone new on the team may have other ideas about how the work should be done, causing those that have been in the positions longest thinking that “we have always done it this way, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
To achieve the benefits of diversity, organizations must intentionally work to create and sustain an inclusive environment; one where everyone feels valued, respected and able to bring their whole selves to work. Inclusion then is a statement about what the workplace looks like when diversity is truly embraced and valued.
We know that when We feel valued, respected and included, we do our best work and our organization benefits. Forward-thinking workplaces are not content to simply say they value diversity, they actively work to ensure that everyone’s ideas are heard – especially when they “go against the flow.” Though it can initially seem messy, it is from the messiness of diverse perspectives that creativity, innovative and better outcomes are born. With training and practice, diverse employees can learn to work together effectively despite their differences and, indeed, they can thrive. Helping employees learn to practice “both/and” thinking where they build on each other’s ideas rather than deciding only one can be right so the other must be wrong is a pathway to creating an inclusive workplace where the benefits of diversity can be fully realized.
Remember the twins? They practice problem solving and communication skills every night at dinner. All of these initiatives lead to better insights and creativity.
“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” Helen Keller
Next Week Unconscious Bias
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