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What Is This Thing Called Diversity?

By Marcia Potter, President, SynTactSolutions, Inc.

Cultural Diversity...Workforce Diversity... the notion that people are different is certainly not new.

People in all sectors of business and industry are buzzing about issues they are referring to as diversity. From the Wall Street Journal to state and city magazines, articles are appearing everywhere that speak to the issues of people differences and commonalties. These issues are shaping management development, organizational policies and global strategies.

Why take notice of diversity? How our differences are helping or hurting is becoming increasingly important to such things as teamwork, good business partnerships, how problems are solved and whether or not projects get completed on time and within budget.

Most companies are pursuing aggressive cost containment or revenue enhancement strategies that are meant to bolster the bottom line. If you've spent any time at all trying to convince your co-workers or staff to change the way they do things in order to improve quality, you'll understand that it's not easy to get buy-in. Diversity is one of these prime business imperatives that can sound like the latest hot topic...but don't be fooled.

Diversity is who we are, how we live, how we work, and our different ideologies. It encompasses technical and functional skills and knowledge, as well as educational and experiential differences. It goes to the root of how we communicate, listen, respond to, and share information with each other. It impacts our openness to new opportunities and ideas, it is the foundation for trust building behaviors. It goes beyond race, gender, and ethnicity. The representation of diversity at all levels of the organization reflects commitment and importance. The dynamics and issues of diversity are anchored to our individual values and touch every part of life. These diversity factors aren't trends and these human issues won't go away.

Doing diversity isn't easy. Diversity is most often viewed as one of those "soft issues." Soft, as in sensitive, or in the gray area, or too big to get your arms around, so why bother? People often remark that discussing people differences simply emphasizes the issues that keep people apart.

Maybe, but that is not our experience. We find that the more people understand how they are the same or different, and how the differences create greater possibilities, and opportunities, the more they come together as a community, a group, or a team.

We also find that as understanding grows, trust grows. Differences don't vanish. Instead, confidence that comes from increased understanding can create a climate that is more appreciative and respectful of human diversity.

There are important things you should know about diversity. First, you are the single most important factor that impacts diversity. Having a keen awareness of your personal workstyle, your comfort level with ambiguity, conflict, change and newness will help you to understand how diverse people may experience you in all kinds of
business interactions. Self awareness helps you to know how you can impact others. Second, once you know the A, B, C's of you - you will be better equipped to know others. Reach out, listen, and learn. Third, be prepared to replace old thinking and ideas with new information. As you get to know yourself you learn more about what makes co-workers, customers, and partners "tick".

Doing diversity can literally change your life. No, it won't change who you are, but we have seen people multiply relationships across divisions, levels, and previously unknown territories. It is fun to watch people become more relaxed, or excited by learning new things about each other and having new successes together. Our experience has proven to us that diverse teams of people often fight harder, think wider, and create more options in problem solving than those who think alike and behave the same.

You are the key to doing diversity... it all starts and ends with you. What it is, how it works, and why it's important is what you'll find as you explore this thing called "Diversity".

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