The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It can be further defined as an understanding that each individual is unique and the individual differences are recognized. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious and political beliefs. Encompassing diversity is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance for embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.
A common tendency in human interaction is that of social categorisation, where, people like to put other people into easily understood pigeonholes. The dimensions of diversity, particularly those identified as primary personal characteristics serve as convenient and common categories. The individual will self-identify into a particular category, such as male, young or Greek woman. Other individuals within the team will be categorized as either members of that category or as outsiders. As the individuals come to define themselves in relation to each other, difference is typically perceived as a deficiency. Part and parcel of this categorisation is a tendency to impose stereotypes as shorthand prejudgements of likely attitudes and behaviours.
The ideal companies take pride in having created an environment that nurtures diversity in a very comprehensive and visible manner. Managing a diverse workplace begins with strong policies of equality from within the company. As a result, such company boasts of having a framework of Human Resource policies, ranging from hiring to promotions and motivation to retention that are based strictly on employee performance. The organisation avoids allowing tenure, ethnic background, language or any other kind of category to influence or manoeuvre the policies and also recommends punitive action, if found otherwise. Having such policies in place, the company therefore, implements diversity measures throughout the entire organization in a robust manner.
Diversities in companies are of various kinds; besides the oft-quoted gender ratios that according to me– represents diversity in an extremely limiting manner, the other kinds found within the company are:
- Race and ethnicity
- Physical appearance & ability
- Problem-solving ability
- Critical thinking ability
- Team building ability
- Communication ability
- Financial background
- Personality types (Extroverts, Introverts etc.)
- Compassion as well as capability for empathy
- Conflict resolution ability
- Level of self-awareness
We literally live and breathe in a diverse world, but sometimes we forget to take a moment and reflect on how many opportunities and possibilities it offers us. The remarkable thing in a company, which embraces diversity, is that it has taken conscious steps to create a type of work-place that celebrates exactly the same. Leaders in such a company across levels are coached to deliberately inculcate a culture through their talk and actions – that nurture differences of every kind. People are only as different as we make them out to be. One does come across examples where leaders choose which characteristics they want to highlight, mostly based on what they are comfortable with. Wanting to put in place a progressive people culture right from start, an ideal company always celebrates every quality that its employees possess that have in turn, increases the access to amazing talents and abilities to tap upon. They therefore use people’s unique characteristics to make the workplace stronger rather than creating divisions. One step that has further helped the cause of Diversity at such companies, is the fact that they have kept diversity in mind when creating teams and special work groups within the company.
What needs to be understood here is that the willingness to explore and discuss all of the differences, not just in races and ethnicities, but across generations and life experiences. This is a crucial element of harnessing diversity in the workplace. By starting the conversation, leaders serve as role models and sow the seeds for creating a culture of acceptance and appreciation of difference in the organization. To paraphrase William Wrigley, Jr. – “if two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary.” Diverse groups are therefore more likely to generate multiple perspectives, fresh ideas, and innovative thinking. The first step toward leveraging those perspectives is creating a culture where
To paraphrase William Wrigley, Jr. – “if two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary.” Diverse groups are therefore more likely to generate multiple perspectives, fresh ideas, and innovative thinking. The first step toward leveraging those perspectives is creating a culture where difference is not only acknowledged, it's celebrated. Rather than aspiring to be blind to differences, teams benefit when we learn to appreciate how diversity enhances success. The leaders who are best at harnessing the value of diversity are the ones who are willing to say, "You and I are different. Let's talk about that. Let's figure out how our perspectives might complement each other, how they might compete with each other, and what that means about how we're going to work together." Instead of minimizing difference, we can choose to leverage a variety of perspectives, work styles and world views to best work together and move towards a common goal.
The next question obvious that one needs to understand slightly more in depth is how diverse teams therefore actually interact and what values do they bring to the table. Diverse work teams operate differently to homogenous teams. Differences in communication styles, the mix of mental models and value sets and a tendency towards in-group out-group behaviour and social categorisation all affect the way diverse teams develop and function. Individuals bring with them different views of the world and value sets.
A greater diversity of mental models represents more viewpoints and perspectives on a problem or task. A diverse team may also have access to greater informational networks through their external communication channels. This goes on to improve the quality of decision-making. It has been observed across the globe that diverse teams therefore go on to outperform homogenous teams, as they draw on a greater pool of ideas, and because their interaction produces better solutions. The challenge for business is to manage diverse teams effectively so as to harness these outcomes. Understanding this reality only too well, a diversity embracing company will increasingly use work teams as functional tools to achieve its strategic objectives. The rationale for using teams is that there are inherent synergies, such that the team is greater than the sum of its parts. Teams allow both functional specialisation and collaborative interaction. The company therefore has always been encouraging the formation of the most effective teams from amongst its employees to achieve the above.
The key steps / actions that have enabled proper management of diverse teams at such companies are:
Proper selection and structuring of teams, (that include) -
- Using existing diversity (demographic) data effectively
- Considering desired work outcomes
- Shortlisting candidates
- Selecting candidates
- Informing teams of diversity rationale
Working with existing diverse teams, involving -
- Assessment of diversity
- Assessment of team processes
Resourcing the teams by -
- Assessing needs
- Providing communication training
- Providing conflict management training
- Encouraging the valuing of difference
- Developing team identity
- Giving the team time to mature and perform
Measuring Team performance, involving -
- Clarifying the team vision
- Setting goals that encourage diversity management skills
- Rewarding at a team level
Organisations often think that diversity work is always full of conflicts and strong emotions. It doesn’t have to be, nor should it be. If the goal is to create an environment where everyone feels invited to bring their whole selves, creating inclusive policies, practices and cultural norms should reflect that. It doesn’t mean that it may not be hard, but the benefits that accrue in walking that path, far outnumber the misgivings that one can have around this highly strategic tool in our hands. It is therefore best to focus on the design of our various environments at the work-place (social, physical, information, policy and attitudinal) to be sure that they are welcoming and inclusive and supportive of a diverse workforce.
To sum up I would say that our workforce, our customers and our markets are increasingly becoming more and more diverse. To meet the challenges around the same and embrace success, and also to create a ‘buzz’ around diversity at respective work-places, 5 key strategies would need to be adopted. They are:
Emphasising on communication – to remove all such symbols, words, language, pictures etc. that hinder uniform interpretation of policies, procedures, and important information
Viewing employees as ‘individuals’ – which means avoiding both positive as well as negative stereotypes and assumptions, while judging successes and failures individually. Taking immediate and effective steps against discrimination of any kind directed towards an individual. Focussing on issues and not on individual factors
Encouraging employees to work in diverse groups – by encouraging cross-pollination of human spirit and efforts. Broad-base experiences within work teams thus formed, which finally would lead to effective decision-making. Create an environment in which people learn to draw from each other’s strengths and therefore manage situations & obstacles better
Basing decisions on objective criteria – expect all employees of all backgrounds to meet required standards & perform to the best of their ability. Negate tendencies of making excuses or covering up shortcomings. Encourage the value of ‘merit’ in all decisions, rather than personal biases
Finally, being Open-minded – Work on enhancing appreciation of difference at the work-place, and discourage inane and unprofessional tendencies towards homogeneity. Look for ways to incorporate diverse perspectives and talents into efforts to achieve organisational Goals.
In the end, one would just want to say that an ideal company must reflect the true meaning of being a ‘Rainbow Company’, completely aligned with the concept of India being a ‘Rainbow Nation’. It was Archbishop Desmond Tutu who described post-apartheid South Africa to be a ‘Rainbow Nation’ for the first time – a term that encapsulated the unity of multi-culturalism and the coming-together of people of many different nations, in a country once identified with the strict division of white and black. India being no less diverse, has also always stood for ‘Unity in Diversity’ – being a multi-lingual, multi-religious, multi-racial, multi-cultural country itself (and the differences do not end there either). Such company as an organisation demonstrates in ample measure, the maturity of being a true-blue ‘Rainbow Company’, where all diversities are respected for the differences that they bring to the table, and where the rationale borne out of the Confluence of the same has taken the organisation from strength to strength over the years.