Handling diversity

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘diversity‘?

Maybe your mind goes immediately to issues such as race, gender, age, sexual orientation, physical ability and ethnicity. I hope by reading this article it provides space for you to think beyond the usual interpretation of diversity and become aware of other aspects, to challenge you to consider if you have any unconscious bias, and to encourage you to create a safe climate for your people to speak up.

The Collins dictionary definition of diversity is:

“the state or quality of being different or varied”
“a point of difference”

So the key point here is “different”. The most effective leaders find a style of work that embraces all approaches. They are able to hold that tension – even if it’s messy and takes longer – because it will result in a better decision than it would if everybody had the same mindset.

“Most of the clashes or diversity collisions that happen at work occur because the individuals involved are unable or un­willing to respect and value differences, thus unwilling to address the problem. The natural incli­nation is to judge differences. When a factual reason for the conflict cannot be readily identified, stereotypical beliefs or biases are often used to rationalize the cause. The judgment is if others do not think and act as you do, then they are wrong.”
Lenora Billings-Harris, noted top 5 speaker on diversity for the last 4 years

Think also about the saying: “treat others as you want to be treated”.

The implicit assumption is that how you want to be treated is also how others want to be treated. But when you look at this proverb through a diversity perspective, you begin to test this assumption.

As with many things in life, not just diversity, it depends on the individual. We may share similar values, such as respect or need for recognition, but how we show those values through behaviour may be different for different groups or individuals.

Perhaps instead we should adopt: “treat others as they want to be treated.”

Diversity in the workplace

The US Census bureau has mapped the talent they predict to be available globally by the year 2020.

It shows a deficit in much of Europe as well as China and the United States, while the emerging markets we call ‘developing’ will have more talent coming through. To continue to be competitive, we need to attract and harness this talent, and find ways of fostering a workplace that embraces a greater diversity of cultures and beliefs.

  • UK: 2 million shortage
  • France: 3 million shortage
  • Germany: 3 million shortage
  • US: 17 million shortage
  • China: 10 million shortage
  • India: 47 million surplus
  • Mexico: 5 million surplus
  • Brazil: 3 million surplus

Today’s workplace includes a greater spread of generations than ever as people work longer than before, through desire or financial necessity, or both. The outlook and what motivates these different generations can vary quite noticeably.

Good leadership involves understanding what motivates your people. Also, being able to recognise themes that motivate the different age groups will enable you to create a climate that harnesses their differences.

Positive discrimination
The Nordic countries set a target to have a certain percentage of women on the board. There are debates for and against this approach. What’s your view? Do you think positive discrimination is a good or a bad thing?

This question links to one of my most popular articles – comparing career management for women and men.

Aspects of diversity
It’s not just a legal issue

Whilst you must, of course, comply with the legislation surrounding diversity, there are other facets that are not so obvious, as shown in this table:

Do you recognise a bias in your organisation or department related to any of the above? What do you see as the impact? What do you want to do about that?

For an example of unconscious bias in action, read this recent BBC news article Elite firms exclude bright working class.

How inclusive is your organisation?

Trevor Wilson, author of Diversity at Work and a recognised authority on diversity has created the equity continuum (see below) as a way for organisations to determine their current position and then determine their strategy to move through.

The following questions may help you establish where your organisation sits on this continuum:

Please let me know if you would like a printable version of this scorecard.

Test your assumptions

Work through these questions to further test your assumptions before acting on them:

  • Do you believe there is only one right way of doing things, or that there are a number of valid ways that accomplish the same goal? YES/NO
  • Do you convey that to staff? YES/NO
  • Do you have honest relationships with each staff member you supervise? YES/NO Are you comfortable with each of them? YES/NO Do you know what motivates them, what their goals are, how they like to be recognised? YES/NO
  • Are you able to give negative feedback to someone who is culturally different from you? YES/NO
  • When you have open positions, do you insist on a diverse screening committee and make efforts to ensure that a diverse pool of candidates has applied? YES/NO
  • Do you take immediate action with people you supervise when they behave in ways that show disrespect for others in the workplace, such as inappropriate jokes and offensive terms? YES/NO
  • Do you ensure that opportunities for advancement are accessible to everyone? YES/NO

If you were able to answer ‘yes’ to more than half these questions, you are on the right track to managing diversity well.

Johari window

Increasing our self awareness is the first step to our development, irrespective of the subject.  This can also be applied to diversity:

  • You may not think you discriminate, but how self-aware are you?
  • What is the impact of your own prejudices and blind spots on your people?
  • Do you have an unconscious bias towards people like you, or for people you think are better than you?
  • Does everyone in your team feel equally included as part of your organisation?
  • Where are you regarding diversity, both as a company and a leader?
  • What more could you do?
  • What is the benefit / business case of doing that?

See the Johari window (right), to think about your own ‘lens’ and identify where you may need to shift or update paradigms.

A light-hearted look at a media storm in the UK!

At a recent conference of science journalists, Sir Tim Hunt provoked outrage by saying: “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry.”

Whilst he says his comments were taken out of context, he was “encouraged” to resign. In or out of context, it can be argued that there is never a place for this type of comment! This video shows how the female scientists responded:


Next month, we look at Personality testing for recruitment and assessment.

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