This entry will be the first in a series of blogs that I’ll post on the topic of diversity. Organizations have been participating in diversity training for many years. The topic has been around for a long time, but organizations still struggle with the challenges that diversity can present.
To begin, it’s important to define what diversity really is. When we think of the term diversity in the workplace, we often consider only cultural or ethnic diversity.
Being diverse simply means being different. Within any organization, there can be cultural, behavioral/personality, age and gender differences. This is only a partial list of the ways we are different! Obviously, with so much diversity, there are plenty of opportunities to differ in the way we approach doing business.
From my perspective, when a team is addressing diversity, it is best to approach the issue in a positive way. NOT, How can we deal with diversity? Instead, What can we gain from our diversity? Diversity can be a challenge, but it is also a huge opportunity.
Think about a time when diversity impacted one of your work projects. Maybe there was a brainstorming session where no one agreed. Perhaps the members of your project team had completely different ideas about how to approach project goals.
- How much frustration did the team experience?
- How much time was wasted in unresolved disagreement?
- How was the project outcome impacted?
An answer to these questions can help you gauge how successfully your team is addressing diversity. If the project was hindered by the team’s differences, you might need to implement some strategies for addressing diversity.
Here are a few quick tips:
When leading or participating in a diverse team setting:
1. Show a genuine interest in others- ask them questions to explore their perspective and opinions
Understanding someone’s “frame of reference” can be really helpful when you’re trying to come to agreement.
2. Respect other’s rights to be different - you can respect without agreeing
This is critical! You must maintain respect in all of your work and communication with your team. The minute the respect is gone, the team is hurt – trust and the commitment to support one another are diminished.
3. Reserve judgment -- watch out for your filters
Our filters are our preconceptions about others based on the qualities we observe or think we observe in them. An example – making an assumption about the validity of someone’s opinion or actions based on gender, age, religion, ethnic background, etc.
4. Don’t be intimidated by differences
It’s human nature to avoid people or situations that are different than what we’re used to. Make an effort to avoid this tendency. Be open to differences.
I remember a particularly frustrating meeting that I participated in with individuals from a variety of countries. We were having a really difficult time aligning on an approach for a new training curriculum. I found myself getting emotional and resentful. Then I asked myself, “What do they see that I don’t? And what can I learn from their experience that I’ve yet to learn?” Thankfully, I slowed myself down enough to be open. I’ve repeated those questions to myself more than once over the years, and they’ve served me well.
My next entry will focus on cultural diversity. There are some interesting definitions and models that I’m eager to share. In the meantime, think about the diverse make-up of your team. How can this diversity be leveraged to reach your organizational/team goals?
Angela Gallogly, ATC Vice President of USA Operations