“Workplace diversity,” “diverse work teams, “valuing diversity,” “ethnic differences,” “the racial divide” – by hearing these phrases and knowing how often they are uttered, you could easily draw the conclusion that the U.S. workplace has become a hotbed of tribalism and division.
In fact, quite the opposite it true. Workplaces all across North America are working hard to value difference while, as the same moment, identify what we share – that is the great Diversity Paradox.
We are all different in some ways and alike in others. Our job – as diversity professionals — is to construct an environment in which the two are both honored, both valued, and both encouraged.
Admittedly, for most of the history of this great nation, our workplaces put too much emphasis on rewarding and even coercing uniformity. That might have been – although morally questionable – functional in an assembly line environment and the frontier-like climate that mandated an almost militaristic consistency of thought.
Those days are, however, gone. The frontier we now face demands that organizations be perpetually innovative and forward thinking; a reality that mandates the need for diversity of thought.
Diversity of thought, in turn, demands a workforce that possesses varying lifestyles, cultures, life experiences, and any other type of difference you might imagine.
But, does that mean that we no longer value what we share? Sometimes I get that impression when I hear so much emphasis on valuing and managing diversity. It’s as if we have gotten into our heads that, acknowledging commonality equates with disrespecting difference.
Today we have finally come to our senses; to the ancient Greeks’ middle ground.
There is a growing awareness that, if diverse work teams are to be productive, we must begin to focus, not only on how the members differ, but also on what they have in common.
Diverse groups can be – no one can deny it – more innovative and creative than homogeneous groups.
The operative phrase here is “can be” because, unless there is some foundation of commonality, that creativity will inevitably flounder in a sea of misunderstanding, bias, and a discomfort so great that ideas go unexpressed and valuable views remain unspoken.
For more information on commonality in the workplace, see this article.
The material in this post reflects the ideas expressed in Dr. Thiederman’s book 3 Keys to Defeating Unconscious Bias and in the training videos Defeating Unconscious Bias: 5 Strategies and Gateways to Inclusion: Turning Tense Moments into Productive Conversations.
Sondra Thiederman can be contacted for in-person presentations, virtual facilitation, and panel participation by clicking here or calling 619-583-4478. For additional information, go to www.thiederman.com.
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