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spike bullet October 2007 - Diversity in the Workplace

color bulletDiversity in the Workplace

What is "Diversity"? picture of many different people

Diversity is recognizing that there are many different individuals at work, each one with a unique set of characteristics, talents, gifts, skills, personality traits, physical abilities, background, appearances, thoughts, feelings, beliefs and viewpoints. It is the variety of those differences that make the workplace a diverse place.

Diversity awareness helps us to appreciate those differences rather than complaining about why someone "isnít exactly like me" in thought, behavior, ability or in any other way.

Once we change our focus from seeing the differences to appreciating the uniqueness, we can see the glorious patterns that these differences can bring to us.  They enable our workplace to tap into a richer variety and find more creative ways to solve everyday challenges.

In learning about diversity, we learn to appreciate that everyone really is unique and has unique talents, feelings, gifts, thoughts, personalities, histories, beliefs, etc.  Itís like the Fall leaves turning a wide variety of brilliant colors.  It is because of the great variety that we can really see and appreciate the differences.  Yet, the combination provides a beautiful tapestry that is only beautiful because of its great variety.  So, rather than put people in small boxes with labels, we can just let them be whatever they are in all their glory and learn more about a wider variety of people, even if they see things very differently than we do.  Or, more importantly, we can appreciate people because they see things differently than we do.

Cornell University describes diversity this way: "Diversity is about learning from others who are not the same, about dignity and respect for all, and about creating workplace environments and practices that encourage learning from others and capture the advantage of diverse perspectives."

Max DePree writes in Leadership is an Art:

"The simple act of recognizing diversity in corporate life helps us to connect the great variety of gifts that people bring to the work and service of the corporation."

"A whale is as unique as a cactus. But donít ask a whale to survive Death Valley.  We all have special gifts.  Where we use them and how determines whether we actually complete something."

"When we think about the people with whom we work, people on whom we depend, we can see that without each individual, we are not going to go very far as a group.  By ourselves, we suffer serious limitations.  Together we can be something wonderful."

"In addition to all of the ratios and goals and parameters and bottom lines, it is fundamental that leaders endorse a concept of persons.  This begins with an understanding of the diversity of peopleís gifts and talents and skills.  Recognizing diversity gives us the chance to provide meaning, fulfillment and purpose, which are not to be relegated solely to private life any more than such things as love, beauty and joy.  The art of leadership lies in polishing and liberating and enabling those gifts."

Many hands coming together What Can We Do to Promote Diversity Awareness? 

Training is usually a key step in promoting diversity awareness.  There are a myriad of courses that can be purchased or created to teach people the value of diversity.

Employers can also provide day-to-day opportunities to showcase the talents of the workforce.  For example, create a diversity committee in the company and ask them to set a theme each month to highlight some type of diverse trait of their workplace.

Some examples of thematic diversity programs:

  • Focus on veterans with stories, photos, examples of uniforms
  • Focus on the creative abilities of employees, whether artistic, dramatic, written etc.
  • Focus on a specific heritage or culture, including speakers, exhibits, dress, articles, photographs
  • Invite a native dance group from a local school or community group to perform during the lunch hour
  • Invite a music group from a local school or community group to perform during the lunch hour
  • Focus on history lessons on how a particular group contributes to the US (or to whatever country you are in).
  • Hold a potluck lunch with an international theme. Ask employees to bring different types of food to share, charge a small amount to sample each type of food and donate the proceeds to a local charity.
  • Provide open discussion groups as "brown bag" lunches with a variety of employees who are willing to participate to talk about their particular background, origin or special interest
  • Invite professional or community expert speakers to talk about diversity.
  • Sponsor storytelling events where ordinary people or professionals can provide stories about their heritage
  • Invite children from a local school to visit the workplace. Create programs to teach them about the type of work you do and let them meet with employees to exchange ideas and thoughts.
  • Schedule visits to various parts of your business so employees can learn more about others who work in different parts of the business.

What Can We Do as Leaders?

As leaders, our job is to set a good example and to teach others what we expect from them.  We can that by recognizing the many talents and gifts of our employees.  When someone complains about someone who does something differently, we can encourage the complainer to consider the unique value the other person brings to the workplace.  We can teach people to look for the positive traits of others not for the differences.  We can be a role model for respect and dignity no matter what we do and no matter who we are working with.

We can "walk our talk" by participating in diversity training and diversity events with employees.  We can sponsor events and programs that encourage diversity and the great variety of talents our employees possess.

We can learn more ourselves, ask questions and be willing to see things differently.  We can reach out to a variety of people for opinions and ask for more information when we donít understand something that someone says or does, instead of judging them to be "wrong" just because they see the world differently.

Differences between Diversity, Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity

Diversity is inclusive of everyone and recognizes that we all have unique differences from each other. Diversity seeks to see those differences in a positive way for the betterment of our business.

Affirmative Action is taking proactive steps to reach out to different groups for education, hiring or recruiting practices.  For example, advertising jobs in community news media, ethnic associations, special purpose membership groups, etc.  It also means active recruiting that tries to reach members of minority or under-represented groups.  Most "quotas" for affirmative action have been eliminated since the quotas themselves became a method for discrimination against some groups.

Equal Opportunity laws provide a legal basis for non-discrimination in employment, education and housing

Categories that might be considered in diversity programsmulti-colored graphic of people assisting each other

Legally "protected" categories:  
     The US Federal government has a number of categories that cannot be used to discriminate against someone in employment.  The US employment categories are: age, sex, pregnancy, race, national origin, disability, religion, retaliation and sexual harassment. Included in retaliation are a variety of protected actions such as filing a charge of discrimination, opposing unlawful practices, picketing in opposition to discrimination and refusing to obey an order reasonably believed to be discriminatory.  Union membership is protected by federal labor laws.

Additional protected categories:
      Many individual states, cities, counties or countries have additional categories that are protected.  Some examples we found include: Presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability; Use of a trained dog guide or service animal; Creed; Citizenship; Ancestry; Perception of Age; Sexual Orientation including Gender Identity and Gender Expression; Marital Status; Family Status; Family Responsibilities; Domestic Partnership Status; Whistle-Blowers in government jobs; Atypical Hereditary Cellular or Blood Trait; Genetic Information; Arrest Record; Unfavorable Military Discharge; Filing a Workersí Compensation Claim; Height; Weight; Source of Income; Socioeconomic Status; Educational Association, AIDS/HIV Status; Civic Interest; Political Affiliation.  An exhaustive search would probably turn up even more.  

Other diversity categories to consider
     Political views; foreign language; regional or national accent; how someone uses the English language; education; ergonomics issues; physical appearance; tenure or seniority; socio-economic status; personal values; morals; life philosophy; moral beliefs; parental status; learning styles; communication styles; working styles and methods; energy levels; early birds vs. late-nighters; personal interests; personality; geographic origin; family origin; past history; local customs; skills; talents; abilities; health and medical needs; goals; diet preferences; exercise preferences; and free speech.


Diversity is so much more than legal "protected categories."  With such great variety in diverse characteristics, we can easily see that we have a wide variety of areas to be aware of and a great variety of people to learn more about.

  Internet Resources 

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world wide web - articles  Articles

Related newsletter articles:
    May 2003 - Respectful Workplaces
    May 1999 - Respect in the Workplace
    December 2005 - Lighten the Load
    August 2003 - How to Work Better with Co-Workers
    June 2003 - Companies are People Too
    May 1996 - Business and Professional Code of Conduct
    July 2000 - Dealing with Co-Workers We Don't Like
    February 2006 - Compassionate Communication
    February 2005 - The Nature of Conflict and Managing It Effectively
    March 2006 - In Search of Corporate Soul
    August 2006 - Leadership Vision

smiley graphic  The Lighter Side  

We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same. 
.. Anne Frank

About our resource links:  We do not endorse or agree with all the beliefs in these links.   We do keep an open mind about different viewpoints and respect the ability of our readers to decide for themselves what is useful.

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