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We do hear phrases like ‘Diversity is Beauty’, ‘Diversity is the Essence of Life’, ‘Diversity Brings Colors to Life’ and so on. What do we really understand from diversity? How do we handle diversity? These are the two questions we shall address.
Diversity literally means difference. Being Diverse is the state of being different. Diversity has many origins and many forms. Some of the common forms may be identified as follows.
Ethnic Diversity is based on ethnicity. Major ethnicities are Caucasians (whites), Africans (Blacks), East Asians (Yellows), and South Asians (Browns). There is a huge variety of indigenous people who were original inhabitants of Americas, Australia/New Zealand, Canada and so on. Within Africa, there exists a huge number of tribes which are distinct.
Social Diversity is based on social placement. There are groups of people who are placed centrally in the sense that they enjoy most privileges. There are several other groups which are marginalized for reasons beyond their control. These groups exist at the periphery without privileges.
Gender Diversity is based on Gender. All societies are dominated by men while women are not represented fairly in many spheres of life.
Economic Diversity is based on economic status. The ultra-rich, the rich, the middle class, the poor, and the deprived are placed in different brackets and treated differently.
Family Diversity is seen in our society where discrimination is practiced on the basis of ‘Bradari’. The Jutt will go with Jutt and Arain with Arain and sheikh with sheikh and so on. Until recently, marriages across Bradari were seriously discouraged. These are still discouraged but some softening is seen.
Workplace Diversity will be our main focus in this discussion. An office is a small melting pot where diverse people gather to work for the same objective. There are men, women, old, young, highly qualified, less qualified, urban background, rural background, more privileged, less privileged, this Bradari, that Bradari etc. As managers and leaders, it is our responsibility to understand diversity and handle diversity.
The managers/ leaders may have their own preconceived notions and hang-ups about diversity. Their own background may make them a hostage to a certain kind of thinking and actions. It will be helpful if the managers develop greater understanding about diversity, but it is not mandatory for taking the right actions; actions can still be taken.
Diversity is a large and complex topic, but I am offering some simple solutions which constitute the Right Actions to rise above the diversity conflict and use it as a vibrant resource rather.
Openness – The first practice to start is to build an atmosphere of openness. Culture of openness may come later but the beginning has to be with a deliberate effort to bring openness. Openness means that the people should be able to express their opinions and their feelings, without the fear of being punished for it. Openness standards are not always universal, though some aspects may be. Openness is determined by the prevailing culture. Our culture allows limited openness. We are expected to dissent in a moderate, respectable manner. We are also expected to remain patient in the face of difficulties. These are remnants of our not-so-glorious feudal past. The change is coming; younger people are more expressive. As manager/leader, we should take the lead, break away from the past, and bring in openness. The expression keeps the staff energetic and engaged and builds confidence and morale. Openness will let the diversity of people come together to produce great results.
The main reason for openness to be in limited, restricted measure may be the incapability of the manager/leader. There is a thing called ‘IMPOSTOR SYNDROME’ which is a state in which the holder of a position feels he does not actually belong there but has gotten there by some fluke. He thinks he is doing the role of leader but is not qualified to be the leader. Impostor syndrome is somewhat complex but one of the basic reasons is incapability. The lingering self-doubts leads to acting in certain curious ways. Other than Impostor syndrome, the reasons may include a traditional view of tough management, less concern about people, and focus on task only.
Openness shall always start from the top. The staff looks at the bosses and takes cue about how to behave. Most of the working-class people are average guys/ girls, who toil through life and are always very concerned about sustaining the job. The casualness may be seen in some youngsters, but it goes away in a few years. Openness is rarely misused, as I have seen over the years and see it even now. Our working lot is submissive and obedient and do not dare to take undue advantage. Openness is a great tool for handling diversity at workplace.
Fairness – Fairness is the foundation for creating environment of justice and fairplay. Unfairness undermines all good things. Everyone knows that fairness is good, and unfairness is evil, but in practice unfairness remains high on agenda. Favoritism, Nepotism, out of ordinary increments, out of turn promotions, unbalanced work allocation are just some of these. There may be more intense forms also.
Fairness is also a great tool for handling diversity. The issue with diversity is that not all are equal. The better placed automatically get privileges while the lesser ones remain deprived. Fairness would mean taking care of the deprived also.
Fairness is not a destination; it is neither a state, it is a way of management. It is a constant effort to keep everything on track. Probably more has been written about the demerits of unfairness than the virtues of fairness. I would like to say that absence of unfairness does not generate or guarantee to generate fairness. Fairness needs to be created by design and practice and kept by relentless effort.
Fairness also starts at the top and has to keep flowing from the top.
Shall Continue InshaAllah……