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Diversity is defined as ‘otherness’ or ‘human qualities that are different from our own and outside the group to which we belong, yet present in other individuals and groups’.

Heterogeneous groups are known to produce better solutions to problems and a higher level of critical analysis than homogenous ones. Therefore, managing diversity and understanding the rules regarding fairness and equal opportunity in the workplace provides a distinct advantage to organisations in an era when flexibility, adaptability and creativity are key to competitiveness.

In managing diversity, one must make an effort to eliminate bias based on race, gender, ethnicity, ancestry, age, disability, physical abilities/qualities, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or any characteristic that is without legal relevance. Hence, fairness is an underlying theme in many laws, regulations, standards and policies that apply to the workplace.

Usually, ‘fairness’ is equated with ‘treating everyone the same’; however this may not work well with a diverse staff. For example, if different staff members have varying degrees of English proficiency (even though this may not affect their ability to do the job), using English as the sole medium of official communication, be it memos or training, in English is an example of ‘treating everyone the same’. However, this approach may not clearly communicate essential information to everyone.

Another common misconception is the ‘golden rule’: treat others as you want to be treated. The implicit assumption is that others want to be treated the same way you would like to be treated, but this approach does not take into consideration the individual’s perspective. Although people have similar aspirations, how they show those values through behaviour may be different. Perhaps we should use the ‘platinum’ rule instead which says: ‘treat others as they want to be treated.’

Moving our frame of reference from an egocentric view (‘my way is the best way’) to a relative perspective (‘let’s take the best of a variety of ways’) will help you to manage diversity more effectively in a work environment.

— Fauzia Kerai Khan
The writer is Chief Consultant, i&b Consulting, Training, eLearning. fauzia@iandbconsulting.com

First published in the Careers Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on June 12, 2011.

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