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The obvious visible signs of diversity in every organisation are colour, gender, age and physical ability. Just below the surface are nationality, language and religion. If we go a little deeper, we have individual values, qualifications and customs. Deeper still are the life experiences that shape people’s personality, paradigms, talents and values.
Diversity is a strong asset for a company and must be seen as a business issue. Research has proved that mixed groups are significantly more effective than homogeneous ones in making effective decisions due to the wealth of experience, perspectives, attitudes and approaches they bring to the table. However, there is no denying that when you bring together people with different religious beliefs and cultures, or women in what is traditionally a man’s world, diversity can cause stress and strain.
The way to inclusion is to not attempt to minimise that tension. Instead, use it as a force for productivity and creativity. The goal should be to change the organisational culture, not the employees who already have relevant job skills.
Traditional organisations attempt to train, coach and coerce diverse employees to ‘fit’ within the cultural mainstream, whereas leading-edge organisations recognise the difference between equal treatment and treating everyone the same. They recognise and respect the different perspectives, talents, and communication styles of diverse employees and focus on distinguishing style from substance, so that many styles and approaches can be accommodated without sacrificing effectiveness within the organisation.
As the organisation moves away from the homogeneous ideal towards creating a more viable heterogeneous culture, traditions, practices and embedded biases that characterise the status quo are discarded to make room for new ways of doing things.
This emphasis on culture change rather than individual change is what results in innovative ways of doing business.
– Fauzia Kerai Khan
The writer is Chief Consultant, i&b Consulting,Training, e-Learning. firstname.lastname@example.org
First published in the Careers Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on March 16, 2014.