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Imagine for a minute that you work in a place where everyone is the same. All of your coworkers are of the same ethnicity, gender, educational background, and socioeconomic standing. Would you be able to easily generate new ideas? Would the group have the ability to understand things from a different point of view? Without diversity in the workplace, organizations run the risk of becoming monocultural and only viewing things from a very limited perspective. The organization provides the structure for operation of the business and often defines the culture, but it’s the individuals interacting within the organization who carry out the mission of the organization.

Directions:  Read the following passage.  Answer the questions on workplace diversity that are embedded in the reading passage.

To recognize key characteristics of the concept of diversity on the job and recognize the benefits, challenges, and barriers to the development of diversity in the workplace identify key concepts related to diversity in the workplace.  

1.  Which are correct statements about diversity in the workplace?

____ Workplace diversity includes invisible attributes such as your generation, sexual orientation, and marital status.

____ In companies that foster workplace diversity, people from different backgrounds are encouraged to emphasize their differences.

____ Diverse workplaces create an inclusive culture that values the contribution of only a few workers

____ A huge part of workplace diversity is about avoiding monoculture and welcoming the different perspectives diversity provides.

____ Workplace diversity can provide business advantages.

2.  Identify correct statements about diversity in the workplace (place an x by correct statements).

____ The concept of workplace diversity includes only attributes that are visible, such as physical abilities and experience.

____ Workplace diversity is about encouraging and helping people from different backgrounds to work together effectively.

____ To foster workplace diversity, companies should create a culture that values everyone’s contribution, not just the contribution of a few people or groups.

____ Workplace diversity means emphasizing monoculture and enhancing acceptance of only one or two perspectives.

____ Workplace diversity can provide business advantages over peers who don’t foster diversity.

Learning Point 1:

Myths about diversity If you asked ten people what the word diversity means, you’d probably get ten different answers. That’s because diversity is a concept that’s constantly evolving. It’s not easy to define, and everyone has a different idea of what diversity actually means. You probably have your own ideas or assumptions about what diversity means. What comes to mind when you think about diversity in the workplace? Because people have such different ideas about diversity, many myths and misunderstandings about it still exist. You may even have included some of these myths in your comments on the previous page. This topic will cover three of the most common myths: diversity is all about differences of race and gender, diversity is all about equal opportunities, and diversity is an HR issue.

Learning Point 2:

Diversity: not just race and gender The first myth – that diversity is all about race and gender – is perhaps the most pervasive. Consider Bill, who manages the Accounting Department at his company (male, 50s, white). He takes special pride in the diversity of his group, which includes different ages, sexes, and cultural backgrounds.  To Bill, these broad categories of gender and race are what diversity is all about. Do you agree? Think about it – every day, you’re constantly exposed to diversity, even if you don’t realize it.  People can be diverse even in terms of invisible attributes. For instance, in any group, you’ll find different thoughts, values, social backgrounds, and levels of education.  Other invisible attributes contributing to diversity can include your generation, sexual orientation, marital status, political or religious beliefs, physical abilities, and life experience.  When you consider the fact that there’s more to people than just the way they look on the outside, it becomes clear why diversity means more than race and gender. Those invisible attributes contribute a great deal to the mix of ideas and perspectives in the workplace. So, when you think about your own workplace, do you now perceive it in a new light? It’s probably a more diverse place than you thought!

Learning Point 3:

Diversity: not just equal opportunity Another myth about diversity is that it’s all about equal opportunities. Yes, providing employment equity is one aspect of diversity in the workplace, but diversity encompasses more than just that.

3.  What do you think are some other aspects of diversity in the workplace?

____ Helping people from different backgrounds learn to work together effectively.

____ Fostering an inclusive culture that values the contribution of a workforce made of diverse individuals.

____ Avoiding monoculture and accepting, understanding, and adapting to differences.

____ Realizing that equal opportunity programs are only in place because employers are required to use them.

____ Assuming that all workers in an organization have similar needs and are working toward meeting those needs.

Other aspects of diversity in the workplace include helping people from different backgrounds to work together effectively, fostering an inclusive culture that values the contribution of a workforce made of diverse individuals, and avoiding monoculture. In companies that have developed diversity far beyond just equal opportunities, you’ll notice three things: people from different backgrounds are helped and encouraged to work together; the contribution of a workforce made of diverse individuals is valued; and finally, monoculture is avoided and differences among individuals are understood, recognized, and accepted. People are encouraged to work together Diversity in the workplace entails finding ways to help people from different backgrounds – social or economic, for instance – be productive as a team. Diverse contributions are valued Workplaces must focus on creating a culture that values everyone’s contribution, not just the contributions of a few people or groups. Monoculture is avoided Avoiding monoculture – which is characterized by homogeneity – is a huge part of diversity in the workplace. Very few companies could be successful without the different perspectives their diverse workforces provide. The key thing to remember is that diversity is about focusing on the big picture, not just pieces of it. Think of it this way. Suppose you have a box of green balls. Now, add a few red balls, and perhaps three blue ones. The red and blue balls represent diversity, right? Well, not exactly. The diversity is actually represented by the entire mixture: green, red, and blue. Diversity in the workplace is no different. Each person, as an individual, doesn’t represent diversity. Instead, the entire mixture of individuals – with their unique ideas and experiences – is the real diversity in an organization.

Learning Point 4:

Diversity: not just an HR issue Now move on to the final myth about diversity – that it’s an HR issue. Many people, perhaps yourself included, think of HR when they hear the word diversity. However, the reality is that diversity isn’t just an organizational issue created by the HR Department. It actually starts with you, as an individual. Being exposed to diversity broadens your perspectives and might even enhance your creativity and problem-solving abilities. When people have different views and backgrounds, they often observe a problem from different perspectives. This can help broaden their views and the way they approach problems. Following is an example of how two people can approach a problem from different perspectives. 

Victoria: “Recently, we had a new person join our team. William is fluent in Spanish, so he can take on clients that some of our English-speaking team members can’t. When William joined the team, I felt like he was taking new clients away from the rest of us.”

Taku: “When Victoria told me her concerns about William, I helped her see that he’s actually an asset to our team. Before he arrived, we didn’t have anyone who could speak Spanish – now we have someone who can increase our client base. Not only that, but William also has great networking skills and brought a large clientele with him to our company.”

When Taku showed Victoria how William wasn’t a hindrance but a benefit to the team, she saw the situation differently. By viewing things from Taku’s perspective, Victoria was able to broaden her viewpoint and realize that diversity can actually help her team flourish. Some companies bypass the HR Department altogether by including diversity in their strategic vision. For example, consider a company that emphasizes and encourages differences instead of suppressing them. This allows fresh ideas to emerge. Instead of forcing everyone to think along the same lines, the company focuses on the varied perspectives that emerge when differences are celebrated. This approach provides the company with business advantages not enjoyed by its peers who don’t foster diversity. By clearing away the myths about diversity in the workplace, you’ll be able to focus on the ways diversity can benefit your organization and you as an individual. Now that you’ve learned about some of the myths surrounding diversity in the workplace, have your beliefs and assumptions changed?

4.  Which statements about diversity in the workplace are correct? (Place an x by correct statements)

____ The concept of workplace diversity includes differences of thought and values.

____ Fostering workplace diversity encourages people from different backgrounds to work together effectively.

____ Companies that foster workplace diversity work to create an inclusive culture that values the contribution of a diverse workforce.

____ Workplace diversity is about encouraging monoculture.

____ Workplace diversity puts companies on an equal playing field with their peers who don’t encourage diversity. 

Learning Point 5: Summary

Because people have such different ideas about diversity, many myths and misunderstandings about it still exist: that diversity is all about race and gender, that diversity is all about equal opportunities, and that diversity is an HR issue. By clearing away the myths about diversity in the workplace, you’ll be able to focus on the ways diversity can benefit your organization and you as an individual.

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