We have heard so much about this term, diversity. In our society, our schools, our government and our workplace diversity is becoming an increasingly important area of study and concern. Diversity training is mandatory in many sectors and the call for greater understanding seems to have reached nearly every business and organization. For some the message has even grown stale. "Do I have to attend another lecture on diversity?"
What comes to mind when you hear the word diversity? Like many of the "buzzwords" we hear today it tends to be used in a very broad sense while meaning different things to different people. For many, this term relates to issues of equal opportunity and laws protecting certain classes from unfair discrimination. Some people tend to focus on discrimination regarding race, or religion. Others consider issues surrounding age or gender. In my experience, there are additional protected classes commonly considered including ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, national origin, political affiliation and veteran status.
But the diversity training of today goes beyond the legal prohibition of discrimination for protected classes and digs deeper, unearthing the concept of tolerance. Teaching tolerance is more progressive in that it goes beyond prohibitions of discrimination where the law can be applied. Tolerance is more of a social and personal concern where the concept involves each individual's acceptance of someone who is different.
Of course, teaching tolerance is not limited to schools, consultants or trainers. Each and every one of us can be a part of the program. We can share the importance of acceptance with others and, most important, we can lead by example. We can also remember that tolerance is not limited to the ten common stereotypes I acknowledged above. To make a significant social impact the understanding of diversity must go farther.
The only thing we all have in common is that we are different. We come in different sizes and shapes. We come with different backgrounds, abilities and limitations. We have different levels of education and different types of experience. Any one of these differences offers an opportunity for judgment and intolerance. Each identification of a difference also offers an opportunity for acceptance and inclusion.
When it comes to building successful teams, businesses and organizations, tolerance is not enough. Great leaders have diversity awareness; they recognize that there is strength in diversity and actually seek it. These leaders search for diversity, identify the potential value of the differences and capitalize on them. They build teams with members that are not like each other and different from the leader.
One key difference is particularly important to success yet rarely sought - a different point of view. The best decisions and initiatives emerge where different perspectives converge. It is sometimes difficult to accept disagreement and even harder to admit being wrong. With diversity awareness, people can accept and respect different points of view, evaluate the strength of each, and emerge with improved clarity and understanding.
Life is for learning and you have nothing to learn from those who agree with you.