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In many situations, it invokes emotions and heated debates like nothing else and in other situations it stimulates innovation and growth, leading companies to great success. IT is nine letters, one word. Diversity.

Free Your Mind

How can one “thing” result in two such varying outcomes? Simple. With diversity comes difference. It involves variances in opinion, experience, work habits, thought processes, beliefs, and every other thing you can think of, including how we define diversity. I solicited information from family and friends via Facebook by simply posting: “Diversity is ____________.” Within minutes there were several responses. Some of them are below:

  • “Bittersweet and necessary.”
  • “Multicultural.”
  • “A metric in the corporate landscape.”
  • “A wonderful thing.”
  • “What makes the world go around.”
  • “Sometimes painful, but an important part of our world.”
  • “Diversity usually is an expression that seeks to value difference and interrelatedness and values those differences and relationships as positive elements of a healthy environment.”

(Yes, the last statement is from my friend who is a college professor… 🙂 )

As you can see, no one response was the same. Diversity in action! I appreciate that not one person mentioned religion, skin color, sexual orientation or gender. Oh – and no one responded with anything that read remotely like “Affirmative Action Plan” or “Equal Employment Opportunities” – Awesome!

True diversity is not achieved through a checklist, a quota system, or initiative. An organization that understands diversity embeds it in everything they do; marketing and branding, vendor partnerships, hiring practices, communications, how people perform and how employees are rewarded. It is woven into their fabric. Those that naturally incorporate diversity into the everyday life will find more success than those approaching it as a single act or one-time project.

And, as my friends have stated, it is bittersweet and painful. Who wants to be volunteered for that work? I love diversity and what it can do for individual growth and organizational success. I cringe when leaders create a project in the name of diversity. So when the project is completed the company is magically diversified? Uh, not so much.

free_your_mind_02_big-355x252[1]I recall working with a project team on a diversity initiative. [Yes, the dreaded ‘Hey, HR-help us become a diverse company project’. (Please poke me in the eye with a sharp object.)] We were responsible for identifying various cultural traditions and celebrations and then coordinating related events. [Yes, really.] One idea generated from this team was to create a calendar to highlight all the diverse events and holidays and call it our Diversity Calendar. Great! Well, except for the fact a company calendar already existed. I thought aloud, “Why would we create two calendars? Why not just one calendar with ALL company events?”

While these events were interesting and entertaining, they did not help us become a more diverse business. Celebrating differences is important, but diversity is much bigger than a cultural event and it deserves far more. Sadly, we suffered from a lack of guidance. Someone said we needed to diversify and this was the route that was taken.

Should a company decide a diversity strategy is required for the success of the organization, it is important to define IT – without the definition, employee actions will be misguided and no matter how well intentioned the company, any effort  to diversify will likely fall flat.

“Strength lies in differences, not similarities.” – Stephen Covey

When discussing diversity at work, do yourself and your company a favor – Free Your Mind. Set aside the AAPs, project plans, calendars and the EOE statements and have a conversation about what it really means and how your business can effectively incorporate it into all you do.

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