by Steve Ritch
Recently, I had the opportunity to take part in a diversity awareness self-assessment. Although I have grown up with kids from all over the world (my dad was an engineer who worked on several projects with engineers from other countries) and have an eclectic group of friends from various ethnic, religious, lifestyle, and educational backgrounds, I have to say that I was surprised by my results. Now, having made that statement, I have to tell you that I scored well above the "best practices" range for this assessment, but, still, I was a little disappointed that I didn't score off the charts. After all, I have always thought of myself as being open and accepting of everyone—clearly, I have some areas that can be improved, but for the most part, I thought I embraced diversity in most forms.
This, dare I say, jarring journey of self-discovery really made me think about my attitudes and what I mean when I say that I support inclusivity and diversity. Does that mean that I am tolerant of everyone? Does it mean that I do not have pre-conceived ideas or prejudices related to how someone looks, acts, or communicates? How open am I to the diversity around me?
Most of us who work in an organization of any size will eventually encounter people who are different from us. We may find that they have different political or religious views, or they may even be from an entirely different ethnic or economic background. How do we all work together to have a professional environment that treats everyone with respect?
I was always taught that the very differences some people use to separate themselves from others are really the attributes that make us all stronger together. Different thoughts, attitudes, and backgrounds bring about innovation and new ways of thinking about solutions to old problems. Diversity lends itself to creative problem solving and brainstorming in the workplace. It also exemplifies teamwork and fosters new levels of respect and understanding when it is encouraged and allowed to flourish.
The United States has often been referred to as "The Great American Melting Pot," and that name is very well deserved. Our history has always been one of different cultures coming together. Being an "American" means more than living in this country, because unless your heritage is Native American, your ancestors came from somewhere else.
Few of us like to eat the same meal more than once a week. Fewer still would want to eat the same thing every day—we would find that kind of repetition to be boring and unimaginative. So, I ask you, why are we then sometimes so intolerant of others who are different from us? Why do we tend to react to differences in a negative way, when we could revel in the fact that those differences add more flavor to our "melting pot" stew? Why can't we be more tolerant of our individualism?
I don't pretend to think for a moment that this article will really change someone's mind and make anyone more open to diversity if that individual is not already inclined to be accepting of others. However, I do believe that anyone can make a commitment to be more aware of his or her personal prejudices. Anyone can make a decision to be more open to learning from someone who is different from himself or herself. So, it is because of this belief system that I must address those areas in my assessment that need to be developed—I can do little else, if I am truly committed to continuous growth and improvement in my acceptance of others.
Therefore, I ask you the same questions that I ask myself. What are you doing to expand your attitudes about diversity? How can you create an attitude of tolerance? How open to diversity are you?