In the wee morning hours of a spring day, I sat in a classroom eagerly awaiting my fate in a first term diversity class. The thought about whether or not I concerned myself with other’s cultures and traditions was posed to the class. After a few carefully thought out responses from other students, as to not step on anyone’s toes, I raised my hand. I am a full time student, a husband, a father of 2, and the breadwinner for my little family. Where am I going to find the time to learn about diversity? Why should this be something that I occupy my schedule with?
I am not bigoted, or racist, or overly prejudiced, (I think we are being dishonest with ourselves if we claim to be prejudice free) I just have a lot of things on my plate and diversity didn’t rank high on my totem pole. A few thumps broke the deafening silence as some of the student’s jaws hit their desks, and then came the responses. They stressed that discrimination was wrong lawfully, ethically, and morally. Was I discriminating by not allowing room into my life for diversity? Am I prejudiced? I just have so many other things to focus on.
In my research I found many articles that assured me that diversity should play a significant role in my surroundings and life. It will not only benefit me now but also well into my management future. The article that I am going to focus on is titled Diversity: The Performance Factor, and was written by Michael Wheeler. Wheeler explains that implementing a diversity policy is difficult but necessary in today’s global economy. He stresses the importance of avoiding common mistakes such as the Discrimination and Fairness Paradigm.
All too often we expect others to fit into molds that we make for ourselves. Diversity captures so much more than just race, gender, and culture. Anita Rowe and Lee Gardenswartz included lifestyle, religion, sexual preference, family status, income, habits, recreational habits, appearance, education, and parental status in the “wheel of diversity. ” (Business One Irwin. 1991) Diversity encompasses almost everything about us, our similarities and our differences. Wheeler describes diversity as “the global economic village of myriad cultures, languages, races, ethnicities, and worldviews.
For business, diversity represents the inexorably intertwined global marketplace, talent pool, vendors, and suppliers; the countries in which we operate; the governments with which we negotiate; and the communities in which we live. It is reflected in our laws and our values. ” (Wheeler 12-15) My assumptions about diversity and my unwillingness to change my priorities could have jeopardized my potential for success that lies in my future. An interesting story shows us the need of managing diversity from a child’s perspective.
It is a fable written by Dr. R. Roosevelt Thomas Jr. entitled The Giraffe and Elephant. The story starts with Giraffe who has built an award-winning home designed especially for his needs. He invites a highly qualified Elephant to work with him in his woodworking business at his Giraffe house. The Elephant immediately encounters difficulty maneuvering in the house. The Giraffe proposes that the elephant change to better function in the house. Both the Giraffe and the Elephant realize that they must face some challenging diversity issues.
(Roosevelt 1-2) In this story the giraffe is the majority party and the elephant represents the non-dominant group. The giraffe is showing us the Discrimination and Fairness Paradigm. This paradigm occurs when companies hire a diverse workforce just to meet federal equal employment opportunity requirements. These regulations produce a more diverse workforce but this paradigm shows one way that they can backfire. The problem here is that all people within the organization are treated the same. So it does not allow people to be themselves and bring their experiences and creative talents to the table.
This paradigm encourages the minority to conform to the beliefs and actions of the majority, or turn elephants into giraffes, not a successful business strategy. In an article titled, The Effects of Diversity on Business Performance, Thomas Kochen states: “There is little point in continuing to ask whether diversity’s impact is naturally good or bad. Instead, managers and researchers alike should recognize that diversity has become an inescapable social fact and figure out how to maximize its benefits while minimizing its negative effect.
” (Kochan 3-21) With today’s continually growing global economy, diversity is as important to the business organization as profit margins and the consumer. Anyone that claims that they don’t have the time or the energy to concern themselves with diversity is forfeiting future performance. Some of the costs of this attitude are smaller output, missed openings, a deal gone astray, legal action, or a soiled community representation. More times than not it is the small things that makes the biggest difference. When diversity works for our benefit, the small things yield great results.
I have learned that diversity is important. I was mistaken in my thinking at the beginning of this class. However, diversity should be important not just because it is ethically right, but because it will increase a business’ efficiency and produce a competitive advantage. It will increase company spirits and self esteem among employees. It will promote creative thinking and can largely prevent groupthink (A phenomenon occurring when creative thinking is absent in a group setting due to lack of individual thinking and input).
I believe that critical thinking, the capacity to resolve problems, and our ability to live well and efficiently with one another in a global community all depend on being exposed to different points of view. We need to recognize and be taught by these different perspectives. This needs to be at the heart of a successful organization, be it a school, family, business, or community. One of Wheeler’s main points in his article is that if diversity is to be successful, everyone involved needs to accept and embrace the diversity strategy.