Diversity is any difference among people that could have an effect on the success of a team. For example, differences of gender, ethnicity, and age are often cited as important types of diversity.
Reasoning about situations that involve diversity can be challenging because it can be hard to tell which differences will matter. Will gender, for instance, make a difference? What about age or ethnicity? And what effects might other factors have? For example, do all women think alike? Do older people behave differently from younger people? It can be difficult to collect reliable information about these questions when there are few women or minorities in the workplace. However, even though we cannot measure the effects of diversity directly, we can look for patterns in data and make reasoned arguments about what those patterns suggest.
Consensus on the basic elements of a workable framework can be reached by viewing diversity as comprising three elements:
- Diversity of backgrounds (genetic heritage, socialization, cultural tradition, etc.)
- Diversity of abilities or competencies (capacities to learn, perform, or contribute)
- Diversity of personal characteristics (attitudes, values, interests, etc.)
Addressing diversity starts with a clear understanding of what diversity means. Diversity is not merely a matter of numbers. Rather it is about the variety of perspectives, backgrounds, and ways of thinking that people bring to organisations, groups, friendship circles and more. And it's about the benefits we can reap when these differences come together.
Organisations that successfully build a culture of diversity:
- Value and respect differences in perspective, background, and way of thinking from diffrent people.
- Build on the strengths as well as the differences of individuals.
- Know that managing diversity is a continuous process that requires attention to detail as well as big picture goals.
What society needs in order to fully realise the benefits of diversity is a commitment - a real commitment - to treating diversity as a core part of our mission.
Diversity should not be a "touchy" subject in the world we live in today. Diversity doesn't mean treating people differently; it means treating people fairly. And that's something we as South Africans need to work at every day.
You may also wish to read: