One of things I love about living in Australia is the rich and diverse nature of the workforce. When I look at our team in the office, however we could be seen as the least diverse workforce in our building. All the faces smiling at me are white Anglo Saxon. However, this doesn’t mean we are not inclusive or open to diversity. When you scratch deeper, in our office you will find a 20 something, a 50 something, males and females, straight and gay, Italian descent, Serbian descent and British. When you look even deeper, you will see wives and husbands of my team who are African, Thai, Maltese and Lebanese.
We also have serious diversity of experience and thinking. The office debates are always colourful. We have left wing politics, right wing thinkers, we have atheists, Buddhists, Christians and agnostics. We have people who have travelled the world many times and those who haven’t ventured out of Australia. We have people who are married, living together and those who live on their own. People with kids and people without. All of this in a team of 10 people. Even though our team may appear homogeneous its actually not.
Diversity brings with it massive benefits, such as challenging the way we think and what we think. When you add even more diversity such as race and disability, we need to become even more open and accommodate the needs and expectations of others.
There are many people or organisations who struggle with embracing diversity. I wonder why this is and I know the answer is not simple. In my view, this has a lot to do with peoples upbringing, who they have been exposed to and their experience of that. Take my dad as an example, he believed he had never met a gay person in his life so he had formed a very negative view of what “gay people” were like. That was until he met a couple of my gay friends. The he said and I quote “I like the gays now”. This meant every gay person was given an opportunity to be a “good” person in my dad’s eyes based on his experience of meeting his first gay couple! I don’t think you can judge a whole cohort based on initial meetings or based on an uninformed view, but as humans we often do.
We tend to fear what we don’t know. Whilst on the other hand we tend to be attracted to what we do know – familiarity doesn’t encourage diversity.
When you are looking to hire, develop or change a culture. Look at what you are doing that encourages openness and diminishes bias, then do more of that. Look at what you are doing that squashes diversity and stop doing that. Once you are aware of bias existing, either at a personal or an organisational level, you have a choice. You can choose to positively do something about it, or you can choose to keep your head in the sand and ignore it. I know there are some fantastic strategies embraced by organisations to promote diversity, equally there are many who pay lip service and carry on discriminating at all stages in the employee life cycle. It’s a bit like there are those who watch the mardi-gras on TV and those who march in it, loud and proud.
In my view for what it’s worth, it’s fun and exciting to meet people who are ’different’ to ourselves. When you meet someone and feel uncomfortable, for whatever reason, be that because they have a different culture, religion, country of birth, religious belief, sexual orientation or they have a disability – remember these people had no choice over where and how they were born. You however have a choice on how you interact with them and your experience of them.