Diversity in the Workplace

The attitude toward racial unity in the United States has advanced significantly since the historic speech given by Martin Luther King Jr. in August 1963. Our own city celebrated the 50th anniversary of the "I Have a Dream Speech" with a Unity March and tribute in downtown Springfield on August 28th, 2013. In the 50 years since his speech was first given, our nation has had a hard fought move in the direction of racial unity. In the workplace, creating an inclusive environment often focuses on the visible, although contrasts in backgrounds have always extended to other types of personal differences as well.

When we reference 'workplace ‘diversity’ what do we really mean? Ask a range of people and you are sure to get a range of answers. Diversity has traditionally been thought of in terms of the ‘visible’ differences between people, such as gender and race. Diversity is about those differences, but this narrow definition ultimately short-changes what it really means. Diversity is about what makes each of us unique and includes our backgrounds, personality, life experiences and beliefs. In fact, diversity is about all of the things that make us who we are. It is a combination of the visible and invisible differences that shape our view of the world, our perspective and our approach. This broader view of diversity is encapsulated by the idea that diversity is really about diversity of ‘thought’ – where different perspectives and capabilities are the point of difference, rather than our visible characteristics.

So what does this mean as we consider workplace diversity? A lot. It offers a more inclusive and engaging discussion than one focused on visible diversity, which is a single focus and often divisive. This shifts the question from ‘How can increasing gender and racial diversity help us improve work outcomes?’ to ‘How rich is our knowledge bank?’, ‘Do we have the variety of perspectives necessary to deal with complex problems and create innovative solutions?’ and ‘Are we fully valuing and leveraging the potential of all our employees?’*

Focusing on diversity of thought enables us to see people as individuals rather than as representatives of a group and this helps us to find common ground when working together.

(* "Re-examining the business case for diversity," Deloitte.com)


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