With diversity, everyone is relevant

By MICHELLE T. JOHNSON
http://michelletjohnson.com

Special writer to The Kansas City Star

Through the end of the year I will be looking a little more deeply into the definition of common terms that come up when discussing workplace diversity. Let’s start with “diversity” itself.

Although I’ve written about it in this column for several years and directly and indirectly defined it, people still seem confused. Or rather, my definition goes against the common, comfortable, self-centered way that people are used to thinking about diversity.

Most people think of diversity as a synonym for “race relations.” If they are particularly cynical or hate the very idea of it, then they think of diversity as another way of saying “affirmative action,” which really makes a negative in their minds.

My definition of diversity that I train with is layered and involved, and provides a great starting point for discussions in my workshops and longer writings.

But in a nutshell, it’s about difference — the difference between two people that can or does affect how they approach their jobs. Everything from the small difference of a person who has an assigned parking space to the person who has to circle the lot to find a decent space.

Diversity is also about the differences that are large and societal, such as race or sex. Recently I visited the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, N.C., and trust me, there is nothing small in seeing film footage and photos of the horrific things that Americans have done to Americans in the name of racial superiority.

Though the remnants of that legacy still leave their mark and have mutated into new dynamics of discrimination, it’s not just the big differences that count.

One of the difficulties of dealing with diversity is that it requires one to look at comparisons. That’s why the common definition of diversity is often self-centered.

People have a tendency to look at it through the lens that either supports who they are or potentially harms them.

But when diversity serves to simply determine difference as a measure of bringing several viewpoints or frames of reference into a working situation, it can be seen as a positive and not a threat.

Or to paraphrase something I recently read, if two people think exactly the same when trying to solve a problem or address a challenge, one of those people is completely irrelevant.

Diversity is about making everyone relevant.

Read more: http://www.kansascity.com/2011/09/19/3153953/with-diversity-everyone-is-relevant.html

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