What is diversity? On the surface, it appears to be a real simple answer. Merriam-Webster defines diversity as ‘the condition of having or being composed of differing elements: variety.” In our work that translates to having different people, views, and perspectives present at the table. But given so many people are struggling with the issue of diversity, here are three components of diversity that should help you as you embark on creating diversity in your work environments and in your personal lives.
Diversity is Difference
Plain and simple, diversity is “difference.” If you have a room of all white males it doesn’t mean there is no difference present. It does mean that there are some specific differences not present. The key to valuing diversity is acknowledging the differences that are present and not ignoring the differences that are not present. In many organizations, we have a real problem talking about differences. This is because we have been conditioned to believe that difference is bad or that difference causes conflict. On the contrary, it is the intentional disregard for differences that causes discord in our organizations.
The reason we want women at the table, we need women at the table, is that many times they will see a problem from a different angle. But because we devalue differences, we believe those new opinions will hurt the project in time and money when in fact they will save the project in time and money. When a company is designing a car, and they have all men at the table there will be things men will not see or even care about in that design that will be important to women. Does this mean that the car company doesn’t have differences at the table? No, it means the company has figured out how to grow with the differences among men but have not figured out how to grow with the differences among men and women. The men will debate horsepower, stick-shift versus automatic, and even interior comforts and the company will roll out a new vehicle each and every year. But that same company has to figure out how to incorporate women to add an additional layer of difference. Difference is good! Ignoring differences is bad. Companies cannot grow stifling differences.
Diversity is Dimension
How is dimension distinct from difference? In this case, we are using difference to apply to groups of people – Men, Women, Whites, Latinx, Blacks, and LGBTQ+. When we talk about differences in the context outlined earlier, we acknowledge that there is difference between groups as well as within groups. This was for the purposes of illustrating that not all members of a group are the same. Dimension is a more appropriate term for the difference within groups and that is how the term is used here.
In the same way, a company accommodates different White men with the understanding that not all White men are the same, is the manner in which companies should look at other groups. Many times, when we seek diversity we see the difference without seeking the dimension. Dimension is important because there is diversity within groups and a failure to acknowledge that can lead to hiring one woman for diversity’s sake. The reality is she can’t speak for all women. The pressure a company puts on an employee who is supposed to represent an entire segment of people is enormous. Companies must seek dimension when seeking diversity. Important to this line of thinking is when hiring, the women should not all come from the same school or the same sorority. Companies that recruit women (or any group) mostly at “feeder schools” run the risk of having women with very similar experiences, which can limit the innovation and success of an organization. When we say “similar experiences” we are not insinuating that these women don’t have full independent lives separate from one another, or are limited in capabilities, but rather that there are other women with a whole other unique set of experiences not available to your organization because the aspect of dimension has not been considered or is not a priority.
Dimension is not a new concept but it is a critical one. Successful companies look for difference and dimensions.
Diversity is also Development
It is not enough to have difference and dimension without development – which is simply defined as growth. If you hire difference and dimension but your culture values sameness, there will be little to no development of your people. Your people may develop different skills but the goal and real value are found in developing different ways of thinking. Developing differently to approach problems is the keep to growth, individually and institutionally. The real value is developing an appetite for difference and dimension among your people to cultivate innovation and transformation. When your people begin to seek difference and dimension they will begin to notice who is not at the table – what voices are not represented. As a result of that recognition, they will either seek that missing representation and/or work to provide a perspective of that representation as a step toward greater diversity. The whole reason we seek diversity is to develop our people to be the best they can be and they can’t be developed fully if they are surrounded by the same types of people.
Diversity is Difference, Dimension, and Development.
Written by: Reggie Ponder