Diversity: Perspectives to Consider and Tools for Understanding Difference

By Tina Harkness, CWCC Member

Diversity goes beyond the commonly thought of differences in race, color, sex, religion, age, disability, genetic information, and national origin protected by civil rights and affirmative action laws.  Simply put, diversity is all the ways that we are different from one another.  Employers gain many benefits from having a diverse workforce.  A variety of viewpoints can lead to increased adaptability, better attraction and retention of workers, and a broader range of services.  But, differences can also lead to disagreement and misunderstanding.  Employers who recognize the importance of workplace diversity can support employees encountering differences by giving them perspectives to consider and tools to build understanding.

Employers should explain to employees that there can be a difference between their intent and the impact their behavior has on others.  Employees should be encouraged to consider first how what they do or say may be taken by others.  Employees should be reminded that we base our assessments of a situation on our intent which is known only to us and others base it on the impact what is done or said has on them.  We must adjust our behavior and communication as necessary to ensure that intent equals impact.

Employers should also explain that when we get a reaction that we do not expect from someone, we have a choice to either make a judgment on our own about why the person reacted that way or to be curious and find out why from that person.  Which path we choose affects our relationships, outcomes, and level of understanding.  Often using our own judgment leads us to a negative evaluation of the person’s reaction.

Below are tools that can be used to keep us on this path of curiosity:

  • Ask respectful questions but accept that others may not be comfortable sharing.
  • Paraphrase to reflect your understanding of what was said.
  • Notice what message the person’s body language and tone of voice are sending as well as his or her words.
  • Take time to observe differences in behavior carefully before rushing to judgment.
  • Check your assumptions before acting on them.
  • Beware of stereotypes or pre-conceived notions which may affect your behavior.
  • Assume that others have positive intent.
  • Be aware of how your cultural perspective and mindset influence how you experience difference.

Workplaces are only becoming more diverse with time.  Giving employees perspectives and tools for understanding differences may prevent disagreements and misunderstandings and help organizations fully leverage the benefits of a diverse workforce.

Christine “Tina” Harkness, Employment Law Staff Attorney, Mountain States Employers Council
MSEC is the nation’s largest employers association.  MSEC provides services, products, and experts to solve management’s employment law, HR, training, and survey needs.

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