Diversity defines America. From the census to the break room, it doesn't just boil down to the color of your skin; diversity includes age, race, culture, gender, sexuality and values. Workplace diversity is not only unavoidable, it's beneficial. With a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints comes a greater pool for problem solving, creativity, and innovation, and a truly diversity-conscious company will welcome the variety. Improving diversity consciousness in the workplace is critical to a successful work environment, and it simply means that employees are not only aware of diversity, but they are also embracing it. Hiring policies and diversity plans may already encourage diversity in your team, but you can set examples to ensure it thrives.
Communicate. Transparency and openness are crucial to diversity consciousness. To gain awareness of different cultural groups, employees should know where their peers come from. This allows them to relate and better understand each other. If an employee or peer celebrates a holiday you've never heard of, ask her about it. If an older worker grumbles about how things used to be, don't dismiss him; ask him instead how he thinks an old idea could benefit a modern workplace. Be inquisitive, and accept questions about yourself without getting defensive or argumentative. Increased transparency leads to increased awareness and empathy.
Nip the pack mentality at the bud. People naturally associate with others in similar cultural groups, which inhibits them from becoming conscious of the diverse views surrounding them. Mix up your floor plan so that people from diverse backgrounds share the same space. For group projects, assign people from varied backgrounds to work together; they'll gain more cultural understanding, and the project will benefit from a variety of distinct perspectives.
Encourage each individual to express his or her ideas. When you're conducting group meetings, make sure you sample opinions across the board rather than targeting one cultural group more than others. Specifically, ask your employees for new ideas, many of which will come from individual experiences, sparking group discussion about personal backgrounds. Encourage this discussion to foster understanding among your team which will, in turn, foster productivity.
Share you own stories. Although acceptance of others is critical, it's alright to maintain your own cultural identity. Let your co-workers know where you come from and what aspects of your culture and background inform your personal perspective. Lead by example to encourage others to be more open about their unique backgrounds.
Take discrimination seriously. Don't accept racist, sexist, ageist or other remarks or acts as unavoidable water cooler fodder. If your workplace facilitates discrimination -- even in a small capacity -- it will create a breeding ground for larger issues. Take action immediately as employees who regularly get away with discrimination can do a great deal of damage in a short period of time. Once your workplace has fully embraced diversity consciousness, your workplace and everyone in it will benefit exponentially.
- weLEAD Online Magazine: The Importance of Diversity in the Workplace – Part 1
- BBC News: Encouraging Diversity at Work
- California State University Dominguez Hills: Managing Cultural Diversity in the Workplace
- BLR: Simple Steps to Support Workplace Diversity
- Bill Say: Article: Diversity Consciousness and the Process of Wholeness
- ACT Government: Respect, Equity and Diversity Framework
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
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