These wise words spoken in the South African parliament not long after
democracy was embraced in the country. As much as this sentiment has had immense implications for
South Africa, so too can we all draw meaning for our efforts at harnessing diversity in the
Opportunity for all
Is it not every individual's right to be afforded opportunities to put forward their best efforts?
To develop their potential? And to show their worth through the results they produce? Not only is
this a moral and ethical imperative but, within many countries, a legal one too.
Simple statistics clearly indicate that in this way we can exponentially enhance the performance
within our organizations. It would be a fool who ignores the potential of all employees and does
not allow the competence levels to be increased, nor the performance to be realized. By
implication, it means that those previously disadvantaged in a global or national context need
concerted efforts to accelerate their development and exposure so that they can more fairly compete
in an extremely competitive global job market.
The danger, of course, is that through these efforts, a mass produced "sausage" product emerges
that solely reflects the existing culture in an organization. A strong message emerges then that
"we will tolerate your diversity here so long as you behave just like us!" By this very action, we
lose out on the true richness that diversity can offer us in the way in which we do things (our
organizational culture) at work. We need to open ourselves up to new and different ways of doing
things, not prematurely judging them. Then we need to embrace those aspects that will give us the
competitive edge in our markets, and impact positively on our company results and profile.
Responsibility from all
Diversity is termed "The condition of being different" (Webster's Dictionary). This definition
conjures up images of a dreaded illness, whereas, in fact, the management of diversity is the
process of successfully managing people who are different. It is the act and practice of leading
different people in attaining organizational and personal goals.
How much better it is then to view diversity as the opportunity of being different. But with
opportunities come responsibilities, in any situation.
The condition of being different does not mean that one is right and the other is wrong, or that
one is superior and the other is inferior. Being different only adds another perspective or
dimension to a situation. The responsibility that goes with managing diversity is to identify and
use the added value of individual differences in a positive way to meet the needs and objectives of
an organization. Each individual and grouping has added values that need to be identified and
utilized in order to improve productivity and efficiency, and reduce the interpersonal dysfunction
that inevitably seems to plague different people who must work together.
There also exists mutual responsibility with regards to diversity. It is not just within the realm
of management to ensure diversity is effectively harnessed. Diverse individuals must also stand up
and be counted. Only by everyone working together and bringing their "added value" to the
organization can a new enhanced organizational culture emerge.
Community from all
Having a strategic shared vision in any company helps to keep all employees focused on the goal.
However, having the strategic vision is not enough. There needs to be strategic alignment
throughout the organization to ensure that individual and team efforts will result in the goal
In order to integrate efforts, cohesion amongst the workforce becomes an important issue. However,
what we must not confuse is "cohesion" and "sameness". Sameness will engender a group think
mentality. Without new and creative ideas, the growth and potential of any organization will be
stifled. Cohesion gained with diverse people will create energetic, creative and innovative teams
working towards a common goal - an unbeatable combination!
For is it not as M. Scott Peck writes in his book The Different Drum: "In and through community
lies the salvation of the world...as the only way to achieve international peace...(is if) we learn
the basic principles of community in our own lives and personal spheres of influence."
Have you ensured that you don't have a melting pot scenario at work? It is time to move away from
blandness to a mixed texture in the workplace that enriches not just the organization, but each of
us as human beings as well.
Take up the challenge now!
We have worked with many organizations that have a diverse staff compliment, and can
help you transform your diversity management program, and enhance your business and strategy
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