Diversity Awareness and the Art of Inclusion

Perfect Business PartnerI recently attended a diversity awareness training session where I learned that one of the cornerstones of diversity is “inclusion”. Inclusion, according to one definition, is the “understanding, respecting, valuing, and accommodating of human and cultural differences to maximize the potential of each employee for the good of the business”. This is my favorite of the four diversity cornerstones (the other three being Outreach Programs, Equal Employment Opportunity, and Affirmative Action) because it is the most basic and it can’t be regulated. I discussed this with a friend who said, “If we all got real good at practicing inclusion we wouldn’t need the other three!”

Case Study

I was in the lab the other day observing different groups of people to see first hand how my fellow employees were practicing inclusion. This case study involves four groups of people. Each group was diversified in terms of race, culture and/or gender. One group in particular intrigued me more than the rest. It was the group comprised of just two people and I somehow found it the most diverse of all the groups.

Group One:

Ayesha DharkerShe was an attractive Asian-Indian young lady with a dark brown complexion (she looked like actress Ayesha Dharker). He was a dark skinned African-American. They were engaged in conversation and she seemed highly focused on him. She was looking right at him the whole time, smiling as she spoke and laughing at some of the things he said. He seemed to be less engaged, maybe that was just his way. One of the things that intrigued me was that she had been dating a different African American fellow who happened to be as light skinned as this one was dark. I began to wonder if darker Indian women were held in less regard in Indian society than lighter Indian women and if that had any impact on her preferences in men. But what did any of this have to do with practicing the art of inclusion for the good of the business? Very little, but still I was intrigued.

Group Two:

This group was made up of three young white guys, a Chinese-American guy, a very young, cute, white female intern, and an older, over weight, openly gay white woman. I found this to be a very inclusive group. They seemed to understand, respect, value, and accommodate human and cultural differences.

Group Three:

This group consisted of a tall, bald, chatty black guy, a taciturn visitor from Japan, and an exotic looking, copper-toned lady from Venezuela. I found this to be a partially inclusive group in that the guys were pretty much ignoring each other. They did at least seem to understand, respect, value, and accommodate her and she seemed to reciprocate.

This may have just been because men can’t think straight in the company of beautiful women and beautiful women can’t help but appreciate attention.

That brings us to the last group which, despite being the most experienced, I found to be the least effective in terms of being inclusive.

Group Four:

This group consisted of the following individuals:

Ron – a confident, assertive, extroverted black man in his forties.
Joyce – a somewhat attractive, intelligent, insecure, white woman in her thirties.
Purvi – a confident, beautiful, and reserved Asian-Indian woman in her forties.
Gloria – a serious, anal retentive, white woman in her thirties.
Keith – a confident, assertive, introverted white man in his thirties.
Frank – who hails from Kentucky, is an old fashioned, quiet man in his sixties.
Rich – an intelligent, quiet, business-like man in his forties.

Ron’s aggressive style did not sit well with Joyce or Gloria. He didn’t mean to but he was capable of bringing them to tears with a single rampage. His style did not sit well with Keith; they sometimes found it difficult to find common ground. But they did respect one another, if only grudgingly. Ron tended to avoid Frank but got along fine with Rich and Purvi.

Joyce’s relationship with Ron and Keith was dysfunctional; she sometimes let her emotions get the better of her. She practically ignores Gloria and Purvi. The respect she showed for Frank and Rich wasn’t returned.

Purvi is a pleasure to be around. Her even temperament allows her to work with all of the different personalities in the group.

Gloria can be a pleasure to be around until things don’t go her way. She is very difficult to reason with and as such finds it difficult to work with Ron and Keith. She interacts with Joyce only when it is absolutely required. She gets along great with Purvi, Frank and Rich (as long as things go her way).

Keith can be demanding but is usually fair. His even temperament allows him to work with all of the different personalities in the group (as long as you’re not getting in the way of progress).

Frank, the team leader, is still grappling to understand and accept the new initiatives to diversify the workplace. He feels that Ron can sometimes be too big for his britches but he tolerates him because he does get the job done. He greatly admires Keith and Rich. He treats the ladies as a true gentleman of the South would treat a lady. He may be retiring soon.

Rich is a pleasure to be around. His even temperament allows him to work with all of the different personalities in the group (even when someone is getting in the way of progress).

Conclusion

My conclusion is that the newer, younger generation of engineers (or workers in any profession) is more capable of practicing inclusion and more accepting of diversity in general. The older generation has come a long way in terms of understanding, respecting, valuing, and accommodating human and cultural differences to maximize the potential of each employee for the good of the business, but there is plenty of room for improvement.

About me…

RC Bonay

 

10 Responses to Diversity in the Workplace

  1. Rob says:

    An open mind and a sense of acceptance is the best way to approach anyone inside the workplace or out. But many without even realizing it tend to judge on sight, which can have a bearing on the way they act towards those people.

    We can get on with and have a lot in common with anyone, no matter where they are from or what they look like, and sometimes we can miss out when we don’t let them in because we have raised the barriers for what ever reason.

    You have written a really interesting article that get the thoughts flowing, I enjoyed it, thanks.

    Rob

    • Roland Bonay says:

      Thanks Rob! Glad you enjoyed it. I suppose it’s a natural thing to raise the barrier when we see something that we either don’t understand and or that we were told is something to avoid. It’s a good thing to raise the barrier as long as you’re willing to keep an open mind and a sense of acceptance .

  2. Victor says:

    Everywhere I’ve worked has had a different kind of group of people that created a different dynamic in the group. It seems some people gravitate towards certain personalities and some avoid others. It sounds like most the problems with inclusion in your tests were because of personality differences and not always cultural differences. Is this what you concluded as well?

    • Roland Bonay says:

      Hi Victor – I agree that people, when possible, will gravitate toward people they like and avoid people they don’t. Sometimes at work it’s not possible to choose who you work with and cultural differences can make it harder to discover a person’s personality. I’ve found that if you make an effort to discover a person’s personality, despite how different they might seem to you, you’re on the path to establishing a positive dynamic within the group.

      • Roland Bonay says:

        I moved into a temporary cube while waiting for new office space to be constructed. I was the only one there for 2 weeks before I learned I’d have a new cube mate. The name plate suggested he was of Asian decent. I figured he’d be quiet and we wouldn’t have much to talk about. I was wrong. He was friendly, funny and loquacious.

        A week later we learned we’d be joined by another engineer (Hispanic). He turned out to be friendly, funny and loquacious as well.

        A week later we learned we’d be joined by another engineer (Ghanaian). He turned out to be friendly, funny and loquacious as well.

        We got along very well.

        Then I moved into a larger cube and my cubemate said hello and not much else. It’s been several weeks and we seldom speak. I think he’s just shy…he is after all an engineer. He did wish me a good weekend when he left on Friday but he didn’t say anything when I asked if he had a good weekend when I saw him on Monday.

        Maybe he’s deaf in one ear like me.

        • Roland Bonay says:

          Wow, my cube mate must have read this because today we actually had a friendly conversation and discovered that we have a lot in common. The Lord does work in mysterious ways!

  3. Gary says:

    My dad was in his 40’s when I was born, so it was almost like growing up with my grandfather. Prejudice was not only common in his generation but was expected.

    My real grandfather, in his 90’s at the time, was violently prejudice. His proudest moment was when in 1910 he punched an ‘uppity’ minority for getting on the front of the bus in Dallas Tx.

    That is what I grew up with and I was taught to behave that way. I tried, but for me it just didn’t work. Growing up near the Mexican border it was expected that I would not talk to Latinas. But in high school when these Latinas became some of the most awesome creatures I had ever seen I just had to change my mind.

    Those that were in my fathers and grandfathers generation were too set in their beliefs to ever change, even when they tried they failed. My generation, I’m in my 60’s, have done better than that, at least a little.

    One point of confusion I have noticed though is the distinction between prejudice and preference. A young black woman apologised to me one day because try as she might she just doesn’t find white men attractive. I told her there is no need for apologies. Everyone has preferences, and just like chicken some prefer white meat and some prefer dark. That is preference, not prejudice, and there is nothing wrong with that.

    Gary

    • Roland Bonay says:

      Hey Gary,

      Thanks for this beautifully honest comment! And thanks for pointing out the distinction between prejudice and preference. And thanks for acknowledging Latinas for being some of the most awesome creatures you’ve ever seen. Some might view that as sexist but as a fellow man who appreciates women of all cultures I view it as an undeniable truth.

  4. Ben Clardy says:

    having an attitude of acceptance is invaluable in the work place. Our abilities are enhanced when we are able to effectively work with those around us, but in order for that to happen we have to allow others to work closely with us. We can’t be so closed minded. Everyone is different, but we all stand to gain so much when we can work as a close knit team.

    • Roland Bonay says:

      Hi Ben – That is so true. Everyone has a talent and when they are encouraged to share it the team benefits. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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