Diversity Awareness and the Art of Inclusion
I 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!”
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.
She 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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