Monday, August 03, 2009

What does the word "diversity" mean to you?

Sometimes the same word can mean different things to different people. I think diversity is one of those words. Some think of it as something we have to do for the sake of political correctness, other's are so passionate about the idea of it, they have made it their full time jobs. [For the sake of transparency, I have to share that I'm actually considering trying to make it a full-time job.] There are websites and discussions devoted to diversity, and there are lots of consultants who help companies develop their own diversity goals/programs/initiatives. Some think it's the latest flavor of the month in the business community; while others believe it is the key ingredient for success, especially in the economic downturn.

When I first heard the word diversity, it was actual from the original Star Trek TV series. IDIC stood for "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations" and so my first thought was appreciation for things different from me. Then we started doing diversity training at work and I learned all about bias (whether on purpose or subconcious), group identities, that some groups have more power than others, and all sorts of specialized diversity vocabulary to understand the dynamics of power in the corporate environment.

I was skeptical at first, but in the midst of it, I realized that from my perspective, here was a huge company doing the right thing and trying to make sure that all its employees were valued and appreciated. It didn't always get it right, but the leaders were truly trying to make a difference. So I did a lot of learning about diversity because I thought that would be one of the greatest things in the world, to help everyone be understood and valued for their contributions and the content of their character instead of some group they happened to be a part of.

And during my learning, I figured out how to listen without judging first. I learned to talk about things that used to be very uncomfortable for me. I think this work is about respecting people first... that you have to truly listen to someone and speak from your own point of view so that both of you can learn to understand each other. Yes, it's also about learning how to avoid bias and oppression. But I think political correctness takes it too far. That's why some of my favorite shows (Mind of Mencia, Southpark, etc) are horribly politically incorrect... but they do so to everyone. There is no target that is not off their radar. In fact, in one of Carlos Mencia's specials, he discussed a show he did for a disabled audience. And he started doing all of his jokes except for the "deet ta dee" ones. He tells how he got called out by an audience member about not telling the jokes, so he started doing them a little here, then more and then the full repertoire. The audience was laughing so hard at the end. During that show, he had an ah hah moment: If he couldn't tell those jokes in front of that audience, he would have had no business telling them at all.

Doctors have said that laughter is the best medicine. I think we should learn to laugh more at ourselves. For me, diversity is about trying to understand other people, to work better with them at home, community and/or work, but I think it's also about learning to laugh together.

So that's what diversity means to me. How about you?


  1. I think it's a matter of simply being objective.
    Growth can only occur if one honestly constantly examines their belief systems and evaluates their integrity. This is where many simply go astray, they alter their perceived reality to fit their belief systems instead of vice versa.
    Humor IS a comfortable way to get people to do this.

  2. Thanks, Ben. You made me think of the quote: "The unexamined life is not worth living." I believe that came from Socrates, and if not, Plato.

    I also love how you interpret diversity as a form of personal growth. It's definitely been a huge amount of personal growth for me the last few years. As a trainer, I always tried to include humor in whatever I was delivering. Once I started working in the diversity world at my former company, I realized that I censored myself a lot at first because I was worried about saying the wrong thing or hurting someone's feelings. That self-censorship felt wrong, and while it was what we called "raggedy" at the office, we finally started speaking from our hearts. While we may not have always said it "the right way," we always tried to learn from one another and we all assumed that if language from some of us was raggedy, it was from a place of good intent and that we're hoping someone would help us out with our understanding.

    Whew... Didn't realize it was so late. Let's hope these comments stand up to the light of day... which should be happening in just a few short hours... sigh. sometimes being a night owl is for the birds. = )

  3. Anonymous3:55 PM EST

    Tams, you asked the LinkedIn "Agents of Diversity Change" group to weigh in.

    The value I saw from a corporate perspective was that diversity represented the humanizing of the workplace. Traditionally, we have been workers first, male and female a VERY distant second... and almost everything else we were expected to "leave at home" in the name of professionalism. With the advent of the diversity movement, it began to be OK to have a personality, a gender, an ethnicity, an orientation... in short, to be people who were working, not just workers. That was what really hooked me. But then I was always running a quiet revolution under the radar.

    In the broader context, I see the diversity journey as one of expanding our sense of "us" while decreasing our sense of "them." When we have a sense of some commonality - any commonality - even if that is just a shared smile or laugh or groan, then we have something to work with. We can begin to shed the defenses, to show up "real," to be more of ourselves and see - hopefully also appreciate - more of others.

    -Mark Vanderpool

  4. Mark, I hadn't thought of that humanizing the worker perspective, and I think you're right. I would also propose that differences among generations could also be a factor that would contribute to the humanizing of the workplace.

    From your broader context perspective, I think you said perfectly what I was trying to describe in my original post. Thanks and I hope you'll let me quote you in the future.


Greetings! Thanks for joining in the conversation on my blog. Please know that I am all about listening and not judging. Please follow the Golden Rule when posting. Be kind to others and if you disagree with me or another commenter, please do so politely. Thanks and have a lovely day!