By Bryan Orr
Let’s get a few things out of the way before I get started. I am a white, middle aged, hetrosexual, Christian male. I’m of average height and weight and I can’t dance. I have never felt discriminated against in any substantial way and I have never experienced poverty, let alone systematic poverty or oppression. This may be the reason that discussing diversity in the workplace makes me uncomfortable.
I can’t think of any cases where I have discriminated against anyone, so when I think of discrimination or bias I am quick to conclude that is has nothing to do with me, because I interact with a person on their merits alone and not based on their race, nationality or religion. But if I’m being honest, I know that I’m more comfortable around people who look and sound like me, not because I think they are more valuable, but because I understand them better.
As I have matured it has become more evident to me that I have bias inside me that is hard to notice, and it can often cause me to remain in my comfort zone instead of embracing change.
While I am far from perfect there are three areas that have helped me grow outside of my comfort zone.
Color Blind Won’t Cut It
I grew up thinking that “color blindness” was the goal. A utopian world where we all just ignore the differences and embrace every person on their merits alone. The issue here is the way we look at the world, what we value and how we process experiences can vary wildly based on our experiences.
If we are not intentionally going out of our way to become familiar with people who are different than us than they will always feel inferior based on our own experience. Being “color blind” perpetuates the bias we are trying to overcome because it pretends to be blind to the differences.
Don’t Focus on You
Diversity means that we need to focus on something greater than how it makes us feel. Sure, institutionalized racism and bigotry have happened, do happen and will happen. We can either put our heads in the sand and wish it away, or we can overcome it in our own circles of influence. This means be intentionally focused on the feelings and perspective of others ESPECIALLY when it is not a perspective you share.
Diversity is More Diverse Than You Think
Diversity is more than hiring people of different races and religions. Diversity is purposefully seeking out differing viewpoints so you have a cross section of humanity instead of an ideological echo chamber of one viewpoint. This is as much about ideas and experiences as it is about the color of someone’s skin or their country of origin. A business that allows for many different perspectives will be much more flexible, strong and resilient than one that is in lock step with the leaders at all times.
How do you think about diversity in the workplace?