Inclusive education

Melt pot or salad? Fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace – it just makes "cents!"

As children in elementary school, we learned that America is a “melting pot,” a nation of immigrants, welcoming every year hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children of different countries, races, and religious backgrounds from all over the world. Many of our ancestors came across Ellis Island hoping for change for a better life. A miner from Naples, Italy came to upstate New York and brought the leather glove business with them. What about thy?

While finishing up my leadership studies many years ago at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, a professor asked us the question: Is America a “melting pot” or “tossed salad?” He asked us to choose one or the other and stand up for our position…which led me to think very differently about what diversity means. Read on to see what I picked…

We hear a lot about “diversity” these days. In many organizations, much attention and effort has been given to promoting diversity by increasing the representation of people of color, women, and other groups in the workforce. However, simply increasing the numbers represented in any community is not sufficient to make a real difference in individual or organizational performance.

For most people, “diversity” means those differences that we can see. It’s so much more than that… It’s also about what we can’t see – disabilities, different experiences, personality and management styles, lifestyle choices, and perspectives. Diversity is present in almost every organization; However, the differences are rarely fully understood and are rarely considered or used as an asset.

The issue becomes more about just diversity (those things that make us different) in the organization. It is about understanding the true meaning of diversity and its powerful impact (both positive and negative) on individual and organizational performance. And the end result…

What then is the true meaning of diversity? Diversity relates to our worldview or, more simply, how we see the world on three levels. Ask yourself these three questions to determine your worldview. (1) Who am I? (Things we cannot change – race, gender, ethnicity, age, sexual preference, different abilities (physical/mental), etc.), (2) What do I choose? (religion, education, family lifestyle, physical appearance, language, etc.) and (3) Who am I in the workplace? (Job title, Company employee, Self-employed, Cube-dweller, Fancy office, Manager, Non-manager, etc.) These three levels influence our thoughts, behaviors, and outcomes of any given situation, at home, at work, or at play.

Surveys indicate that very few people today feel welcome or able to contribute their full range of skills, experiences, ideas and opinions to their workplace. As a result, few people fully invest most of their energy in their job or in the organization! Today, more than ever, what’s wrong with that photo?

Changing an organization’s work culture is not something that can be achieved with a new mission statement, employee handbook, employment policy, or mentoring program. It requires new ways of thinking about, working with, and behaving towards people, as individuals, in teams, inside and outside and at all levels of the organization. It’s about “P2P” (People To Person Communications) and creating a positive work environment where our differences and similarities are appreciated and fully utilized.

It is about creating and maintaining an inclusive work environment where:

o People feel a sense of belonging

o People feel respected, valued and seen for their identity

o There is a level of supportive energy and commitment from leaders, peers, and others so that all people can do their best work

Diversity is not enough without inclusion. Simply put, diversity = differences. Inclusion = action. And action is the key word! Every day, we can contribute to a more inclusive work environment through our individual actions by becoming more aware of the biases, attitudes, and behaviors implicit in every situation or interaction. Most importantly, we need to recognize and respond to situations in which co-workers, suppliers, and customers do not feel included.

Inclusive workplace environments that leverage diversity and practice inclusion not only show that it’s the right thing to do, they also see measurable positive change, such as improved morale, higher levels of productivity and customer service, reduced turnover, and improved results. It just makes “$cents!”

In this year of change, the “new normal” and survivorship syndrome, let’s try to take a period of time each day to better understand and strengthen the bonds that bind us, as people first, despite our differences. In addition to gaining a deeper understanding of each other and developing a greater sense of connection – “P2P” – we will create the positive energy between us needed to survive, thrive and make positive changes in our homes, workplaces and our world.

What do you think? “Crucible” or “peeled salad?” For me, the “melting pot” situation means that people’s differences melt together from intense heat and pressure to form a large, unhealthy ball and clog up arteries, making it difficult to see or appreciate the individual components any longer. I choose to think of variety as “tossed salad.” The colorful components, the various internal and external, alone are wonderful, but when combined with others and characterized by tolerance, understanding, and hope, they make for a wonderful and healthy way to live and work! Which one determines your workplace?

What can you do to make a difference? Start first thing tomorrow morning by greeting everyone you see and calling people you know by name. It all starts with a simple “Hi”.

A positive workplace means business! It just makes “Cent$!” ®

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