A British street dance troupe, winners of Britain’s Got Talent in 2009. Celebrated and positively valued for their unique style and choreography. They also won the Families United Positive Role Models at the Spirit of London Awards. Why do we see differences as positive and negative? Why aren’t they just different?
Valuing diversity in the workplace, just as in other aspects of our lives, is becoming increasingly more important. Recognising group and individual differences and assigning positive value to them is key to the health and wellbeing of a workforce – valued, fairly treated employees make for motivated ones.
Diversity comes in all shapes and sizes and includes gender, race, disability, religion, sexuality, class and age. As we are evolving as an ever-more diverse society, our response to situations and individuals requires measured appropriateness and sensitivity. At the same time there is a case for over-thinking or pussyfooting around that may also cause offense to some people. So how do we get the balance right?
I think awareness and openness is the biggest player when considering our wide set of differences. I watched an interesting documentary about disability, where a woman with a facial disfigurement highlighted a social situation that, handled differently, could have had a much more positive outcome.
Whilst out shopping, a young boy asked his mother, “what’s wrong with that lady?” to which the mother hurriedly hushed her offspring and scuttled away. Perhaps we can forgive this reaction? The mother of the boy wasn’t out to cause offense or be vindictive, more likely she was embarrassed and didn’t know what to say. Upon asking the woman who had the disfigurement, she suggested that a preferable response would have been for the mother to explain there wasn’t anything ‘wrong’ with her, she was just different. Or, just ask her son to put the question directly to her, instead of his mother, allowing her to explain herself.
The point being, there’s a lot to answer for when we hide in the safety of shadowed and darkened corridors, when really we should take the plunge and bask in the light of an open door. It might seem hard to do, but there are so many accomplished people, doing so many challenging things every day – how is this any different. If we get it wrong then we can admit it and feel wiser than yesterday and change our response accordingly. By eliminating prejudice we can create a fairer society that everyone can participate in and fulfil their potential, ensuring equality.
Coming back to the workplace – there can only be a positive gain. If we stop running away because we fear offending people, imagine the benefits it might bring, the workforce we might empower, and the unharnessed talents we might deploy. There are so many issues around diversity and equality, but applying a holistic approach and opening our minds means we can fish in the complete pool of talent – and do it with the light on.