By Gillian Sadler on February 11, 2015
‘Diversity tolerance’ is a concept we are very familiar with and the aspects that usually pop into our heads when we think about this are race, gender and perhaps disability and age. However, moving away from these ever present diversity issues, have we given much thought to the fact that diversity is, well, much more diverse than that? Furthermore, have we made positive growth in this area? And is too much diversity tolerance a bad thing?
According to the Miriam Webster Online Dictionary, diversity is defined as:
• the condition of having or being composed of differing elements : variety; especially : the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization…
• an instance of being composed of differing elements or qualities : an instance of being diverse…
However diversity encompasses many other aspects such as health, nationality, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, religion, culture, language, physical attributes etc.
According to the Miriam Webster Online Dictionary, tolerance is defined as:
• capacity to endure pain or hardship : endurance, fortitude, stamina
• sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own
• the act of allowing something : toleration
• the allowable deviation from a standard…
The very term ‘tolerance’ can have negative connotations in that it implies an acceptance, or enduring of, something different (diverse) and perhaps uncomfortable. The truth is, no matter where you go there will be people different to yourself and we will always encounter prejudices and biases, within others and within ourselves. Tolerance of these differences is a good starting point, and in the workplace especially, it is a necessary one. Being able to recognise when something makes you uncomfortable about someone else, to realise that they have a right to be that way and to learn to tolerate it is a step in the right direction; it’s the bare minimum we can do. However, to move from a point of tolerance to a point of celebration is an even better one. This is when positive growth may occur.
Strength lies in differences, not in similarities – Stephen R. Covey
The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.
– University of Oregon
Some may say that too much tolerance is a bad thing, that these days anything goes, you are allowed to behave in any way you want to, say whatever it is you wish and believe what you believe and it must be tolerated. This is an extremist point of view and one that doesn’t function in the workplace. Diversity tolerance is more an attitude of accepting that others are different from oneself and that they require the freedom to be that way, providing that this does not infringe on another’s human rights or harm another person.
The way forward
So how do we move from a place of diversity tolerance to a place of diversity celebration? Well, being a global community, we are already in this process, albeit at varying stages:
1. Fully understand the concept of diversity before trying to implement it
2. Be aware of the positive benefits of diversity
• out of the box thinking / innovation
• having the skills to target a diverse market, which like it or not, is your customer base now
• global/ international thinking
• the opposite of diversity is uniformity – how boring!
• the world is becoming more interconnected, thanks to affordable air travel and the internet
• more and more human rights are being recognised, such as gay marriage
3. Be aware of, learn to recognise and manage the negatives of diversity
• Bullying/ violence / harassment
• Lowered productivity
4. Management and HR need to constantly work towards creating an environment that celebrates diversity whilst still creating cohesion and similarity in terms of common organisational goals (this is very important!)
Moving from diversity tolerance to celebration is a difficult road, especially considering the multitude of different individuals on this planet, all harboring unique and ever changing prejudices and biases. At the end of the day, there is more to be gained than lost when it comes to diversity and we all have a responsibility to work on ourselves in this regard. So celebrate what you can and are already comfortable with, tolerate the rest, but never stop working on that list!
P.S. Our Value Orientations (VO) assessment is a fabulous tool to use in team assessments (not only in recruitment decisions) and may facilitate diversity tolerance and hopefully celebration!