By Annelieke Jense & Frouke Horstmann

The Dimensions of diversity

There is so much more to diversity than the obvious, like are we male or female, the colour of our skin, our nationality and what we find interesting. We each have a wide range of dimensions, some are internal dimensions, such as your gender, age, physical ability and sexual orientation. We also have external dimensions, for example your social status, education or location. We then have dimensions around an organisation; your role, function, political affiliation, seniority or experience. And the list goes on.

Whilst only a little bit is visible to others, as in the image above, those identifications are so important. In a way they help us define ourselves and give us a sense of who we are. They underlie how we think, how we behave, how we perceive situations and others. Thus it is really important to realise what dimensions we gravitate towards, what do you find important.  

Frouke for example, identifies with the full-time working mom and feels part of the pragmatic generation.  And based on her experiences this past decade, Annelieke identifies strongly with entrepreneurship and her education as a psychologist.

The ‘power’ of identification

An extreme example of identification was the recent incident involving a teacher being trampled in France. On the bottom line, this had to do with identification in the belief of freedom of speech and an identification in religious beliefs. It showed how our identifications can lead to misunderstandings with others when our core values and the basis for identification clash.

A negative consequence of self-identification, is we tend to see “others” as not only different, but opposite to the views we hold. Frouke, identifying as a pragmatist, could find those who are not, slow or long winded. As a full-time working mom, she could assume mothers not working full time, as having more time for themselves.  Mothers not working full time could again assume Frouke is not as close to her children. 

Annelieke, a driven entrepreneur, could assume people who do not work as being spoilt with an easy life and could even be jealous of what she could assume is a predictable life, unlike entrepreneurs who can never be completely prepared for the future. We all have an assumption about people that are not “you”. 

We human beings, unconsciously and not necessarily with bad intent, try to make sense of the world. We are looking for patterns to make meaning out of all we see and experience. Unconsciously, we tend to fit ourselves into an “in” group and place others in an “out” group. What happens when we view people as “in” or “out” groups, is we see people in the “in” group, as very different, even unique, yet generalise about the people in the “out” group, seeing patterns.  

In your “in” group you feel comfort, warmth and trust and can behave intuitively. With your “out” group, you are more on guard and ready to disengage. An example of this homogenous view of the “out” group, is the discomfort Frouke feels when training people from Asia as she struggles to link names to faces – a discomfort also held by her Asian colleagues who have the same struggle telling her and Annelieke apart!

We all have unconscious biases about others, and not with bad intent. What we consider as “right” behaviour, as part of our culture and our unconscious biases, are not seen but have a direct impact on our emotions. This is evident when we consider the strong emotions felt by those, where religion is very important, over a cartoon depiction of the Prophet Mohammed and for those who do not see it as important, it evokes no feelings.  Based on the strength of our emotions, we display different behaviours.

And the thing is, we are not wired for inclusive behaviour, but exclusive behaviour!  Inclusive behaviour is tiring and leads to fatigue.  

Awareness about diversity is not enough

The reason we emphasize this point in the journey from diversity to inclusivity is that only increasing a diverse workforce does not automatically guarantee it will produce benefits. There are many factors to consider to minimise the drain on your diverse workforce.

Companies will benefit if leaders:

  • Create a workplace where people feel safe expressing themselves freely
  • Combat forms of discrimination and subordination
  • Embrace a wide range of styles and voices
  • Make cultural differences a resource for learning

Only then will you really benefit from it.  

We see & experience diversity all around us – diversity is a given

Inclusion is behavioural – inclusion is a choice

A deliberate choice you need to make, putting in the effort to override our hardwiring, as your choice impacts the company’s culture.

In our next blog in the series on Diversity to Inclusion, we will discuss how to set an inclusive organisational culture.  We invite you to follow us on LinkedIn, check out our blog page for original content and actionable insights or contact the authors (Annelieke Jense &Frouke Horstmann) to continue the discussion.

 Copyright by TPCL (2020)