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Most people think of diversity in relatively narrow terms. The dictionary describes diversity as the state of being diverse; variety or the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc. Diversity is multi-dimensional and extends well beyond this definition. I am a woman of a particular race, age, sexual orientation, wealth, and could be among those quite similar, all while missing the deeper context of diversity within even this group; our temperaments, interests, values, aspirations, work, politics, religion, and much more. So, “What are the depths of diversity, and more importantly, how do we bridge with each other in the vast complexity that is diversity?”


Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible – the kind of atmosphere found in a nurturing family.”

Virginia Satir, Author and “Mother of family therapy”


“We don’t need a melting pot in this country, folks. We need a salad bowl. In a salad bowl, you want the vegetables – the lettuce, the cucumbers, the onions, the green peppers – to maintain their identity. You appreciate differences.”

Jane Elliot, An American Diversity Educator


Here are key dimensions related to diversity that provide a much broader context than is typical for understanding. Within each below, there is a wide range of interpretations, resulting feelings, beliefs, and ways of operating:


Cultural. Every one of us is a product of our collective experiences, including how we interpret them in our particular cultural community. We could be a Siamese twin in the same country and home and come to completely different conclusions about our experiences. Despite this, often we are generally and predictably conditioned by our unique cultural environment. Culture colors beliefs about power and authority, gestures and body language, use of time, being vs. doing, competition vs. cooperation, and how conflicts should be resolved. Each culture has shared traditions and observances, accepted norms, and basics such as the kind and extent of personal space, diet, priorities about the role of individuals vs. the collective, and what can be flexible vs. what must be structured.


Organizational. We are shaped by our organizations and the beliefs and practices within them. How will power be used? Who is governing and being governed? What psychology is used? What is the work, location, use of technology, fields, job classifications, pay, tenure, hierarchy, divisions, departments, management and staff status and responsibilities, work experience, unions, affiliations, and organizational culture? Everyone has a different idea of what these should be and why. Many don’t think of diversity in terms of organizational practices and norms. Workplace culture is the playground of LifeWork Systems. We recognize that organizations are evolving and that each of these characteristics, including the human systems for how people think, feel, speak and act, needs to be defined and intentionally chosen to meet the needs of people and organizational objectives in this 21st century. While diversity is an advantage, for the evolvement of culture, it is also helpful to identify the consistent kind of model and implementation of it so that everyone shares a common language, concepts and tools for mutual support.


External. We are shaped by external conditions such as our neighborhood, income level, class, religion, marital, family, and military status, wealth, the weather, hobbies and habits, appearance and style, education, work, peer pressure, communication, including language and accent, and political party affiliation to name just some factors. Many of us do not experience how different this is from country to country and even between various regions within the same state, city, county and neighborhoods in various parts of the world. In order to consider our own diversity, it helps to expand our exposure to the contrasts offered by others and their external realities.


Internal. While there is some fluidity in these, internal factors are generally immovable, such as gender, identity, race, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin, and physical and mental conditions and abilities. These are additionally complex when our culture, organizations and external settings influence our experiences. Common understandings about each are often acknowledged, but our tendency is to relate to our own internal features to the exclusion of understanding, recognizing, and validating the differences in the internal variances within others. Where there are immovable characteristics, diversity lies in understanding, acceptance, appreciation, or conversely, rejection of them.


Personality. Personality is defined by the lens in which each person views the world, colored by priority values, and how one rates, leverages, and operates from them. For example, I view the world through a priority for competency logic, and systems. Another prioritizes stability, reliability, and responsibility. Another freedom, fun, and results. Another, spirituality, inspiration, and relationships. All are needed but each person’s unique personality informs the ways to function and how one likes to be treated, what causes stress, and how one best leads, and communicates.


So again, “How do we bridge with each other in the depths of such complex diversity?” The importance of these five dimensions necessitates adopting a causal way to operate together so that we respect, honor and appreciate diversity in all its depth and nuance. Rather than neglect or violate each other in our differences, we grow informed, considerate and recognize differences with delight. How to do this is imbedded in consistent, healthy culture practices that ensure relationships are equitable, psychologically safe, and inclusive. Only then does diversity strengthen, complement and improve all aspects of life and work for ourselves and others, locally and globally.


Why People Hire LifeWork Systems

Business owners, community leaders, and educators hire Lifework Systems because they want the advantages of an extraordinary workplace and recognize a systems approach ensures consistency and sustainability in the transformation process. They know that conscientious employees grow your business and improve your reputation, giving you competitive advantages. We help organizations instill into every person a common language and toolset for how to participate in a responsibility-based Teal workplace. Visit our website at www.lifeworksystems.com, and click the link at the bottom to complete a culture assessment and schedule your first consult to review a report on your feedback, all at no cost.  You can also contact Judy Ryan at 314.239.4727 or at judy@lifeworksystems.com.

This article is published in the column The Extraordinary Workplace produced by the St. Louis Small Business Monthly, in July 2023