As a professional speaker I have been doing student assemblies for a long, long time. I prefer to speak to teenagers but I have done my fair share of elementary assemblies. Those little kids are a lot of fun and easy to please. Normally I have them follow me with a lot of “repeat afters” and self-belief chants like, “I can learn! I can read! I can do math! I can succeed! I can treat others nicely!” One of the things I teach along the way is the fact that it is cool to be different. I ask them what the world would be like if we were all exactly the same. If everyone was named Joe and I said, “Let’s go Joe” who would leave? If we were all the same and ran a race, who would win? Normally I go through, “Some are tall, some are short. Some are fast, some are slow. Some are light, some are dark. Some wear glasses, some don’t. Some play an instrument, some throw a ball. Some have curly hair and some have straight hair and some have NO hair (of course they laugh at me). You get the point. I always ask them again, “What would the world be like if we were all the same?” Their loud answer is “BORING!” And so, I point out in the assembly that we know it is cool to be different but guess what we fight about the most, our differences! Somewhere in a speech to ten-year-olds are lessons for adults and communities.
In the big folk’s world, a synonym for differences is diversity. There is a lot of talk about diversity these days, but just what is it? Mr. Webster defines it like this:
The condition of having or being composed of differing elements: VARIETY especially: the inclusion of people of different races, cultures, etc. in a group or organization.
Considering diversity helps us to be mindful of the reality of, or lack of, a multiplicity of viewpoints or perspectives within an organization. Diversity can also refer to the goal of producing a less homogenized environment. It is certainly related to race and social justice issues, but it is a much broader consideration. We also must consider gender, experience, age, religion, culture, education, sexual orientation, ethnicity, skills, personality characteristics and more. Obviously then, a system can be diverse in some areas and very uniform in others.
It is common to think of diversity in three areas:
- Internal diversity. These are the attributes one is born possessing. Sex, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, mental and physical ability, etc. Some would call these protected characteristics.
- External diversity. These are items that define a person but were not present at birth. Think of religion, education, socio-economics, marital status, experience, etc.
- Worldview diversity. As in the title, this is how one views the world. Involved are politics, world culture, travel experience, language acquisition, and broad ranging belief systems.
What opportunities does an attention to diversity afford?
- We can reflect our society and certainly our partners better.
- We can broaden our influence.
- We can become more productive.
- We can avoid discriminating against protected characteristics.
- We can have greater creativity and be seen as innovation leaders.
- We can experience greater positive outcomes in all areas of operation.
- We can avoid lemming behaviors.
- We can have better performance by individuals and diverse teams.
- We can see blind spots, ask better questions and solve problems more efficiently.
We have an excellent opportunity to contemplate the value of practicing real diversity, not as an annual conversation on Black History Month but as a continual reality all year long.