Diversity and Cultural Awareness
Building a Diversity Centric Culture
Many organizations talk about their commitment to a more diverse and culturally aware climate but have no practical plan to bring it about. Although the path to building a positively diverse culture will clearly vary from one enterprise to the next, it is suggested that there are six very specific and progressive steps that need to be taken. These steps act as either a good “audit protocol” to assess how far any current initiatives are going or a broad “route map” for organization that may have yet to start.
Step 1 – Build initial awareness and an open climate: Any individual or organization that wants to bring about a greater appreciation of the prevailing levels of diversity (and to benefit from it directly) needs to start by building a strong foundation of awareness as a solid base for their diversity pyramid. This awareness foundation is built by understanding the different ways in which people, or groups of people, can look, feel and act, and by becoming aware that a climate of open, mutual trust needs to be established to ensure that this is seen as a strength to foster, not a weakness to be attacked.
Step 2 – Assess current levels of Inclusion: Individuals and groups make many decisions in the organization and agree to take certain actions every single day. If the decision-making processes are controlled by only a few people, or biased towards only one or two majority groups, the risk is run of disenfranchising the so called ‘minorities’, or of subordinating their interests and input. Inclusion involves not only ensuring that all individuals and groups are given an equal voice, but also ensuring that every opinion is genuinely valued and considered to be worthy of equal consideration.
Step 3 – Build levels of Tolerance and Understanding: Once awareness has been raised and people have been included in organizational decision-making more equally, the depth and breadth of people’s diversity of beliefs, stated views, actions and reactions will be better appreciated. However, appreciation does not necessarily lead to tolerance and/or understanding. As a result, both individuals and the organization as a whole will need to actively defend peoples’ right to offer a different view and reject intolerance of any kind. In addition, more effort needs to be invested in thinking about why people hold their particular views and perspectives.
Step 4 – Appraise Degrees of Empathy: Empathy represents the highest level of understanding about another person’s beliefs or viewpoint. It therefore reflects on an individual’s ability to put themselves in the shoes of another person and to make a sincere and positive effort to appreciate the entire context without applying a limiting ‘stereotypical’ view by which an issue may be being judged or perceived. Empathy is created by showing warm and genuine interest in the opinions of others and looking to understand the unique underlying feelings and beliefs that may underpin words and/or actions.
Step 5 – Evaluate the Degree of Structural Adaptation and Change needed: Whilst it is easy to accept some levels of cultural and general diversity in relation to our own perspective, and to accept greater understanding of diversity occasionally, it is of little sustained value until cultural awareness fundamentally and permanently adapts and changes individuals, teams, departments and the organization as a whole. Such adaptation is usually reflected in policies, procedures and principles initially, but should also be visible in the day-to-day practices of every individual (so that these become the ‘normal’ role models of behavior).
Step 6 – Have Persistence and Commitment: Even concerted effort to establish the diversity and cultural awareness ‘pyramid’ does not necessarily lead to sustained success. Bias, prejudice and discrimination may continue to prevail in less visible ways and can act to undo much of the ‘good’ work invested in changing attitudes. Individuals and organizations therefore, have to maintain their commitment and persistence and to become entirely intolerant of negative reactions from others. In addition, they need to ensure active and on-going cultural learning, as it is through deeper education that we truly change ourselves.