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Embrace Diversity as a Manager

By: Scott McBride - Updated: 15 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
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Diversity in the workplace is not just about male and female, black and white, gay and straight, young and old or Muslim and Christian. It has more to do with the individual traits and strengths of each member of staff.

Rather than think about diversity in terms of equal employment opportunities or affirmative action, a manager should use the diversity that exists within their team to capitalise on the strengths of each employee. Simply enforcing government regulations will not allow a manager to get the best out of their team. These are just laws and policies, but by valuing, understanding and making the most of the individual differences found in each team member, a manager can get a competitive edge.

The challenge for a manager is to get their employees to realise that to become the best they must embrace diversity. Great teams use the full potential of every individual, and team members must be able to rely on others within their team, no matter how different another person may be. Each team needs thinkers, dreamers, controllers, doers, analysers, organisers, team builders and strategists to reach their goals. It does not need infighting and mistrust.

Training Can Resolve Conflict

Many of the problems in the workplace arise not because people cannot do their jobs, but because people cannot get along with one another. A lot of this conflict can be resolved by effective training in subjects such as diversity, communication and people skills that allow staff to understand each other and develop good team skills. Every team member must be able to not only understand and work with other team members, but want to work with them.

For many, embracing diversity can be a considerable challenge. This is because of deep-rooted bias and prejudice that can shape perceptions and influence how individuals view and respond to others. When this bias guides perceptions of what people can and cannot do, it becomes harmful. Even the best training cannot erase many of these deep-rooted beliefs, but it can help people to become aware of them and make a conciseness effort to change.

Embracing diversity is more than tolerating people who are different. It means actively welcoming and involving them by:

  • Actively seeking information from people from various backgrounds and cultures in order to develop a broad picture. Include everyone in problem-solving and decision-making processes.
  • Generating an atmosphere that encourages people to ask for help. The best teams do not view those asking for help as weak, but draw on one another’s strengths to reach goals.
  • Including all types of people in informal gatherings such as spur-of-the-moment meetings, lunch and coffee breaks.
  • Creating a team spirit that every team member can feel a part of.

When building a team, a manager should try to make it as diverse as possible. Of course, there are diversity jobs and equality jobs in many larger organisations now, and in this case a manager may get assistance from a diversity manager or consultant. If a manager is left to fill new jobs with people like them, it can be similar to inbreeding in that it multiplies the flaws within a team. On the other hand, having an assorted group of individuals can diminish the flaws of others and it is for this reason that many of the new employment opportunities in diversity jobs exist.

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