Too often, diversity awareness becomes lists of differences. Black or White, Hispanic or Non-Hispanic, Asian or long lists of “Others.” Male, Female, Transgender. Gay, Straight, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Queer. Democrat, Republican, Independent. Christian, Jewish, Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim. Disabled, Differently Abled.
Over time, more terms and categories emerge – and each individual brings combinations of diversity that makes them unique. At the same time, special awareness days, or designated months, highlight different groups in an effort to highlight their unique history and cultural stories. These can lead to both positive and negative reactions, depending on how people want to be perceived – as someone unique and different, as someone who is part of a larger collective or as someone who really doesn’t like to be labeled.
This makes navigating diversity a bit of a challenge in the workplace. Is it best to acknowledge, ask about and openly discuss sources of diversity? How far should this go?
- Should White leaders be expected to make a point of saying “Black Lives Matter”?
- Should managers make a point of posting pride stickers in their offices to communicate support for LGBTQ employees?
- How should we talk about accommodations made for someone with invisible disabilities when others complain about someone getting “special treatment”?
- Should teams with devout Jews and Muslims avoid putting up Christmas trees in the office?
Now, think about how you reacted when reading this blog.
- When you read the first paragraph, what label, if any, caused a negative reaction? Did you notice any groups you thought were missing?
- How do you personally feel about special awareness events or days, weeks or months – either as a member of a group being celebrated, or as someone who does not belong to a “celebrated group”?
- What was your instinctive reaction when reading the questions about how to treat Black people, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities and people with religious differences?
There are no right answers to these questions. They are a starting point for understanding our biases and behavior, for engaging in our workplace events and for asking ourselves how to best bring out the humanity in each individual we meet.