Today’s workforce is becoming increasingly diverse, with employees and leaders coming from different backgrounds and with different levels of ability. Many leaders know that diversity is becoming the norm, but do not necessarily pursue or embrace it. Some leaders even treat diversity as simply a legal requirement forced on them by national quotas and fail to see the positive way diversity impacts organizations.
In essence, diversity describes a number of characteristics that affect an individual’s values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. Experts often divide diversity into “primary” and “secondary” characteristics – primary meaning the individual did not choose to be associated with a given trait, and secondary meaning the individual did. Primary characteristics include, but are not limited to: age, ethnicity, gender, ability, race and sexual orientation. Secondary characteristics include current geographic location, military experience, work experience, income, religion, second language, organizational role and level, communication style, family status, work style, and education.
When diverse people come together in a work environment, they bring with them all the knowledge and experience gleaned from their primary and secondary characteristics – the traits they were born and raised with, and those they intentionally adopted.
It is up to leaders to create an inclusive atmosphere in which diverse employees thrive. When leaders assure that all employees are able to access the same resources, and that processes are inclusive and do not prevent anyone from fully participating, then individual employees will take greater risks in expressing new and different positions, giving the organization a larger pool of ideas from which to draw. Over time, leaders can devise new programs and new processes to take advantage of a broader set of options, as well as reflect greater ownership by those who participated in their formulation. In workplaces that provide full participation in the development of decisions, employees are more committed and motivated to achieve the goals they helped create