Redefining diversity is the only way to get buy-in from society

A good friend of mine once said that “talent and diversity are interchangeable”. But there is a problem in how diversity is now perceived by society in general.

We are starting to hear more and more that the world’s gone mad, and that political correctness has taken over all aspects of our lives. We are at the pathetic stage where people are afraid to say ‘black coffee’ for fear of attracting a complaint. Just what is this all about?

As a black African Caribbean, I can honestly say that I don’t know any black person who would take offence at that. So could it be that the fear of using the term ‘black’ in a perfectly legitimate and non-discriminatory way has been fuelled by those individuals who believe they know what’s best for black people?

Bolt-on solution

As the majority of our private and public sector organisations were on the scene way before the majority of the current discrimination legislation came into effect, diversity has been seen as a bolt-on solution to ensure they are representative of our communities, and as a tool for limiting litigation.

Where the organisation has failed the individual in respect of its duties under the discrimination legislation, the failure is usually placed in the diversity box, for remedial work to be carried out on the individuals deemed to be at fault.

More often than not, individual leadership skills are not called into question, only the individual’s respect and appreciation for diversity.

But surely leadership and respect for diversity are inextricably linked, as we are talking about appreciating and valuing people for who they are, their values, experiences, beliefs and their unique insight and perspective into any given situation or set of circumstances.

There is now a fear associated with anything to do with diversity and the associated training, and this fear is increasing with the introduction of more legislation and duties year after year.

Could this fear be due to the fact that most people don’t see diversity as being of any relevance to them as individuals?

Redefining diversity

We need to redefine what we mean by diversity to make it relevant to the needs and personal development of all individuals. To do this, I propose that diversity be categorised into three areas:

  • Individual characteristics: This could be described as including the common strands of diversity, such as age, gender and race.

  • Values and beliefs: That part of an individual that explains their thinking, behaviour and responses to life and relationships.

  • Personal life experience: That which makes an individual unique, usually underpinning their values and beliefs.

The recognition of personal life experiences – a difference that we all possess – will make the diversity experience real for all individuals something they will be able to identify with without feeling excluded. It would at the same time send a message that diversity is about the personal development of leadership skills.

Real organisational development and growth will only happen if we embrace all differences by recognising and acting upon individual needs.

Unrestricted potential

The time is right to stop restricting the development of talent because of a failure to recognise when our discrimination extends outside those legislative parameters that we all know too well.

Limiting the progression of individuals whose class background and values – or even the make of their car – are not the organisational norm, is just as destructive as if the reason had been race or gender.

Ray Powell, acting head of operational equality, diversity and human rights, National Policing Improvement Agency

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