Sunday, March 01, 2009


There is a lot of ignorance about the true benefits of diversity. If asked, people might define it as equal opportunities, equal chances, fair treatment, respect. I have even encountered educated people who ask me 'what's diversity'!

In truth there are no short answers. But if we recognise that all organisations depend on people and their quality and integrity as its very core, then diversity starts to take a whole new world of meaning. Because if we are dealing with people, then we need to understand what it is that really stirs them from the inside - what they believe in, value, like, dislike, and so on. Until we understand that and acknowledge it, we will be working superficially rather than holistically. In reality, this is where most organisations operate - they have a goal, and want to use people to get there. They feel dealing with people's cultures and values is messy and for some, maybe even a breach of their privacy.

Let us take the example of the current financial crisis. How much emphasis was given to evaluating the ethics of bankers, their integrity? What about the economists who teach and write on banking matters - how much do they care about the impact of their writing on society? Are they doing their work just for themselves?

Diversity is about understanding and respecting culture, harnessing the variety of opinions for the steering of the organisation, and building trust and values to make the culture truly global and open. It is not about 9-5 but 5-9 - what the employeed lives and breathes outside of work and how those passions can be harnessed. It is by nature soft, non-mechanical, even unpredictable, but therein also lies its strength. Diversity can cushion an organisation during difficult times, opening new horizons, new ideas for getting out of the mess.

Yes, organisations need to do cultural hedging, improve cultural competence, and see culture as a way of building sustainable wisdoms.

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