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workplace diversity

'Real diversity isn't just skin deep': Why we need a more thoughtful approach

Diversity is more than just ticking a box at interview stage, writes Alice Murray.

shutterstock_374798917 Shutterstock / Shutterstock / /

WHEN YOU PICTURE DIVERSITY in the workplace what do you imagine? Is it a startup filled with people from all over the world? A tech company with equal parts men and women? Or a corporate business that has employees aged between 21 and 61?

The true meaning of diversity actually lies somewhere in the middle.

What is diversity?

It’s not found in reaching religion quotas or a having a head count to see just how many ethnicities you can fit into a room. Real diversity runs much deeper than that. It’s more important than the colour of your skin and it’s much, much harder to define.

In today’s world we have become accustomed to thinking about diversity as a buzzword. Another item on the HR checklist that companies must carefully tick off. It’s a necessity for businesses in the 21st century to at least appear diverse. But how many companies actually stop to think why it is important?

Are we losing the true meaning of diversity to facts and figures? Are we starting to view talent as mere opportunities to get us one step closer to a reasonable percentage? Have we lost sight of the point completely? I think we have.

Diversity can’t simply be defined by age, sex, nationality, religion, race etc. although that is a good place to start. These things are easy to quantify.

They can be ticked off in a form or found out at the interview stage (at least most of them can). But real diversity cannot be assigned to checkboxes.

Real diversity means diversity of thought, skill sets, personalities, leadership skills, and outlooks. People are more than just their gender or where they are from. True diversity lies in their goals and what they can bring to the table.

Can quotas help?

In the past, diversity quotas served us well. They got more women into boardrooms and more minorities in high level positions but have we outgrown their purpose?

Is it time that we looked at diversity in a broader, more modern sense? Is it time that we really looked at individuals instead of what they represent? I think it is.

Many employers spend so much time focusing on the external concepts of diversity that they forget about the need for internal diversity; diversity of experience, viewpoints, perceptions and motivations.

So, what’s the answer?

How do we overcome this imbalance? I believe the sweet spot lies in combining the two. Diversity practices should be implemented with consideration of both external and internal diversity parameters.

To do this, companies need to sweep aside their prejudices and fully dedicate themselves to diversity with courage and discipline. We need to get away from the established order of things. We need to look at diversity in a new light.

The days of percentiles and “token minorities” will hopefully be behind us soon but until then there is work to do.

Unfortunately we are not at the stage where we can get rid of these procedures completely but the sooner hiring managers and CEOs discover the real meaning of diversity, the sooner the system will move with the times.

Real diversity isn’t skin-deep. In fact, your appearance should have nothing to do with it.

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