If you want a top job you need to understand diversity

Dec 18, 2015

Diversity is just as much about out-of-the-box thinking as it is about different cultures

In our last blog we talked about the workplace being more culturally diverse due to globalisation and migration. Of course, this applies to university life too, and to life in general. Diversity at work or at university can offer many exciting opportunities and benefits as different talents, skills, ways of working and outlooks are available to us. It’s good to be aware of and to be able discuss diversity when you’re attending a job interview – especially if you want to work for a global organisation.

What does it mean to understand diversity? Well, you should also be aware that our country of origin fundamentally affects the way we think, our attitudes and our behaviours. So we must take care to ensure we don’t misunderstand each other when working as part of multicultural team, and we must ensure we work within an ethos of mutual respect.

Obviously, if employers don’t promote a climate of respect at work, then productivity, the quality of work and happiness will all decrease. We need to feel appreciated and understood at work to be happy. So we need to be clear about what we mean by showing ‘respect’ for each other.

Trying to understand diversity – it can be complicated!

This is a complicated issue because ‘respect’ for one culture can mean something different for another. Therefore, we need to have some knowledge of each other’s cultural backgrounds for ‘respect’ to work, or we may take offence at something someone does when in fact it wasn’t meant to be offensive at all.

One example comes to mind: patting a child on the head and saying ‘Well done’ in the UK is quite a friendly thing to do. But if you come from Thailand, for example, then patting a child on the head is seen as being extremely rude and insulting as it’s like touching a child’s soul. So disrespect isn’t always deliberate, and actions can be misinterpreted.

Tips for making the most of diversity

It’s therefore vital that you play your part in nurturing an ethos of respect in the workplace or at university, and this is only possible by putting into place some simple steps:

  1. Try to get to know your colleagues’ cultural backgrounds and try to find out more about these. Promote an environment of learning and discovery to encourage mutual respect.
  2. Encourage others to be tolerant of and sensitive towards each other’s beliefs and attitudes.
  3. Try to compile a list of cultural behaviours that might be deemed offensive to others in your team (like patting someone on the head, as mentioned above).
  4. With your colleagues, put together a charter that pinpoints how you’re going to show respect for each other – and review it from time to time.
  5. Make sure your future employer creates opportunities for people not only to express their views but to listen to the views of others.

Diversity and out-of-the-box thinking

Of course, diversity isn’t just about race and culture. Diversity can be about personality too. All of us know someone who’s completely whacky, eccentric and an original thinker – someone who makes life more interesting and worthwhile.

Originality is to be welcomed and appreciated, but sadly this isn’t always the case. We only have to look at our secondary schools to see that if children stand out in any way, they can easily become targets for bullies. If children are seen to be too tall, too short, too shy, too eccentric or if their hairstyle is deemed to be inappropriate, then their lives may become very difficult at school as it is during the teenage years that, socially, it’s important to be seen to ‘fit in’.

But it’s those very qualities of originality and individuality that can bring so much freshness to the workplace. Every organisation needs their creative, innovative thinkers. So promoting an ethos of respect and tolerance – and, more than this, a genuine admiration for individuality and diversity – is essential at work or at university, not just because we all come from different backgrounds, different countries and different cultures but because we’re all unique and extraordinary in our own right.

What qualities or talents do you possess that make you unique? Make sure you explain to your future employer what you can add to the diversity of his/her team.

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