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Changing perspectives in organizational diversity

Issue is founded on basic physiological, safety needs


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Diversity is such a relevant topic that it’s difficult to open any media source without being inundated with diversity concerns, questions, or opinions. Case in point — this article!

While much of the content presented is informative, what I’ve found to be missing is material that might challenge a reader to consider their perception, and then potentially re-consider it, after consuming the content. This is my purpose — to provide a perspective and have readers reflect on their own viewpoints of diversity in the workplace.

Simply stated, organizational diversity refers to the varied makeup of a workforce. Some of the dimensions considered include gender, ethnicity, age, race, sexual orientation, marital and parental status — to name but a few.

Using the definition above to guide our dialogue, let’s review the following stance in relation to diversity, and while you’re reading, consider whether you can relate:

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“Organizational diversity is a fad and is perpetuated by people who choose to make excuses, or create drama, rather than work hard to earn their success. There is nothing wrong with the way things are, and people have to stop being so sensitive to every little thing.”

I thought we could explore this notion a little further in terms of organizational diversity as a fad, and how the status quo and hard work relate to opportunities for success.

Is organizational diversity a fad?

Although workplace diversity is certainly a hit with our current media outlets, it is not a new concept, nor is it a fad.

A fad can loosely be defined as something that large groups of people feel strongly about but is typically short-lived and unfounded. Issues of workplace diversity emerged from the inability of various groups of people to participate, provide and develop, due to discrimination in its various forms.

Many scholars cite that organizational diversity originated in the mid-1900s with President Truman’s employment equality legislation in the armed services, followed by the U.S. Civil Rights Act in 1964. Without settling on a specific date, the reality is that diversity in the workplace was born with the Baby Boomers and is not likely to phase out like the poodle skirt.

It could be argued that organizational diversity is founded on the most basic of human physiological and safety needs, and that it continues to make headway in our society in alignment with our heightened psychological needs of love, esteem and self-actualization.

Principles of psychology tell us that there is an innate necessity within each person to belong, to gain respect and freedom, and to achieve at their highest level, regardless of what the external world tells them is probable.

Because this internal desire is what drives the need for diversity, the probability of the related dialogue disappearing without meaningful action — and perhaps, someday, resolution — is low.

Status quo and hard work

Regarding the status quo being sufficient, I respectfully disagree.

What may be comfortable and sufficient for one, can create incredible roadblocks and struggles for another.

To be satisfied with the status quo means finding it acceptable that Canadian women have fewer opportunities for full-time employment and career advancement, and lower pay (approximately 80-85 cents to the dollar) for roles that are equal to their male counterparts.

It means being comfortable with the fact that — gender aside — Canadian minorities are facing the same issues regarding employment, advancement opportunities and pay, despite having adequate qualifications and experience.

Oftentimes, if not directly impacted by these issues, it becomes easier to believe that anyone could gain success if they simply work hard, stop playing the victim, stop making excuses and stop taking every little comment to heart. And perhaps they could.

Complex reality

But before accepting this stance, I ask that you consider the following situation (that granted, oversimplifies a complex reality, but also highlights it):

I’m organizing a competition. I’m going to select seven participants from each “dimension” of diversity, with each person having identical qualifications to ensure everyone has the same opportunity for success.

While competing, each person works hard and uses their qualifications to help them succeed. But as the finish line nears, there’s a twist. Instead of allowing just one winner, I’m going to allow multiple winners so I can build my team.

Very loosely based on typical leadership employment statistics in Canada (acknowledging the broad ranges throughout specific industries and organizations), I’m going to allow the following winners: seven males and three females. However, at least 70 per cent of the winners must be Caucasian, Canadian-born, heterosexual and without notable disability.

If you are not impacted by these issues, then luckily in the situation above your chances of acceptance onto the team are great, even if you finished the competition after most other participants.

But could you look at this situation and be comfortable with the chances of the people who trained as you did, were as qualified as you were, who competed as you did, and who made it to the finish line before you, only to be unjustly turned away?

Because this is the status quo. Even without “excuses” of child care or being too emotional, and without simply being too sensitive to “jokes” about race or sexual orientation, these participants just didn’t have the same opportunity for success.

The bottom line

Diversity is a relevant topic, and one that personally impacts millions of Canadians who are either employed, or seeking employment.

Though I recognize that there are always outliers, my belief is that the majority of those who are engaging in the organizational diversity dialogue are not seeking a handout, nor are they asking for an advantage in the race.

They are simply striving toward an equal opportunity at the finish line, so they too, can meet their psychological needs of belonging, growth and prosperity.

Joan MacMillan, CRSP, is an occupational health and safety instructor at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton.