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Melting Pot Or Tossed Salad? Fostering a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace – it Just Makes “Cents!”

As kids in elementary school, we learned about America being a “melting pot,” a nation of immigrants, each year welcoming hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children from different countries, races, and religious backgrounds from around the world. Many of our own ancestors came through Ellis Island with the hope of change for a better life. Mine came from Naples, Italy to upstate New York and brought with them the leather glove trade. What about yours?

While finishing my leadership studies degree many years ago at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT, a professor posed the following question to us: Is America a “melting pot” or a “tossed salad?” He asked us to choose one or the other and defend our position…which started me thinking very differently about the meaning of diversity. Read on to see what I chose…

We hear so much about “diversity” these days. In many organizations, much attention and effort has been given to promote diversity by increasing the representation of people of color, women and other groups in the workforce. However, by just increasing the numbers represented of any population is not enough to make a real difference in individual or organizational performance.

To most people “diversity” means those differences that we can see. It’s much more…It’s also about what we can’t see – disabilities, different experiences, personality and management styles, lifestyle choices, and perspectives. Diversity exists in just about every organization; differences, however, are seldom fully understood and rarely regarded or used as an asset.

The issue becomes more about just having diversity (those things that make us different) in an organization. It’s about understanding the true meaning of diversity and its powerful impact (both positive and negative) on individual and organizational performance. And bottom-line results…

What then is the true meaning of diversity? Diversity is about our global view or, simply stated, how we see the world on three levels. Ask yourself these three questions to determine your global view. (1) Who am I? (things we cannot change – race, gender, ethnicity, age, sexual preference, differing abilities (physical/mental), etc.), (2) What do I choose? (religion, education, family lifestyle, physical appearance, language, etc.) and (3) Who am I in the workplace? (title, corporate employee, self-employed, cube dweller, posh office, manager, non-manager, etc.) These three levels affect our thoughts, behaviors and outcomes of any given situation, at home, at work or at play.

Surveys indicate that very few people today feel welcome or able to contribute their full range of skills, experiences, ideas and opinions in their workplace. As a result, few people fully invest the bulk of their energy to their job or the organization! Today, more than ever, what’s wrong with that picture?

Changing an organization’s work culture is not something that can be accomplished through a new mission statement, employee handbook, recruitment policy or mentoring program. It requires new ways of thinking about, working with and behaving toward people, both as individuals, in teams, inside, outside and at all levels of the organization. It’s about “P2P” (the people-to-people connections) and creating a positive workplace environment where our differences and our similarities are fully appreciated and utilized.

It’s about creating and sustaining an inclusive workplace environment where:
o People feel a sense of belonging
o People feel respected, valued and SEEN for who they are
o There is a level of supportive energy and commitment from leaders, peers, and others so that all people can do their best work

Having “diversity” without “inclusion” is not enough. Simply stated, Diversity = Differences. Inclusion = Action. And action is the key word! Every day, we can each contribute to a more inclusive workplace environment through our own individual actions by becoming more aware of our implicit biases, attitudes and behaviors in every situation or interaction. More importantly, we need to recognize and respond to situations where co-workers, vendors, and customers do not feel included.

Inclusive workplace environments that leverage diversity and practice inclusion not only demonstrate that it is the right thing to do, they have also seen measurable, positive change, such as improved morale, higher levels of productivity and customer service, reduced turnover, and improved results. It just makes “cent$!”

In this year of change, “new normal’s,” and surviving survivor syndrome, let’s try to set aside a period of time each day to better understand and strengthen the ties that bind us, as people first, despite our differences. In addition to gaining a deeper understanding of each other and developing a greater sense of connection – “P2P” – we will be creating the positive energy among us needed to survive, thrive, and make positive changes in our homes, our workplaces, and our world.

So, what do you think? “melting pot” or “tossed salad?” To me, the “melting pot” stance means people’s differences just melt together from intense heat and pressure to form one big, unhealthy, artery-clogging glob, making it more difficult to see or appreciate the individual ingredients any longer. I choose to think of diversity as a “tossed salad.” The colorful, inwardly and outwardly different ingredients that, alone are terrific, yet when combined with others and dressed with tolerance, understanding, and hope, make for a terrific, healthy way to live and work! Which one defines your workplace?

What can you do to make a difference? Start first thing tomorrow morning by greeting everyone you see and calling those you know by name. It all starts with a simple “hello.”

A Positive Workplace Means Business! It Just Makes “Cent$!”®