Say that you have employees and/or customers who speak English as a second language. Can you pronounce their names? Speak some common words or phrases in their native language? If the answer is yes, you are showing signs of embracing diversity.
For leaders, embracing diversity means they must do far more than merely accept the existence of diversity. To make diversity work, they must embrace it, and this starts by modeling good diversity skills, by showing respect and appreciation for the differences among the people they lead, and by helping others accept and value these differences.
Fundamentally, embracing diversity translates into showing respect for others and their differences. Tolerance for uncertainties (haziness) in language, styles and behavior, is at the top of a list created by William Sonnenschein, a diversity expert and author of “The Diversity Toolkit.”
So for the employer who has Latino customers and employees, as an example, it makes a significant difference when he or she is able to pronounce names and common words in Spanish. A friendly “Buenos Dias” makes a nice welcome in the morning as does “Buenos Tardes” in the afternoon and “Buenos Noches” in the evening. Using such phrases and pronouncing them correctly, represents a key step to embracing diversity. Learning a new language is also fun!
Another important key is flexibility. When situations are new, difficult or challenging, do you show flexibility? Do you give your employees and customers added time and assistance for adjusting to change?
Self-awareness represents another point on Sonnenschein’s diversity embracement list. A person must understand his or her own reactions and know what they bring to the diverse workplace. Perhaps you like to wear expensive clothes; how do you feel about the employee who would rather dress comfortably than model your expensive image? What is important to you may not even be on the radar of your employee or customer. The whole world does not enjoy dressing formally – so are you being unfair in your evaluation of others who do not dress exactly like you do?
Empathy is another requirement. Are you capable of feeling what someone who is different from you might be feeling in new or strange surroundings? What about the new employee who comes to the XYZ Company from a country of extreme poverty. Will they truly feel welcome at a large cocktail party after their first day of work? Or overwhelmed? Or even frightened? Can you imagine how you would feel in their shoes?
How would a new mother returning to work after having a baby feel if she did not have an appropriate place to use a breast pump? Sound bizarre? Recently in Iowa, a company refused to allow a woman to use their “special” lactation room because she didn’t fill out a form that required three days notice to use such a facility.
The woman finally had to leave work (and quit) because of the physical pain she was in due to her employer’s insensitivity.
Are you patient? Some cultures (actually most) do not consist of Type A racers, requiring a manager’s adjustment if the working relationship is going to be successful.