Diversity seems to be a goal that every company is out to achieve these days. Yet as companies begin to broaden their hiring practices in order to achieve diversity, they often find that in solving one problem they have also opened up an entirely new one – creating unity amongst diversity.
As diversity enters into any organization there is a natural tendency for people to quickly separate themselves from those where there are obvious differences between them. When differences exist such as looking different, dressing different, acting different, believing different, etc. people tend to focus wholly on those differences and as a result they find themselves feeling uncomfortable. The common response is to simply avoid those situations and gravitate toward others who look the same, dress the same, act the same, and think the same. So as diversity improves in the organization, unity begins to decline. Yet for any organization to truly be successful, it requires unity.
“Unity is strength…when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” -Mattie J.T. Stepanek
How, then, can a company attempting to grow in diversity find a way to create unity amongst its people?
THE FIRST STEP TOWARD CREATING UNITY LIES IN ONE WORD – TOLERANCE.
Tolerance can be an unsettling word for some as it causes them to feel they are being forced to choose between standing up for their own beliefs, and being accepting of other’s beliefs that differ from their own. But true tolerance doesn’t require one to make that choice. Timothy Keller explained it best when he said, “Tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs. It’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people with disagree with you.” Tolerance doesn’t require that you adopt others attributes, ideas, or beliefs. Rather, what tolerance requires is showing mutual respect and appreciation for others in spite of those differences. For unity to exist, companies must help their people adopt an attitude of tolerance.
“Whether we’re at work, with old friends, at school, in the neighborhood, or at a community center, we need to ensure everyone has a place to live their lives as conscience dictates, so long as they don’t harm others. Not only does giving everyone this space protect our individual human dignity, but it also strengthens the society we all share. We’re at our best as a society when we have a free and open exchange of ideas.” (“When Rights Conflict”)
DESIRE TO LEARN FROM OTHER’S POINTS OF VIEW.
Each person brings different points of view to an organization. These differences can either be seen as annoying or they can be seen as an opportunity to learn. When people choose to have a desire to learn from one another it leads them to listen more intently and to communicate back more respectfully. And the inevitable result is gaining an appreciation for the other person’s differing perspectives.
GAIN AN APPRECIATION FOR EACH OTHER’S DIFFERENCES.
“If we could look into each other’s hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us faces I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance, and care” (Marvin J. Ashton). If we can focus on the commonalities we share with others, rather than the differences, we will begin to see each other in a completely new light. This requires making the effort to see the good in others and looking for qualities in them we can respect and appreciate. With some especially difficult people this can seem like a daunting task, but I have found that most difficult personalities stem from having been through difficult life experiences. This is not to excuse their bad behavior, but simply to suggest that if we can take the time to get to know people and understand the challenges they have been through, it will often make it substantially easier to recognize and acknowledge the good in them.
Being unified, or achieving “Unity”, doesn’t mean everyone has to be the same as one another. Rather it means we all agree to be together in spite of, and while respecting, each other’s differences. The more we treat each other the way we would hope to be treated ourselves if we were in their same shoes, the more we will grow in our unity and the stronger the collective group will become. In the words of Stephen Covey, “Strength lies in differences, not similarities.”
(the article above is a re-post of an article I wrote in Forbes.com back in 2016)
~Amy Rees Anderson (author of the book “What Awesome Looks Like: How To Excel in Business & Life” )