Embracing Diversity: What Does This Mean?
Embracing diversity and increasing inclusion are not new concepts.
Whether in the organizations we work in, the institutions we participate in or are governed by, the communities we live in, or the families we form—we often espouse ourselves to be inclusive and open to diverse opinions and ways of doing things.
I have watched the organizations I have worked with and for wrestle with the diversity and inclusion mandate as an organizational strategy and intention for years.
The words are approached with the best of intentions—but often with little real headway.
What really transpires in practice is this:
“We want you to work here or be part of our community — even if you are different than us, but we want you to behave like we do. We will include you as part of our circle—and part of being included is your willingness to adapt our values, beliefs, and assumptions about things.”
Put more simply: If you are in Rome—you are welcome even if you aren’t Roman—as long as you “do as we Romans do”.
Here’s my socialization around diversity…
I grew up in Athens, Greece. My mom is Greek and my father is American. (From the Southern part of the United States—which is a distinct culture in itself.) I was socialized in three different communities: one was the infrastructure for the Americans in the military and foreign service living there, one was the International, English-speaking school I attended, and the other was the Greek culture and families I was part of having a Greek mother.
What was apparent to me early on was the difference in the beliefs and assumptions about expected behaviors on just about everything.
The American community’s norms clashed pretty blatantly with the Greek norms I was being indoctrinated in, and the international ones I was learning at school. Silly, small, little things were different.
Take clothing, for instance.
Greek: You dress according to season. Never wear short sleeves or sandals in the winter, or you’re sure to catch a cold or be seen as uncultured.
American: Dress for the temperature. If you have an 80-degree day in February, it is okay to wear shorts.
International: All different takes on this one. Depended on country and often the religion.
American: You can do what you want when you turn 18. You are being groomed to be independent and leave the nest—and learn to make your own living.
Greek: You can never do what you want—your family never leaves you. You can live at home or near home for as long as you want—and you are expected to stay connected to and near your family no matter how old you are.
International: Again—different variations depending on country and religion.
I can go on and on with different examples, but you get the gist here. Cultural socialization is broken up not only by country, but also by region of country, religion, socio-economic status, gender roles, family history, and a large host of other factors.
What I learned to do was combine a bit of all of them, and not be fixed in one belief or another. Being socialized in these three cultures made me create values, beliefs, and assumptions about things that were not fixed and stagnate or “one way”, but continuously evolving. I learned to observe, listen, and learn from all those around me.
I also learned to influence each one of the cultures I was in by showing understanding of the beliefs and assumptions they held. From this place of understanding I was listened to much more readily, and could influence change from that place of credibility.
When we talk about embracing diversity and being inclusive, what do we really mean by that?
Do we want people who have been socialized differently to all get together and become the same?
Or do we want to accept, listen, and learn about what the differences can teach us?
Do we want everyone to adapt values, beliefs, and assumptions to the culture we have?
Or do we want to incorporate and combine values, beliefs, and assumptions to create a new and continuously evolving culture whose expectations are not fixed but organic?
Do you show understanding of the cultures you are working in–or do you defiantly accuse them of being “wrong” or “set in their ways?”
Take a look at your own behavior around this area. Do you really listen and learn from other ways of thinking about things—even when you don’t agree with them–or are you set in the beliefs and assumptions you were socialized with?
Can you recognize your own contribution to the problem?