Diversity Training Evolves – by Deborah Levine

Diversity in the business world ranges from local to global and everything in-between. There are the traditional categories of race, ethnicity, gender, and age. There is also a growing global component that brings issues of language, national origin, and religion. The opportunity for culture clash and conflict increases yearly. Diversity debates usually heat up during presidential campaigns and this one should be one for the history books. It’s inevitable that emotions ooze into the workplace.

With technology giving us instant global communication, diversity has become a PR issue as well as a bottom line one. Even the dry statistics of who’s hired and how many are public knowledge and fuel for public debate. Silicon Valley technology giants were reluctant to release their diversity statistics for good reason. Their record of employing women and minorities is dismal and is now solidly attached to their brand. Think how a diversity-based lawsuit impacts a company.

Besides the PR nightmare, there is the high cost involved when a case goes to the EEOC. In 2012, the EEOC reported that $365 million was spent on these cases in the private sector. Changing the image created may also be expensive and time consuming. Companies are examining their supply chain, leadership and mentoring programs, marketing departments, and community grants. They are creating ERGS, Employee Resource Groups and in an one local case, Volkswagen has created a community-based Diversity Advisory Council and we meet quarterly to give our input and hear updates on diversity statistics.

Neuroscience tells us that our brains are programmed to feel comfortable with the familiar and suspect the stranger. It also shows that we don’t all see things the same way. Given the shared and the individual aspects of our minds, can we modify behavior and keep culture clashes in the interpersonal, rather than the legal, arena?

The diversity mindset is open-minded, flexible, and continually learning. At the same time, it means balancing big tent inclusion with cultural integrity. The phrase I use is, “Harmonize NOT Homogenize.”

Consider diversity as a cultural United Nations where cross-cultural communication is the norm. Years ago, multicultural activities emerged as a low-impact way to navigate cultural differences. Show & Tell activities promoted cultural awareness with cultural artifacts like music and food. They remain a workplace staple for opening windows into diverse cultures, but they’re just a beginning. Storytelling organizes massive amounts of data and builds an almost unconscious sense of other cultures. Stories take awareness a step further to create sensitivity to cultural differences, an internal sense of what will offend and what will motivate.

That sensitivity can be trained to manage cultural differences by assigning metrics to emotions. (Interactive 4 levels) Practicing for a minimum of 3 weeks creates a self-monitoring system for emotional conflict as well as the ability to anticipate heightened emotional responses by others.
With the emotional barometer in place, we’re now ready to make wise choices. Diversity Wisdom is often called cultural competence, the ability to apply your awareness and sensitivity to actions and words. Wisdom grows as we practice using the 5 elements of decision making: Knowledge, Character, Humanity, Vision, and, lastly, Action. Wisdom comes from habits that make the phrase, “Think before you Act” a reality. Employees can anticipate how their actions and words will be received. The process helps eliminate unconscious bias and unintentional harassment.

(For more information, see the Matrix Model Management System: Guide to Cross Cultural Wisdom and Workbook)


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