The Complexity of Diversity
Diversity is a complex and varied thing that is present in all aspects of life. It refers to the variety of different perspectives that can be represented on a team. The term diversity includes a broad range of experiences such as socioeconomic background, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, life experience and upbringing. We can experience diversity within our families, our friends, throughout school and in the workplace. Defined by many factors, both internal and external, diversity is more than what meets the eye.
It is important to recognise that traits of diversity can present themselves differently in different people. After all, as humans we are unique and complex individuals. Not everyone ages the same or expresses their gender in the same way. Similarly, you can encounter people from the same part of the world or the same culture who look, speak, and behave differently.
It is easy to fall into the trap of equating diversity with race. Truly diverse and inclusive organisations also value the differences that aren’t visible such as education, background, neurodiversity, and disability.
The 4 Types of Diversity
Internal diversity refers to characteristics or traits that a person is born with. Many of these are recognised as protected characteristics which are attributes specifically covered by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Types of internal diversity include:
- Sexual Orientation
- Physical ability
- Mental ability
Although physical and mental ability can be impacted by environmental factors throughout your lifetime, they are largely and typically influenced by innate, biological factors.
External refers to characteristics that we are not born with but can usually heavily influence and control. These define you as a person but can be changed or developed by you or people around you.
Types of external diversity include:
- Relationship status
- Family status
Appearances can be misleading, and assuming things based on someone’s appearance should be something we make a conscious decision to move away from. Similarly, sometimes the things we experience throughout our lifetimes are not by choice but simply happen to us. Nevertheless, these experiences still shape us and have an impact, positive or negative, on who we are whether we wanted them to or not.
Organisational diversity refers to the characteristics that distinguish each employee and the differences between them that are assigned by an organisation.
Types of organisational diversity include:
- Pay rate
- Job function
- Place of work
- Employment status
- Management status
At Morgan King we are proud to have a high proportion of apprentices compared to our overall workforce. We also have women at all levels of seniority including director, and 57% of our workforce is made up of women.
Worldview diversity refers to factors that we observe, feel and experience that influence and shape our view on the world.
Types of worldview diversity include:
- Political beliefs
- Cultural events
- Historical knowledge
- Moral compass
Worldview diversity is a type that changes over time. As we grow and learn more about ourselves and the world around us, our perspectives, and beliefs change.
Examples of Diversity
The difference in a pair of chromosomes that determines whether you are born male or female has a significant impact on the rest of a person’s life. Gender refers to where you personally believe you fall on the spectrum between male and female. It is our inner concept of self, whether it be male, female, both or neither and gender identity can differ from the sex assigned at birth. The gender divide in our society, from years of cultural, historical, and legal precedent can shape and impact our personal and professional lives in ways beyond our control.
Although gender roles are changing and the concept of gender is becoming more fluid, there are still traditional influences upon our communication and perceptions. Historically, men made up most of the workforce, fewer women worked as their priorities were their children and taking care of the household. Employers rarely wanted to invest in hiring and promoting women when so few stayed in the workforce long term therefore historically, men have outnumbered women and dominated senior positions.
Differences in gender impact the simplest things. Deborah Tannen’s research found significant differences in interpretation of communication and body language between males and females, leading to potential issues and misunderstandings between the two. Of course, these differences will exist on spectrum in individuals, but the fact is that gender impacts so much of who we are, how we behave and how we are treated.
When people hear diversity, race is often one of the first things that comes to mind. The protected characteristic of race means a person’s skin colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin. White British people are included however Black, Asian, and other ethnically diverse people are more likely to experience discrimination and prejudice. The idea of race initially referred to speakers of a common language, then to physical, biological/genetic traits and characteristics but nowadays is seen as a social construct in which people can self-define. Social perceptions of race distinctions develop over long periods of time and are learned behaviours, often ingrained from a young age. Systems of racial prejudice have been inherited by generations and will take tremendous effort and hard work to improve.
Racial groups can include people of different nationalities and ethnicities and each one should be accepted as equally valuable and deserving. We can learn a lot from different races and ethnicities which is where the importance of racial diversity lies. Hearing about experiences and perspectives from other people helps us broaden and enrich our own knowledge. For some people, race is not a defining characteristic whereas others see their race as a matter of pride and a significant aspect of who they are; both are equally valid.
Disability is an often-misunderstood form of diversity. A disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities. This includes long term, recurring and progressive conditions. We should recognise that people whose conditions qualify them as disabled under the Equality Act may not see themselves as impaired or disabled. It is important to be open and listen to each person’s experience as people often default to stereotypes or bias towards people with physical and mental conditions.
Some people are born with disabilities, but they can also be acquired in later life. A common misconception of people with disabilities is the focus on what they lack or cannot do, rather than their strengths, which may differ to other employees within an organisation. This means some people will prefer to not disclose their conditions where possible due to fear of being perceived as less capable.
Mental illnesses are perhaps the most stigmatised conditions that fall under the Equality Act and they can severely disable people in multiple aspects of life. There is still quite a way to go in understanding that these conditions can impact us just as much as physical conditions and providing a safe environment for people to feel they can speak up.
Having a diverse workforce means having employees with a broad range of characteristics and experiences which contributes towards a more successful business. Inclusivity means not discriminating based on different aspects of diversity and having an open-minded attitude towards people who may be different to ourselves.
Interacting with diverse people is such a crucial aspect of personal growth and gives us the opportunity to appreciate and learn from others. Our own perspectives, beliefs, and habits can be easily influenced by others and surrounding ourselves with diversity in all aspects of life opens us up to endless ideas, connections, and possibilities.