Diversity & Inclusion (D&I for short) is a hot topic of our times. It is not just a corporate topic any more, but one that is relevant in schools, universities, communities and any group at large. In spite of this, it is not widely understood, and in fact, is widely misunderstood. My D&I journey from being a skeptic to a student to an advocate of it, has given me tremendous learnings, using which, I am attempting demystify this subject in a series of articles. In this article, I want to touch upon a common question that often causes confusion around what diversity is about – is it about nationality, ethnicity, culture, race, gender?
In an earlier blog, “D&I – Why should I be bother?” I have explained how diversity is not just about outward differences in people such as nationality, ethnicity or gender; it runs deep beneath, at the core of the individual. People are different not just because of being born in different countries or cultures, but fundamentally because they are different – in how they think, how they act and react, and how they approach things, which can be loosely called personality or style. While personalities are different, personality types are universal. They are like Lego bricks that form a unit of difference in people. Different permuations and combinations of these bricks build up to different personalities, which are distributed in different proportions across races, genders, cultures and countries. This is why different races or countries or cultures have different shades and textures ie personality traits, which is the “outward” diversity that we see. The diverse look and feel of communities is thus built on a platform of similar personality types that are universally present. Looking at diversity from the lens of personalities allow us, therefore, to focus on similarities while we explore and celebrate differences.
In my experience with teams and organizations, I have seen that people can understand and embrace a style or personality-based D&I approach relatively easily. How people fall into different personality types is a topic of universal interest that people want to engage in, because they can relate to it personally. It results in much more engagement and involvement of teams and individuals into D&I discussions. In contrast, if D&I is approached from the lens of an ethnic, gender, race or nationality group alone, while it gets engagement from those groups, for many others not belonging to that group, it may feel at best irrelevant and at worst, divisive and non-inclusive. It may even be perceived as unfair and discriminatory, exactly the opposite of its intent, effectively disengaging some groups from the discussion. Approaching D&I from a personality lens allows us to establish the fact that diversity is a reality that cannot be wished away. It not only gets people’s attention, but also gets them into a more neutral, open and objective frame of mind than otherwise; they realise that being understood and respected for one’s individuality is each person’s need and right, and understanding and respecting others’ individuality is each person’s duty. This “rights-duties” framework appeals to people’s rational as well as emotional sides, making them very open to the concepts and ideas of D&I, paving the way for the critical steps of Understanding and Respect in the AURA journey of D&I (refer to “The AURA of D&I”). The umbrella of personality or style diversity allows other specific types of diversity and issues related to be worked in its wake as well.
In summary, diversity goes beyond obvious outward differences and fundamentally stems from differences in personality or style. Personality differences are so universally applicable and so individually relevant, that an approach to diversity based on this concept can really help to attract people to embrace D&I openly. That’s the reason I follow and recommend this approach when starting on a D&I journey especially in an organisation.
P.S. One last word – an important aspect of D&I that I have not talked about so far is gender. As a career woman myself, challenges women face at work and in careers is a topic very dear to my heart. This is a big and deep topic within D&I, deserving of special treatment. I will share my thoughts and learnings on this topic separately.